Victory! US Politicians Fail To Outlaw Games

'Sup, court?

Enormously important news from the US just moments ago. Don your most gaudily-coloured party hat – after six long years, the Supreme Court has overturned a Californian ruling which banned the sale of games to minors… and essentially held that violent games were obscene publications.

In the case of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, colloquially known as ‘the Schwarzenegger law’ due to Herr Arnie’s major role in bringing about a State-wide ban on the sale or rental of violent games to minors, the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that the ban contravened the First Amendment, which concerns freedom of speech. Yep: games are now officially protected in the same way art and literature is. The entire games industry just breathed a sigh of relief.

The understandable reaction of some is “well duh, of course kids shouldn’t be sold violent games”, but the terrible thing about the Arnie Act is the lack of distinction. Violence was violence was violence, as far as the California law reckoned, and kids getting hold of violent games would surely cause untold mental damage to them.

Again – fair enough to some degree, though of course it doesn’t engage with any real science or psychology, and instead merely a fear. But the thing is that pretty much no other medium, save porn, is subject to the same restrictions in the US. The Arnie Act (actually written by Californian senator and long-time anti-game lobbyist Leland Yee, but signed off and endorsed by the Governator) put games in a category of their own – and a category essentially marked ‘dangerous.’ It also dismissed the fact that the games industry – from publishers to retailers – is self-policing, with its own pretty strictly enforced rating system. Why was this law needed, given that? And why aren’t violent movies subject to the same restrictions?

Essentially, this was an attempt to outlaw a huge number (and perhaps even the majority) of videogames in in the States, as while adults would still have been able to buy them they wouldn’t have been stocked in major retailers, thus harming their sales enormously and in turn dissuading game companies from making adult games.

While the broader argument about and need to keep games for grown-ups out of kids’ hands remains and must not be ignored, had the California law remained (and, God forbid, gone nationwide), games would have been treated by retailers as equivalent to porn. It was also a huge vote of no-confidence in the games industry, dismissing as it did its own rating system. Really, this was an attempt to censor games. As Ars’ Ben Kuchera observed on Twitter – if books were subject to the same restriction, the Bible would also be banned from sale to children.

Oh – and it’s also worth noting that one of the major factors in bringing California’s ban about in the first place was the Hot Coffee mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Yep – one game’s deleted, clothed sex scenes you had to download a third-party mod to access almost got any and all grown-up games banned from sale.

More broadly, the Californian law was predicated on a claim that violent games had harmful or dangerous effects on minors that other mediums – such as movies, comics and Tom & Jerry cartoons – did not. The Supreme Court, God love ’em, saw the folly in this argument. It’s the same dance that almost every form of popular entertainment has had to go through in the past – from radio plays to horror movies, the battle has been to show that fearful types’ claims that they led to real-life violence was unfounded. Today, games won. They’re now accorded the same status as everything else.

Here’s one of the many money quotes in the judgement that overturned California’s stupid law:

This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. And California’s claim that “interactive” video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive.

Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation 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.

It’s worth reading the whole thing (warning: PDF), which is quietly very scathing of California’s failed attempt to outlaw violent games, but the take-home message is this: after six years of trials, retrials and endless arguments and dis-ingenuity, games have now officially been accorded the same Constitutionally-protected status as movies, books, plays and all the rest. There’s so much more to be done, on both sides of the fence, in terms of making the world at large (and especially politicians) take games seriously, but suffice to say today is a very good day.

I like this line too:

“Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat. But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones. Crudely violent video games, tawdry TV shows, and cheap novels and magazines are no less forms of speech than The Divine Comedy,and restrictions upon them must survive strict scrutiny”

It seems absurd that was ever in question, but that’s politicians for you. Also mentioned are Lord of the Flies (kids killing kids),, the Odyssey (blinding a Cyclops with a flaming stake) and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Hansel and Gretel baking a witch to death): if these are OK for kids to access, why are games so different? Yes, there is an argument to be made about whether games’ interactivity, studies are needed and ratings systems must be enforced – but a knee-jerk ban was never the way to do it, and would mean blindly censorious forces had won the day outright. Our proudest salutes must be offered to the EMA, ESA and ECA for their sterling work in fighting the good legal fight.

So here’s the final line: “the act forbidding sale or rental of violent games to minors does not comport with the 1st Amendment.” Take your nasty, poorly-researched arguments and get out of here, Messrs Yee, Schwarzenegger et al. And start selling games in California again. It’s the law, you know.


  1. Kandon Arc says:

    What a shame – actually no the other one.
    Not a shame.

    • Icarus says:

      Bam. (“Very Good” – Ed)

      I think that’s the opposite of ‘what a shame’ round these parts, right?

    • Daiv says:

      Indeed. Bam. Outstandingly good, old chap.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      No, I don’t think that’s the sort of thing we’ll want catching on.


    • Bhazor says:

      Kaboom! (“I am so happy my mind has become as one much like Gillen had from the age of 13-18!” – Ed)

    • Johnny Lizard says:

      What a shame the chances of the UK ever having a piece of legislation as great as the 1st amendment is nil.
      But on the plus side at least we don’t have the 2nd amendment either.

    • CMaster says:

      @KG, They’re referring to this

      It’s been an RPS comenteer/forum phrase for a while, and was used in say, 503 contest entries etc. You might still think its inappropriate, but it’s a bit suprising to see it cracked down on after so many months.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Augmentation for breasts?
      Not an augmentation for me.

    • Daiv says:

      The first amendment is a nice idea, but as with anything about written constitution you nail down the principle and then start arguing about wording.

      Speech is protected. Okay. So what’s speech? Is Manhunt speech? What about art someone finds offensive? There is an infamous photograph that was defaced by an angry catholic mob because it was considered sacreligious. What about architecture? Can I make a building with an overwhelming swastika motif? What about rap? Can I rap about murder? What about obscene landscaping?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Missed it in threads and only have just come back in the forum. Having it right at the top of a thread is, to say the least, not the impression I think we’d want to give, especially on a serious article like this one.


