In a case decided today, the Supreme Court invalidated a California statute banning the sale of violent video games to minors. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in a 7-2 decision and held that video games are protected speech under the First Amendment. Due to this constitutional protection, the law faced a heightened "strict scrutiny" standard, under which the state needs to show that a law is justified by a compelling government interest and that it is narrowly drawn to serve that interest. Since the state was unable to show the existence of a direct link between violent video games and violent actions by minors, and since the law did not seek to restrict access to other violent media, the law did not reach the necessary standard. The Court rejected the argument that the interactive nature of video games distinguishes it from other forms of violent media.
Source: 2011 WL 2518809 United States Supreme Court
So basically now, it's just not illegal for somewhere like Gamestop to sell M rated games to minors? What does that mean then, that it's just highly discouraged within their own organization? (Whereas before, they could get in trouble for selling games to minors?)
Isn't that kind of the opposite of something like the movie theater industry, where younger people can't see rated R movies? I guess I'm starting to get confused with all of this.
There never was a law forcing places like Gamestop to refuse selling M-rated games to minors. It was entirely their (or BBY's, or wherever's) own decision. They could never get into legal trouble because of an employee failing to respect those policies (but I imagine the employee would have gotten the boot should a parent raise a fuss).
Same thing with R-rated movies. It's perfectly legal for a place to sell an ticket for an R-rated movie to a kid. They just won't do it.
Some of you are just not getting what the California law did.
It did not make it illegal to sell M-rated games to minors.
Rather, it made it illegal to sell "violent" games to minors, and "violent" games had to have an additional label - "18" - on it.
But the statute didn't really define what "violent" meant. And California wasn't going to tell retailers what "violent" meant prior to the retailer selling the game. Rather, the retailer was just going to have to use his judgment, and if the local District Attorney had a different opinion on what the law meant than the retailer did, then that means the retailer could be in a heap of trouble.
Semi-related, do you guys remember that Paranoid Android video by Radiohead? I watched it again after not seeing it for at least 15 years, and I forgot about all of the boobs in it. Its all animated, but it ran on MTV along with Hanson and other stuff, unedited. How is that ok??
The site you linked to is an official MPAA site. The MPAA is an industry association. Warner Bros, Columbia Pictures, MGM and the rest all banded together. They are not the government. They cannot pass a law.
But they still have a ton of weight and they sure can make any theater owner comply with any requirement they come up with. And they've decided theater owners wouldn't sell tickets for R-rated movies to minors. If they catch you going against that as a theater owner, you are fucked. You are fined, and if you are a repeat offender, you will never get your hands on another reel from them again.
But it's not a law.
Now replace the MPAA with the ESRB, R ratings with M ratings, theater owners with game stores, and it's the exact same scenario basically.
But again, there is no law.
That doesn't mean a kid can easily buy GTA at GameStop. Maybe in some cases they can, but if the higher ups at GameStop find out, the manager of that store will feel it.
@Guillaume All of that is true. But it does beg a practical question: What's the real difference between a law and industry regulation if the results are the same? It's like saying, "Governments can't encroach on free speech. That's Industry's responsibility." What's the difference?
Having said that, I don't think realistically violent video games ought to be played by kids. But I end up feeling isolated from both sides of these First Amendment arguments because a lot of times they become so abstract and philosophical that they stop making practical sense to me.
The results are not the same. Please refer to chrisguy's post. There is a world of difference in terms of application and consequence. We've got the real-world examples of Germany and Australia. Germany where the pedestrians in Carmaggeddon were turned into balloons (WTF?) and Australia where some games are simply banned.
Do we trust politicians with this? Or do we trust people who actually know what a video game is? Even if they've got a stake in it, obviously, I'll trust the industry association more.
Even if the law hadn't been so vague and half-assed, do we really want the act of selling a violent game to a kid to become a criminal act? Let's think about this.
@Guillaume Maybe I sounded like too much of an Eeyore in that last post. I agree that there are some practical differences between how the industry handles regulation and how governments would handle it. You've pointed out a few good ones. And I've said already that I'm glad this law was struck down, so please don't misunderstand me there.
I was honestly not even thinking about video games. I was thinking of the MPAA and the inconsistency in the way they rate studio movies vs. indie movies. At some level, censorship is censorship. But, you're right, governments would probably do an even worse job so I'm not really advocating that.
What I'm advocating is that everyone let me, Kris Wright, decide what's appropriate. The moment we do that, everyone will be happy. Kris Wright Knows Best.
@Anand Look, I'll be Benevolent Dictator and you can be Non-Benevolent Dictator. I'll handle all the decision making. You handle the Universal Language of Violence by sitting in your bunker and shouting, "More 'Splosions!"
I'm not trolling you. I don't troll anyone. I don't even like the word "troll."
You're getting all grumpy though for some reason. Why so much yelling?
--Like Kris said, the MPAA/ESRB aren't lawmaking bodies, but they're as close as freakin' possible without officially being one, right? Whats the real / reel (for people who love puns) difference then?
In any event, I think it all stinks. Hold my hand, government.