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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Supreme Court Decision and the State of Video Game Ratings Now

On June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the video games are protected as a medium of free speech (or expression) under the first amendment of the Constitution and that the government cannot pass laws restricting the sale of any video game to minors.

To give you a summary of the law (parts taken from the Supreme Court opinion):
The law "prohibits the sale or rental of “violent video games” to minors, and requires their packaging to be labeled “18.” The Act covers games “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted” in a manner that “[a] reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors,” that is “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suit-able for minors,” and that “causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” §1746(d)(1)(A). Violation of the Act is punishable by a civil fine of up to $1,000. §1746.3."[1]

The law attempts to put violence into the category of obscenities. One of the main reasons that the state of California lost is because "it acknowledges that it cannot show a direct causal link between violent video games and harm to minors."[2] Using the definition of video games as free speech, the court said that "the curtailment of free speech must be actually necessary to the solution".[3] From what I can see, this law is separate from the ESRB ratings system that all (or most?) video games are judged by before they can be put on the market for selling. The ruling only affects any laws that a government has already made or could make.

To my knowledge, the standard ESRB ratings system is still in effect even with this ruling. Further, this ruling does not apply to a store's company policy if it has one. For example, Walmart (and a few other stores which sell video games) has a policy that that restricts the sale of M-rated games to those 18 (or is it 17?) and older. If a 12 year-old tried to buy a M-rated game (such as Grand Theft Auto), he or she would be denied because they do not meet the criteria in company policy for the sale of mature-rated games.

As Christians (and good people), we have an obligation to shield the young from obscenities and other harmful material. Parents are the ones that play the main role in doing so. Therefore, parents are the ones who should call the shots as far as which games their kids may or may not play. As the article says
"No doubt a State possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm, Ginsberg, supra, at 640–641; Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U. S. 158, 165 (1944), but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed. “Speech that is neither obscene as to youths nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them.” Erznoznik, supra, at 213–214.3"[4]
 However, with the (sad) moral state we are currently in as a society, many parents do not take their job as a parent seriously. Many parents don't care about what kind of games their child gets into and/or do not know enough about video games that are out there. To help that, you have the ESRB ratings system which rates video games and helps parents make an informed decision as far as which video games their child is allowed to play. Parents, before your kids buy a video game, do your homework and try to find out what is actually in the video game (this can be done by methods such as game reviews, asking other gamers, or even asking the person who works at the video game store; much of the time, people who work at video game stores have knowledge of the games that are already out or going to be released) so that you can make an informed decision.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this, please share them with me and the other readers via the comment box below. You can also find me on twitter (username is @rctechgeek).

[1] Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn., 564 U.S. 3 (2011)
[2] Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn., 564 U.S. 14 (2011) 
[3] Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn., 564 U.S. 14 (2011) 
[4] Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn., 564 U.S. 9 (2011)

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