    • Jason Moyer says:

      Daiv, do you live in the US? I only ask because we have tons of art that people find offensive, far more tasteless than anything you’ll find in a videogame (outside of Japan, hi) and all of it’s protected by the first amendment.

      Also, if you don’t live here you might not know that, but we also consider it a right to be able to express your opinion no matter how distasteful it is as long as it doesn’t directly harm anyone. If someone were to try to build a Swastika-themed building (and how did 12 years of fascism make everyone forget the thousands of years of symbolism embedded in the Swastika) they’d be free to as long as they could get the building permits. Of course, there’s also a good chance people in their community would rally to oppose it, keeping it from happening.

      Also, we sell Freedom in a box! What a country!

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:


      All of those could reasonably be considered speech depending in intent. Boy that was easy.

    • Dozer says:

      @Keiron Bam! Tasteful journalism!

    • Eukatheude says:

      I’m sorry, i’m not a native english speaker and i don’t quite understand this. What’s the issue with that “bam”? Isn’t it just an onomatopoeia?

    • Burning Man says:


      (Now you see me, now you don’t – Ed)

    • Kaira- says:


      A reference to Serious Sam 3 press release. I shalt quoth:

      “Holy crap, I am going to make a boatload of cash of this game,” said Fork Parker, chief financial officer at Devolver Digital, the Serious Sam 3: BFE publisher. “I mean that’s what this is all about, right? If this thing comes out in the summer my wife is totally getting the tit job she’s been asking for.”

      Serious Sam 3 will bring the boom to PC and game consoles this summer.

      When asked for further comment, Fork replied, “Bam. Tit job.”

    • Eukatheude says:

      Kaira, that’s not what i meant. I was asking what KG’s point was on the catchphrase. Anyway thanks for the reply, i appreciate it.

    • Fumarole says:

      Can I make a building with an overwhelming swastika motif?

      You mean like this US Navy building?

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      Am I the only one who looks forward to comment edits?

    • MD says:

      Bam. (“I have a hilarious name” – Ed Balls)

    • JackShandy says:

      Bam. A pleasant result for all involved.

    • gwathdring says:

      Intent is the only thing that can really prevent offensive speech from happening over here. There have been Neo-Nazi rallies here in the states that were protected by local police–and other cases where the intensity of public outcry caused police to advise as strongly as was legally possible that the rally be held elsewhere lest the over-worked police department end up arresting far too many people on either from either side.

      We take our free speech seriously in theory and legal practice, even if at an interpersonal level we take offense more readily than our courts do.

      We also, interestingly, have very stringent laws against hate speech and incitement to commit crime–it’s not necessarily easy to prove from a legal standpoint but it’s a serious crime. I like to think it’s part of a beautiful philosophy, that recognizes how careful we must be to use speech well if we are to allow it to be used so freely. But in reality it’s part of a conflict between our desire to protect the innocent from practical harm and our theoretical obsession with unbounded freedom despite not quite being sure, as individuals or as law makers, how free we really want to be and how much responsibility we are willing to take on in exchange for freedom.

  2. Pidesco says:

    Momentous event, even if the decision was more or less a given.

    • Iain_1986 says:

      It only passed 7-2 …. only just more than two thirds, not exactly a complete “given” really :S

    • Psychochild says:

      7-2 is pretty strong for a U.S. Supreme Court opinion. 9-0 would have been better, but it wasn’t 5-4 as we see in many contentious issues. It’s also worth noting that the majority opinion was written by Scalia, who tends to be one of the more conservative justices.

      Ultimately, this was an unambiguous smack-down of California’s law, which is a good thing for people in the U.S. Games now essentially have all the free speech protections of other media according to the highest court. I suspect we’ll still see struggles in the future, but this is definitely good news.

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      That’s a slightly unfair painting of Scalia. He’s always been a strong free speech proponent. It’s not surprising considering the flag burning law he struck down back in the day when people passed laws like that.

      Edit: holy hell did you guys see the split? Breyer and Thomas were the dissenting opinion. Didn’t see that one coming.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Clarence Thomas might be the worst judge to ever sit in the Supreme Court, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least. Hell, he can’t even drink a Coke without getting pubic hair all over it.

      Scalia has his faults but he tends to lean towards a fairly liberal interpretation of the constitution.

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      Yeah but Breyer. What the hell?

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Honestly, I’m surprised more liberal justices didn’t vote with Breyer. For some reason Democrats are usually at the forefront of attempts to censor things (think Gore or Lieberman here).

    • Chesterton says:

      “For some reason Democrats are usually at the forefront of attempts to censor things”

      For some reason? Not really hard to figure out. Democrats are all about expanding the size & scope of government. This is hardly surprising.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      I know of people from all parts of political spectrum who want to get their grubby little hands on regulating art and speech — from the Catholic League to Ralph Nader to Tippur Gore to Jack Thompson. I think it’s more of a personality type than conservative/liberal thing.

    • Craig Stern says:

      “Scalia … tends to lean towards a fairly liberal interpretation of the constitution.”

      Er, no. Scalia is in favor of a strong First Amendment, but take a look at his writings on Due Process (Boumediene v Bush) or the Second Amendment (District of Columbia v Heller), and it will become pretty clear that he is by no means liberal.

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      ” Democrats are all about expanding the size & scope of government.” Not for its own sake. The ability of the right to keep increasing intelligence agencies and swelling the military industrial complex puts the lie to your comment Chesterton.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      From Breyer’s dissenting opinion:

      But what sense does it make
      to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an
      image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that 13­
      year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively,
      but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures
      and kills her? What kind of First Amendment would
      permit the government to protect children by restrict-
      ing sales of that extremely violent video game only when
      the woman—bound, gagged, tortured, and killed—is also

      This anomaly is not compelled by the First Amendment.
      It disappears once one recognizes that extreme violence,
      where interactive, and without literary, artistic, or similar
      , can prove at least as, if not more, harmful to
      children as photographs of nudity.

      It’s hard to disagree with that. I’d even strike the “where interactive” qualifier.

