U.S. Supreme Court ruling give video games constitutional rights

“This is a historic and complete when for the First Amendment and the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere.  Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known — that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which represents the U.S. computer and video game industry. “The Court declared forcefully that content-based restrictions on games are unconstitutional, and that parents, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide what is appropriate for their children.”

The Courts landmark 7 – 2 decision came in the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association/Entertainment Software Association. At issue was a 2005 California statute restricting the sale and rental of computer and video games based on content.  California argued that the state had a compelling government interest in the law and that the proposed remedy was the narrowest, or least restrictive, means of furthering that interest. The ESA argued that the statute presented unconstitutional limitation on expression. The Supreme Court agreed with the ESA.

“California’s effort to regulate violent video games is the latest episode in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors,” Justice Anotnin Scalia said, writing for the majority. “Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

The Court’s decision underscored the constitutional protections for video games, developers and video game industry artists.

US Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court Building

Citing may of the same reasons cited by lower courts in striking down the California statute and other similar statutes, the Supreme Court held that:

  • Video games contain expression that is protected as much as the best of literature.
  • California had not shown that video games were harmful to minors.
  • Less restrictive means of achieving the state’s intended goal of protecting children from violent content exists, notably in the form of rating systems.
  • Parents, not the government, should bear the primary responsibility for determining what games their children play.

The Entertainment Software Association is the U.S. association dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies publishing interactive games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers, and the Internet.

“We are very gratified that our arguments — and those of over 180 other groups and individuals from across the ideological spectrum — were heard in this case,” Gallagher said. “The Court has now definitively held that legislative attempts to restrict video game content will be struck down.

“It is time for elected officials to stop wasting time and public funds seeking unconstitutional restrictions on video games,” he continued. “Instead, we invite them to join with us to raise awareness and use of highly effective tools that already exist to help that parents choose games suitable for their children.”

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