Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 28, 2011
For those who follow video game news (and if you don’t, I don’t blame you) here in the United States, there was one piece of news that overwhelmed the rest on Monday: The Supreme Court finally weighed in, declaring in a 7:2 decision that California’s anti-video-game law was unconstitutional.
In this decision, they declared that video games were a form of speech granted protection by the first amendment. They declared that restrictions on the freedom of said speech were only granted in narrowly defined terms, and the California law was extremely broad (as with almost every bill attempting to restrict video game sales). They cited the lack of evidence of any sort of threat that would make restriction of the medium a compelling state interest. They noted the number of double standards brought into focus by this law, noting how California wants to have it both ways in their imposition of nanny-state laws in particular areas where something should be either a compelling state interest and applied universally, nor not.
The video games industry – and gamers – are elated. They should be. This draws to a close a very frustrating chapter for the medium in this country. Though it’s been less of an issue once the economy went into the toilet and legislators had bigger things to worry about (hey, I search long and hard for silver linings!), the last decade-and-a-half has been a rough one, legally, for us. I remember when Columbine happened, and the media – baffled that two middle class WHITE KIDS would go on a murder spree (talking about the “soft” racism of the media is a topic for somewhere other than this blog) – cast about to try and find something to blame, and anchored onto the video game Doom as the “real” culprit behind the killings. For a while there, we expressed a gallows humor in my studio about how it would be safer to state in polite company that you were a drug dealer than a video game developer.
I remember the insanity surrounding the “Hot Coffee” scandal, where a lame sex-based mini-game had been disabled from a Grand Theft Auto game but not deleted entirely, and gamers found a way to manipulate the program to re-activate the content. Oh, the uproar! Oh the sudden surge in legislation by politicians looking to capitalize on the scandal to score “family values” points.
And oh, the chilling effect these bills and laws would have had on the industry! Especially on indies, had the laws gained traction.
Now, I’m personally a socially conservative person. I’m a religious guy. I have issues with some of the content in many games. But I don’t consider my mindset to be a political viewpoint, because I feel most of the time it is none of the government’s business. While there are certainly exceptions, in general I feel that this is the role of religion (and philosophy), not the state, brought about by persuasion rather than compulsion. And the ham-handed rules set forth by the attempts at videogame legislation by politicians who didn’t have a clue what they were attempting to regulate universally did for more “collateral damage” than any effect on the games they were specifically targeting.
So I am thrilled by this ruling. Does this mean video games are in the clear? The war is over? A lot of folks are skeptical, and I acknowledge that some people aren’t going to rest until they’ve castrated the medium. Defenders need to remain vigilant. But I think time is on our side.New media and styles inevitably come under attack, and the onslaught against video games is in direct proportion to its growth as a medium. But the longer they survive, the more the culture becomes acclimated to it. I think that most politicians will consider the cost of trying to fight or bypass the Supreme Court decision. As the Nintendo Generation becomes parents and politically active, video games become a harder and harder target. And more of our elected officials have been gamers themselves.
I hope that this decision will have a ripple effect in many other nations. But for here in the U.S., this feels like an incredibly substantial victory, and one less thing to worry about as a gamer or game developer.
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