    • malkav11 says:

      I would definitely strike “where interactive”, because it’s irrelevant, and otherwise agree with Breyer that extreme violence is at least as harmful as sexual content, likely more so, and it makes no sense to protect one and not the other. Where I suspect we differ is that I do not believe either is harmful to begin with and feel that both should be protected.

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      “Scalia is in favor of a strong First Amendment, but take a look at his writings on Due Process (Boumediene v Bush) or the Second Amendment (District of Columbia v Heller), and it will become pretty clear that he is by no means liberal”

      I think he meant liberal in the classic sense, not in the political sense.

      “It’s hard to disagree with that. I’d even strike the “where interactive” qualifier.”

      Except the interactive media is the core of the argument here. He’s not comparing sexual content vs graphic violence, he’s comparing sexual content vs interactive graphic violence. His dissent isn’t suggesting a parity between violence and sex, he’s saying that video games are graphic, offensive, and completely devoid of artistic purpose. Since that is the same standard used for pornography, he’s saying that video games should fall under the same rules. What Breyer is saying is that Video Games should be declared obscene and should not be granted the same rights as books, movies, or music.

  3. Bhazor says:

    “[T]he Supreme Court has overturned a Californian ruling which banned the sale of games to minors”
    Well.. thats… good? Finally we can get rid of those fun charming family games like Daxter or Sly Cooper and really get stuck into making the most realistically rendered face shooting game ever.
    Thank god developers don’t have to worry about mature writing to attract a mature audience instead of tits and gore to attract 12 year olds. Becoz riting iz hrd.

    Edit: This sums up my feelings better than I can.
    link to

    P.S Anyone know who that woman at the start is? Is it Rabs wife or something? Because she seems to pop up in everything he does but I’ve never been able to find her name.

    • Iain_1986 says:

      …erm…I think you missed the point of the article

    • Zerbin says:

      I’m there with you man. I get the free speech issue and all, but…
      I didn’t really start gaming until I was already 18, and an M rating never sold me a game, it just made me wonder why the developers felt that the game needed to be M to be good.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      While I find the over reliance on raunchy material in the games industry to be disgusting, I find it equally disgusting that you seem to suggest that protecting video games’ free speech rights is somehow objectionable due to this.
      If you want less shitty M-rated games, fine. But don’t support this laughably idiotic California law just to spite said shitty M-rated games. That’s as misguided as it gets.

    • Bhazor says:

      This isn’t about censorship or freedom of speech. This is about making retailers and the industry obey their own rules. This is about parents taking responsibility and an interest in what their kids are playing. This is about preventing games from becoming the target for every moral crusader whenever some kid takes his gun for a walk.

    • DiamondDog says:

      So we should just restrict all violence to protect our medium from the people that attack it?

      Mature writing can involve tits and gore. In one part of that video the guy asks what we would lose if publishers were scared away from making mindless 18 cert games, because we’d still have games of worth like GTA and Manhunt. Right, so what certificate does GTA IV have? If he considers it a game of worth, then making a publishers think twice about producing a violent game could have meant that GTA never got made in the first place.

      It’s kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is a lot of trash in videogames, but making publishers think twice about an 18 cert restricts a developers creative freedom. Sure, if you don’t have a high opinion of most games developers, as that guy seems to have, then you have no reason to believe they are capable of producing a mature game. That would seem very short-sighted to me. To throw away the freedom of the games industry just because of 50 Cent.

    • mllory says:

      This is about parents taking responsibility
      Seems to me like it’s the opposite of that – parents giving their responsibility over to the government. And really, this law would’ve only worsened the targeting of video games, as it would’ve proved as an easy go-to authoritative argument for the ‘violent games make you violent’ notion.

    • dsi1 says:

      Except that is what it was about Bhazor, California wasn’t trying to help parents who want to stop their kids from buying violent videogames (yes, what the fuck.), they were trying to force opinion on everyone

    • Zerbin says:

      I get what you’re saying, I really do. It just seems to me that most adults who buy mature games would still buy them even if they weren’t carried by all the big box stores. Enthusiasts would find them and buy them all the same. I don’t really think that it would hurt the industry all that much. It would drive away those seeking an easy profit and would leave us with those games where the mature content is necessary for a mature game. It’s not just that I find it objectionable, but man it would be nice if there was a legitimate artistic vision whenever these kinds of games are being made. Shrinking the exposure for these kinds of games wouldn’t cost them them my money; If the game was good enough, I’d still buy it.

    • malkav11 says:

      Having seen a myriad of PG-13 bowdlerizations of movie genres that used to happily accept an R, the games wouldn’t be any more mature, well written or deep, they’d just be watered down. Not an improvement, in my book.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      “If the game was good enough, I’d buy it.”

      No, you wouldn’t. Because it would never have been made.

      If this law stood, and spread across the U.S., nearly all big retailers would stop carrying M rated games. Such games would become unprofitable, and thus fewer and fewer would be developed. Eventually you’d have the only games rated as such made by small indies, and a large proportion of larger developers would go out of business.

      There’s a reason the entire games industry was against this law.

  4. Essell says:

    Hooray for the good news, and the much improved headline…

  5. Shiny says:

    Actually, the bill’s main proponent was Leland Yee. Arnold supported and signed it, but it was Yee’s brainchild, as regulation of violent video games is one of his big causes.

  6. MonkeyMonster says:

    Bet it was all down to John “The Healer” Walker’s articles! See how he mends sore points in real life… :D

  7. Kirioth says:

    Excellent. Now I can send my 8 year old American nephew a copy of Manhunt.

    I can do that now, right?

    • MiniMatt says:

      Legally, possibly. Morally would be up to you of course. And game store might be in violation of voluntary and not-necessarily-legally-binding agreements not to distribute to minors if you informed them that you’re buying for a minor.

