Breaking – U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Video Games as Free Speech

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Just moments ago, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the video game industry and retailers in Brown v. EMA (it used to be Schwarzenegger v. EMA).  The full opinion can be found here.

Justice Scalia who wrote the opinion stated:

…the act forbidding sale or rental of violent games to minors does not comport with the 1st Amendment.

Alito concurred with the judgement, and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts.  Justices Thomas and Breyer were the ones who dissented in an opinion written by Thomas.

The court had to decide if a state law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors was a violation of the protections of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.  The Ninth Court had ruled in favor of the video game industry.

From the opinion:

Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And “the basic principles of freedom of speech . . . do not vary” with a new and different communication medium.

Further the opinion delivers a blow to those claiming video games cause psychological harm to children including increasing aggressive behavior.

Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposureto violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demon-strated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects pro-duced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regula-tion is wildly underinclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint.

Update 1 – To me this really sums up the decision:

Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection. Under our Constitution, “esthetic and moral judgments about art and literature . . . are for the individual to make, not for the Government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority.”

Update 2: The CBLDF’s arguments were also cited in the majority decision:

Many in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s blamed comic books for fostering a “preoccupation with violence and horror” among the young, leading to a rising juvenile crime rate. See Note, Regulation of Comic Books, 68 Harv. L. Rev. 489, 490 (1955). But efforts to convince Congress to restrict comic books failed. Brief for Comic Book Legal Defense Fund as Amicus Curiae 11–15.5 And, of course, after comic books came television and music lyrics.