      Think the point of the article is not necessarily that there should be no legal restrictions on game sales but more that sweeping and piss poorly worded laws are crap and should be repealed. Like stated, as worded it meant that violence, anything that could ever be conceivably described as violence, was outlawed. Tom and Jerry is violent. Jet Set Willy was violent. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a bad law and having it struck from the books is better than it being there. Which is not to say there may not be a place in future for better worded, better researched evidence based law making in the future.

    • phlebas says:

      Think the point of the article is not necessarily that there should be no legal restrictions on game sales but more that sweeping and piss poorly worded laws are crap and should be repealed.

      That’s not entirely conveyed by “Victory! US Politicians Fail To Outlaw Games”, “Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Videogames” or any of the other celebratory headlines on every gaming site.

    • JB says:

      “That’s not entirely conveyed by “Victory! US Politicians Fail To Outlaw Games”, “Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Videogames” or any of the other celebratory headlines on every gaming site.”

      And that’s why we read the articles that come after the headlines.

    • Spoon says:

      I think you are misunderstanding what this is about. If your 8 year old goes to the local Gamestop and tries to buy manhunt by himself, he will get turned away. If your 8 year old goes to the local movie theater and tries to buy an R rated movie ticket, he will be turned away. Neither of those acts are illegal, but the respective industries have forms of self regulation in place.

      This law would have made selling games to minors punishable as criminal actions.

    • Shuck says:

      “Excellent. Now I can send my 8 year old American nephew a copy of Manhunt.”
      You could have done it under the law, too. That’s part of what was so absurd about it. It would have been illegal to sell it to your nephew, but any family member could have purchased it for him.

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      Nothing could stop you before. What’s your point?

      It is the job of parents to parent, the job of the government to ensure the public welfare – not to tell them what it is they should be doing outside of harming others.

  8. fela says:

    Either its all okay, or none of it is.

    Silly government bureaucrats, thinking they can enforce a morality code racket.

    Silly people, swindled into thinking their freedoms come from decrees made from their corruptible high priests.

    The absurdity of all this is mind-blowing sometimes.

  9. bowl of snakes says:

    Supreme Court obviously never learned Mortal Kombat babalities

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      Babalities? Where you’re smothered in hot babes? Massacred by mammaries?

  10. phlebas says:

    The US film rating system is purely voluntary? I never realised.

    • V. Profane says:

      Only in theory.

    • Esc says:

      Yeah, what he said.

      If you’re fine with your movie never shown in theaters except a case by case basis with a few art houses then, yes, it is voluntary!

      Also since it is voluntary, there’s absolutely no oversight and no accountability!

      It’s not that I think we should get rid of our rating system, I just think there is oodles of room for improvement but the major film producers and theater owners and ratings board are all in bed with each other and are really hard to compete with.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      It’s voluntary in that no one is legally obligated to rate their film, yes. There is no national ratings board for any type of art in the United States — though I don’t know exactly how they determine what, exactly, “pornography” is or how the ban from selling it to minors is actually enforced.

      The clusterfuck with theater chains refusing to carry NC17 movies and the MPAA giving movies arbitrary ratings and just generally being ridiculous still sucks though.

      I was never really worried about this video game being ruled Constitutional. Even last year, most of the justices had already made it pretty clear that this law was not up to snuff.

    • Fumarole says:

      I found this film to be highly enlightening on the subject of the MPAA.

    • Nick says:

      And you have to pay for it to be rated (as far as I know..), hence the boatload of “unrated” straight to DVD stuff.

  11. Joe Duck says:

    Now I can finally go play as Arnie in Duke Nukem! Wait… what?

  12. salejemaster says:


  13. Nick Ahlhelm says:

    Voluntary rating systems exist to protect families without government interference. California government having the hubris to think that they can outright ban some form of artistic expression, even video games, is insane.

  14. SpinalJack says:

    That’s what age ratings on games are for

    • thegooseking says:

      And in America, those age-ratings are enforced – without government interference – 80% of the time at retail according to the Federal Trade Commission. Which is pretty good. Could be better, but it already is better than other media (as a minor, you’re far more likely to be able to buy an R-rated movie in a store – or even see an R-rated movie in a cinema – than to buy an M-rated game).

      The thing is, not only was this law wrongheaded for all the reasons quoted in the article, it was also completely unnecessary.

    • gwathdring says:

      Yes, stores over here see it as a big selling point that they card minors for video game purchases. Keeps the parents happy, and it’s such an easy way to avoid lawsuits in a country where video games with strong violent or sexual content aren’t as well trusted as even equally child-inappropriate films and what-not. I really wish people weren’t so prejudiced against games, but it does keep the stores in line.

  15. Kaira- says:

    Won’t somebody please think of the children?!

  16. Kablooie says:

    Grand news for US gamers.

    Arnie and Yee didn’t actually think – or care – if this law would stand up to constitutional scrutiny. This was pure politics in grand republican fear-mongering style: “you don’t understand your kids, you fear your kids, here’s what’s to blame (pssst, vote for us, see, we’re doing something about it)”.

    This happens nearly every generation. First it was Rock ‘N’ Roll, then it was comic books, this time, it’s video games.

    • Daiv says:

      No. Grand news for ALL gamers.
      Who makes a huge portion of the games we play? Imagine if every US based developer and publisher went out of business tomorrow. We all suffer.

      Now imagine if the entire US was lost as a market for games. The entire global games industry gets less profitable and we all suffer.

      This is a victory for us all.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Republican fear-mongering? You know the biggest recent attempt at censorship in this country (the OMG MUSIC IS HARMING OUR CHILDREN thing in the 80’s) was spearheaded by a bunch of Democratic soccer moms (particularly Tipper Gore)?

      link to

    • LoveIsGood says:

      (Fixed location)
      I am so sorry to bring in politics but:

      @Jason Moyer

      What about Free Speech Zones? Patriot Act? The Arrests of non violent protestors in Code Pink back when we protested Iraq before Obama came in and killed all the left-wing momentum that was going on. Everyone in American Politics goes where the money goes generally. Republicans even more so. Who also covered up the statues? Don’t pretend for a second Republicans have your rights in mind. It was Reagan after all who approved the 1986 gun ban.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I’m not saying Republicans aren’t attempting to restrict civil liberties, just that it’s a bi-partisan problem. Singling out the GOP for it is stupid when they’re no better or worse than the people on the other side of the aisle. You could switch the party affiliations for 3/4 of the federal government and no one would notice.

    • gwathdring says:

      American political parties are weird. Our versions of left and right are both a moderate distance right of center on a global scale. In Europe, left often means legitimate socialism and far left actually represents fairly radical/non-normative view points. Over hear far left means favoring more regulations, different civil liberty agenda (slightly stronger, I’d argue, for a couple of reasons), and discomfort with taxes as opposed to straight up tax-phobia. Oh yes, and a slight tolerance towards homosexuals. We are a nation of conservative-leaning centrists, that somehow manages to have at least as much partisan back-bitting and trouble cooperating as nations that have to organize power sharing between very distinct and diametrically opposed political groups.

  17. keith.lamothe says:

    Quick! Someone make a game where Arnie takes matters into his own hands, kicks down the door of an LA game store, and starts bashing up the displays of overly violent games.

    It sounds entertaining, honestly.

  18. CMaster says:

    I still don’t see why a compulsory rating system would kill games in the states, when compulsory ratings on games and films haven’t stopped games or films from being sold in the UK. Could someone please enlighten me as to the problem?

    (I mean the practical one, rather than the philosophical points about freedom of speech, role of the government etc – I can see all that)

    • thegooseking says:

      The situation in the UK has changed recently, and I’m not entirely clear on how the Digital Economy Act 2010 has changed things, but under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (as revised), publishers voluntarily submitted their games for BBFC classification. There was no body of authority to demand that games have this classification. So… yes, it was illegal to supply a BBFC-rated 18 game to a minor, but there was no legal necessity for a game to be rated by the BBFC in the first place.

      I’ve heard conflicting stories about how the Digital Economy Act changes it. Wikipedia suggests that the Video Standards Council now (well, as of next month) decides which games do and don’t get BBFC classification. The Video Standards Council’s own website, though, doesn’t say anything about BBFC ratings, instead saying that PEGI ratings will be enforced by law (although whether that means they have the same legal weight as BBFC ratings or simply means that games will be legally required to carry a PEGI rating, I don’t know.)

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      OK, all moral and philosophical points aside, the bill was not specific enough about what constitutes “violence,” which would mean most T-rated games, and even some E-rated would or could be banned from all sale to minors. It would create huge amounts of doubt and panic, cost publishers and retailers millions in court costs, and open an huge can of worms for all digital distributors.
      This law didn’t come with some ratings board like most countries have, where you know if your game is OK or not OK, and can adjust it accordingly for that region. It was just a flat ban on selling “violent” games to minors.

    • RQH says:

      The law also, paradoxically, did not include a ban on giving violent games to minors–i.e., if you are a parent giving your kid a game to play. So while, on the one hand, the law tried to claim that violent games are such a powerful social ill as to be legally kept from children in the marketplace, its framers did not seem to think that violent games were such a powerful social ill as to incriminate the parents who let their kids play them.

      This effectively meant that the law was designed to allow parents to be better able to enforce their will as to what their children should play. The court found that this was entirely redundant with the successful self-policing the industry has done through ESRB ratings, and legally codifying anything with regards to free speech that can be (and is) successfully self-policed is considered dangerous grounds in U.S. Constitutional law.

      They also found the studies that claim violent video games are worse for children than other forms of media inconclusive at best, pointlessly wrongheaded at worst; therefore the law was unconstitutional insofar as it singled-out videogames but not films or books without being able to establish, beyond the supposed value judgments of concerned parents, that the one was more harmful than the others or fit one of the unprotected categories (obscenity, incitement, fighting words.)

      So yes, it is theoretically possible that a law could be better-worded and be accepted by SCOTUS (certainly the concurring opinion suggests that Alito and Roberts had their reservations that games aren’t more harmful to minors than other media), but it’s also unlikely. This case establishes precedent, and while precedent is sometimes overturned, with regards to the First Amendment, the court rarely moves from less restrictive to more restrictive in its rulings. Someone would have to produce clear, incontrovertible evidence that violence in games directly causes real-life violence in a way in which books and films do not.

    • malkav11 says:

      But…compulsory ratings -have- stopped games from being sold in the UK: it is (apparently) illegal to sell games in the UK that have not been rated by the BBFC, and they have refused ratings to Carmageddon and Manhunt 2 (though, admittedly, both were later allowed after some censoring).

      And don’t even get me started on Australia.

  19. Protagoras says:

    This will surely be marked as the day where freedom won against tyranny, where the just beat down the wicked, where the terminator got terminated(?)!.

    Also, I never really got the point of working to legitimize games – it’s a nice concept, and in an ideal society should have worked. But the truth of our world is, that old, extremist conservatives run most countries, and they could give a fuck about ye young people and your new age hippy computer crap.

    The real course of action is just to wait another 10-20 years so those old farts die/retire, and then have someone who grew up with videogames get a place in politics. Let the idiots die out, gamers will eventually be the majority, like it or not.

    • thegooseking says:

      I’m pretty sure gamers are already the majority. 66% of households in the US have some form of gaming system. I’m not aware of how much of that 66% just has a gaming system for the kids, but given that the average age of a gamer is 36 (and, indeed, that there are more gamers over the age of 50 than there are under the age of 18, if only just, making the age range of gamers a fairly even distribution), it seems like gamers do represent a significant portion of the population.

      The problem isn’t how many people are gamers; the problem is how many people like to talk about it. There is still a social stigma to being a gamer that sheer numbers can’t seem to overcome.

  20. Moni says:

    Yay, I think we should all celebrate by playing ultra-violent games. Suggestions?

    • Protagoras says:


      Kill someone, then piss on them, then light them on fire.

    • Daiv says:


      Kill yourself, then drop gel on yourself then catch some turrets on fire.

    • Rinox says:

      There’s actually a part in Postal 2 where you can do that to protesters picketing the offices of Running With Scissors (the dev team) because their games are violent and corrupt children. At a certain point they will have had enough of all this violence and storm the RWS offices, machine guns in hand. Good times.

  21. RenegadeRed says:

    The mere fact that Schwarzenegger tried to restrict violent media from being sold seems like some kind of irony doesn’t it?

  22. Big Murray says:

    Looks like Arnie’s law … just got terminated.


  23. LimeWarrior says:

    Victory is ours!

  24. Evil Otto says:

    Yes, victory. However, where I live(in Holland) it’s still illegal. Stupidly enough, the law only handicaps brick and mortar retailers. If I want to get a game that is rated above my age, I order it or buy it on Steam.

    However, Holland is not the US, and I’m happy that games have the protection of free speech in the country most of them are coming from. Now let’s get rid of the ridiculous laws concerning videogames in Germany and Australia.

  25. Oozo says:

    What’s next? Germany?!

  26. RenegadeRed says:

    Just started reading this badboy, and hoo-ah there are so truly great and timeless lines in here:

    “One study, for example, found that children who had just finished playing violent video games were more likely to fill in the blank letter in “explo_e” with a “d” (so that it reads “explode”) than with an “r” (“explore”). App. 496, 506 (internal quotation marks omitted). The prevention of this phenomenon, which might have been anticipated with common sense, is not a compelling state interest.”


    “The California Legislature is perfectly willing to leave this dangerous, mind-altering material in the hands of children so long as one parent (or even an aunt or uncle) says it’s OK.”

  27. Metonymy says:

    No offense to RPS, but this entire story is just complete nonsense.

    Money is what makes things happen, not human reason or popular opinion. Games are profitable, so they are in danger of nothing.

    • mkultra says:

      And there it is.

    • JakobBloch says:

      So is heroin, crack and LSD.

    • Metonymy says:

      Person 1 that works for rich people fights the drugs, (police) and person two that works for rich people sells the drugs. (pusher) Like the diamond trade, an imaginary supply limit is created, and profits go up. If hard drugs were legalized, the social backlash would hurt profits.

  28. Fameros says:

    On a side note… so this settles the question whether videogames constitute an art form?

  29. caesarbear says:

    A correction, the law was originally struck down by the district court in California. This was the last appeal that was struck down. So violent games were never official banned from tender little sweaty hands.

  30. rammjaeger says:

    Great, now if we can just do something about Germany and their game laws…

  31. LionsPhil says:

    You fools! You’ve ruined everything!

    We could have eradicated the scourge of the grey-brown Gears of Duty clones FOREVER! A glorious utopia of nothing but interesting indie games about semi-sentient motile blobs collecting particles of temporal dust to rewind the big bang, and you threw it all away!

  32. Novack says:

    Thank you for all the coverage you guys have been giving to this thing.

    Something else that denotes maturity on a media, is a mature specialized press covering it.

    You are part of the media, and have stood as solid as the moment required.

    Cheers to RPS!

  33. Anton says:

    Great news indeed!

  34. Anton says:

    Next Case: Video Games is Art

    Exhibit A : Proun

  35. Fumarole says:

    No one I know here in California likes Yee – gamers and non-gamers alike.

  36. Daiv says:

    @Jason Moyer: Yes, I’m in the US. You’re right – those things are all covered by the First Amendment.

    I was actually responding to Jason Lizard above, saying that Britain needs its own equivalent. You may have free speech, but what is “free”, and what is “speech”? Writing it down doesn’t protect you from a ruling that comments on a blog aren’t speech, and therefore aren’t free.

  37. nindustrial says:

    Important stuff. I would just like to point out that the first block quotes in this article are from the Syllabus, not actually from the opinion. The syllabus is provided as a summary of the opinion, but it is drafted by the Reporter of Decisions, not the Court itself, thus that language can’t actually be relied upon in future cases because it isn’t technically part of the opinion. Granted, the syllabus is usually pretty accurate, so it’s certainly worth quoting, but I think that distinction should be understood.

  38. LoveIsGood says:

    I am so sorry to bring in politics but:

    @Jason Moyer

    What about Free Speech Zones? Patriot Act? The Arrests of non violent protestors in Code Pink back when we protested Iraq before Obama came in and killed all the left-wing momentum that was going on. Everyone in American Politics goes where the money goes generally. Republicans even more so. Who also covered up the statues? Don’t pretend for a second Republicans have your rights in mind. It was Reagan after all who approved the 1986 gun ban.

    • Dreamhacker says:

      You know, there are a great many nations that actually embrace gun bans. Keeping and bearing arms might have made sense in the 1700’s, but not today. Fuck the second amendment, to be honest.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Disliking Democrats isn’t an endorsement of Republicans, FWIW. Each party has a handful of people who work with the interests of the American people in mind, and the rest go, as you pointed out, wherever the money is.

      I don’t see why people have a problem with the second amendment. Crime should be reserved for harming other people, and the mere posession of a firearm doesn’t fall into that category. I’m also one of those weirdos who thinks drug prohibition/regulation should be replaced with advisory labels, though, so YMMV.

  39. Shiny says:

    Hey Arnold – you know what else is bad for kids? Having them with someone else’s wife.

  40. shoptroll says:


  41. nullward says:

    Great line on Page 13 of the Opinion of the Court, talking about the debunked “gaming causes violence” studies upon which the law’s reason to exist was based:

    “(7) One study, for example, found that children who had just finished playing violent video games were more likely to fill in the blank letter in “explo_e” with a “d” (so that it reads “explode”) than with an “r” (“explore”). App. 496, 506 (internal quotation marks omitted). The prevention of this phenomenon, which might have been anticipated with common sense, is not a compelling state interest.”

    Golden. Do supreme justices have a sense of humor? I think the answer is yes.

    • gwathdring says:

      There are some absolutely gorgeous lines from the courts, Supreme Court cases especially. These are some of the sharpest judicial minds in the entire country. Some of them are bound to have some wit, as well.

      There’s a nice handful over here:
      link to

      “I am aware of the argument that an able, alert, ever-diligent lawyer could have, had he tried hard enough, discovered that the Government had appealed — even in the closing hours of the sixtieth day. I do not doubt that had Bertman’s counsel been Superman, his X-ray eyes would have told him that a notice of appeal was being filed blocks away in the courthouse, or had he been a lawyer with no clients but Bertman he could have spent the sixtieth day hovering at the clerk’s office to see whether the Government would file a notice of appeal. But Bertman’s counsel (so far as the record shows) is not Superman, nor should the law expect him to be.”

    • gwathdring says:

      I often don’t agree with him, but Scalia is probably my favorite Supreme Court opinion writer I’ve ever read. Here’s something from a case about meat products during his days on the circuit court:

      “This case, involving legal requirements for the content and labeling of meat products such as frankfurters, affords a rare opportunity to explore simultaneously both parts of Bismarck’s aphorism that ‘No man should see how laws or sausages are made.’ ”

      And some case involving AT&T:

      “‘Modify,’ in our view, connotes moderate change. It might be good English to say that the French Revolution “modified” the status of the French nobility – but only because there is a figure of speech called understatement and a literary device known as sarcasm. And it might be unsurprising to discover a 1972 White House press release saying that ‘the Administration is modifying its position with regard to prosecution of the war in Vietnam’ – but only because press agents tend to impart what is nowadays called ‘spin.'”

      And one more for the road:

      “Our task is to clarify the law — not to muddy the waters, and not to exact overcompliance by intimidation. The States and the Federal Government are entitled to know before they act the standard to which they will be held, rather than be compelled to guess about the outcome of Supreme Court peek-a-boo.”

      United States v. Va., 518 U.S. 515, 574 (1996)

  42. MythArcana says:

    Meanwhile, nobody can actually afford a game in California because the politicians are screwing up everything else. The kids here refuse to read unless it’s on the TV screen, so this works out well for everyone.

  43. Theodoric says:

    I hope the Germans take note. They’ve been using this ‘We must protect the children’ bullshit for decades to enforce cencorship.

  44. gwathdring says:

    This was entirely expected of this particular Supreme Court. What worries me, though, is that the same inclinations that cause them to side with the industry here lead them to believe other industries are capable of self-regulating in cases where they haven’t shown any inclination to do that with anywhere near the level of responsibility shown by the video games industry. The current court (especially Clarence “conflict of interest” Thomas) seems to think the pharmaceutical industry desrves a free pass to infringe on the liberties and livelihoods of farmers with their current seed and pesticide practices for example. This court believes very strongly in free speech, which is good, but also gets rubbed the wrong way by legitimate regulation of industry and doesn’t seem to like even mild forms of gun control.

    I have a lot of respect for the current court on an intellectual level (except Clarence Thomas), but I don’t like the general cut of their sails despite the friendly waters such as these they’ve carried us through en route to what I feel are rougher waves.

    Also Clarance Thomas should be impeached. I’ve disagreed with people in political positions at least as strongly before, but he is one of a select group of political officials in my life time I’ve felt ought to be booted out. One or two of them I rather liked, politically speaking … unfortunately those who abuse power don’t always play for your opponents. And more unfortunately, this country doesn’t seem to call for high-up officials to resign very often nowadays for anything other than sexual conduct ….

  45. allthingslive says:

    Wait, let me get this straight. Minors can now buy any video game? For what ever reason I didn’t understand half of what I read, but that’s partially because I’m stupid. Would somebody care to summarize what this all means?

    • Theodoric says:

      This is directed mostly against a specific California law that would only allow children to buy certain games if they had an adults’ consent and could demonstrate that. It went a bit further than that, by practically banning certain types of games (“extremely violent ones”, I think). However, the judges have decided that the US consitution’s First amendment’s freedom of speech bits (technically interpreted as ‘freedom of expression’, these days) also protect video games, meaning they can’t be censored by law.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Kids can only buy them if the retailer will sell it to them, which is less than 20% of the time, according to the last study. SCOTUS isn’t forcing retailers to sell to kids, it’s just saying that the government doesn’t get to make that decision for them.

    • gwathdring says:

      It’s just like movies and books. Cinemas and book stores have no legal obligations to prevent individuals of any age from purchasing specific books and movies. I can understand why parents and private groups/corporations would want to enact policies preventing certain media from ending up in the hands of children, even though I feel this is strictly the realm of parental action even if, practically, parental choice tends to want certain institutions to enforce censorship without directly involving parents.

      Government censorship is exceedingly dangerous territory, and it’s good that the courts aren’t having and truck with it. But.

      This is where censorship starts getting really tricky.

      Blatant censorship such as local-level book bans pushed by parents and exclusion of minors from certain private cinemas while certain films are being played is in the best cases somewhat justifiable and in the worst cases easy to recognize, discuss and put a stop to when necessary. But censorship in America is beginning to take on a completely different course. There are movies, books and ideas that simply will never be sold in Barnes and Nobles, played at Regal cinemas or found even on Often this is mostly a marketing issue, but it can very easily become a subtle form of social engineering and censorship, intentional or not. With second-hand stores such as used book shops and local movie rental stores going out of business rapidly, the diversity of perspective being applied to this frankly unavoidable sort of censorship is dwindling. The issue isn’t shops refusing to sell or simply not noticing particular types of media. The issue is exceedingly small number of people who are making those decisions as local and small-time retailers fall out of the discussion.

    • dhex says:

      The issue is exceedingly small number of people who are making those decisions as local and small-time retailers fall out of the discussion.

      actually, i think you have it backwards – if anything critics complain of oversupply (particularly in music, but it applies to the growing # small book publishers and print on demand concerns; probably in film as well but it ain’t my thing). while i don’t think the “far too many avenues of cultural production and increasingly easy access” complaint has much going for it – it seems like a great problem to have – i think it’s hard to deny that there’s exactly that going on.

      calling it censorship confuses the issue. actually, i’ll go one step further – i’m not even sure that this (clearly idiotic) law actually counts as censorship. (note: not a constitutional lawyer)

    • gwathdring says:

      I think you are mistaken. There is a massive influx of content, surely. Perhaps, for some critics, and over abundance of new material. But this isn’t an issue of pure quantity of available songs, games, movies, books, and so forth. It’s a matter of preserving the integrity of content selection. Online auctions like e-bay can work to enhance the integrity of content selection by allowing a broader influx of sellers and little to no inventory restriction. But whether for business of political reasons the people behind major retailers like Wallmart, Target (Target is a big offender here), Barnes and Nobles, and so forth exclude much of the available content from their libraries. If we become more and more dependent on specific, large retailers, this is going to become more problematic. If instead we see a growth in online auctions and similarly democratic retailers than we’re going to be just fine.

      I think, more than anything else, after-market sales are crucial in maintaining content selection integrity. Increasingly, older content is being siphoned into the digital market along with new material making “after market” a moot concept in music for example. But while we’re waiting for technology to make after-market CDs, Books and other media products obsolete through digital back-catalogs and print-on-demand services, we have to deal with the fact that any content that doesn’t sell well enough or produce enough units is going to disappear from major retailers. And as we lose traditional after market resources like used book stores due to the success of those large retailers we start to see a lot of lost content. Add to that the both de-facto and direct political influence on inventory decisions made by some of these largest retailers and we start to see the retail equivalent of the Fox News phenomenon: a pinch of intentional spin and a bucketful of “give them what they want to hear” resulting in both accidental and intentional disruption of content selection integrity.

      It’s even happening in our search engines. Use google search while logged in to you G-Mail account and you’ll find sites similar to ones you visit frequently at the top of every list. This is convenient if you aren’t an obsessive book-marker but it leads to a loss of content selection integrity. You aren’t getting exposed to new information opportunities as readily as you otherwise would have been. Unless you make a conscious effort, your horizons are not being tested by the most insignificant amount. In the case of Google Search, there isn’t even any corporate or political tampering as far as I’m aware. But it’s a similar danger, and a similar type of de-facto censorship. It’s not part of explicit legal wrangling or a massive movement. It’s a series of subtle changes often in the name of personalization that could very easily lead to massive amounts of unintended content access restriction.

      I also have trouble agreeing with you about the law not being censorship. The aim was to restrict access to certain types of content by minors. Furthermore the wording would have effectively banned certain sub-types of violent gaming content. It was poorly written and it may have had other intentions, but the result of enforcement of the law would certainly have been a type of censorship. I don’t know what else to call restricting access to content in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. I think there are times when arbitrary and discriminatory content restriction can be useful, and I also think it is best described as censorship. You’ll need to explain what exactly makes you say that the law isn’t censorship for me to understand your point there.

    • dhex says:

      And as we lose traditional after market resources like used book stores due to the success of those large retailers we start to see a lot of lost content.

      i think this is the heart of our disagreement – i don’t think used book stores and the like even begin to matter anymore. the category of “available content” is rapidly expanding, even if the scope of physical retailers – big and small – remains constant or, more likely, shrinks. i don’t think you can accurately describe target’s stocking decisions as censorship anymore than a local record store not stocking the new britney spears album could be called censorship.

      as for the law, blessedly dead, it’s restraint focused on restricting the rights of retailers and children. wrongheaded, but i’m not sure it’s actually censorship.

      i may be going too far, but i’m having lunch with a lawyer friend today so i’ll ask her if my garage rock con law interpretation is indeed full of doody.

    • gwathdring says:

      I think the heart of our disagreement is about the definition of censorship.

      What I’m talking about, specifically with respect to the companies I listed, is almost more of a depolarization of content, a push to develop a more politically correct line up. I see it in what books get put on table-top displays, which best-sellers get the top sell from certain stores, and which stores just don’t sell certain products. I wouldn’t be as cynical as to suggest it is usually more than “give them what they want” content discrimination, but I guess I feel that’s a type of censorship. It’s intentionally ignoring not just certain products that art unlikely to sell well but certain IDEAS and TYPES of content that don’t fit the current popular narrative well enough to sell well. It’s personalizing and tweaking what’s available so precisely that the tiny mistakes and misjudgments could in the future become self-fulfilling prophecies in the same way that the news narrative spun by 24/7 news stations shapes popular opinion.

      I can understand why all that is a tough sell, though. It’s something I’m still working out for myself, and I may well decide it’s bunk in a few years. It’s noticeable enough to me for the engine to start turning, but not enough for me to be legitimately worried, especially not with he Internet right there smiling at us (barring further net-neutrality shenanigans).

      So let’s get back to the initial question. How is preventing minors from playing certain games censorship? Well, first of all this law would have labeled games of ambiguously violent specifications in the same special way that pornography is and thus making it inaccessible to anyone under the age of 18.

      For me, censorship is simple. As such I attach no negative or positive connotation to it. Any speech content is restricted on the basis that it should not be consumed by a particular group, that speech is being censored. Precedent tends to favor media being speech, so I think we’re pretty safe calling video games some sort of speech, obscene or not. Labeling all or even some games obscene and restricting access by children is preventing speech content from being consumed by a particular some group or groups on the basis that somebody said those groups should not be consuming it. That sounds like censorship to me. Restriction of speech on subjective grounds.

      What do you consider censorship?

  46. skurmedel says:

    Hear the lamentation of the Children!

  47. Sardaukar says:

    Alright, this battle is won troops. Saddle up and start moving to the porn front.

  48. Carra says:

    Heck, I bought Terminator for my SEGA.

    He wasn’t crying when he got his royalties back then!

  49. destroy.all.monsters says:

    Could someone that is more eloquent than myself please fix the rampaging ignorance on this page? They’re generally a very good website but the attitude displayed here is just offensive:

    link to

  50. destroy.all.monsters says:

    Also I think that if they were that serious about this legislation they should have immolated themselves in protest like so many buddhist monks have. At least then we’d have known they were serious.

    @ Carra – proving the political motivation. He’d do anything for a buck. Or anything else that ended in -uck for that matter.