Editorial: Case Closed!

Greetings, Lusipurr.com readers! Quite a bit has been happening this week!

As some of our readers may have learned, on Monday, June 27th, the Supreme Court went through and ruled 7-2 on the infamous Brown v. EMA case, which argued the legality of a California ban on the sale of violent video games to minors that had been passed back in 2005. Had it been enforced, the state would restrict the sale of all of M-rated games and enforce a fine–cited to be up to $1000 per infraction–to store owners who sold highly-violent video games to minors.

I'm not kidding. This picture is actually pretty intimidating.
Don't make Phoenix angry. You won't like him when he's angry.

However, the Electronics Merchants Association (formerly the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association and Video Software Dealers Association) filed a claim to contest the law shortly after it had been passed, citing it to be unconstitutional citing the First Amendment. The case was argued and argued, until an appeal was filed to the Supreme Court. To everyone’s surprise, the court agreed to review the appeal in November of 2010. Eight months later, they announced their ruling. Although a great many people had assumed that the law would be stricken down due to its Free Speech infraction, not everyone predicted that the Supreme Court would rule on it near-unanimously, citing that “easthetic and moral judgement about art and literature are for the individual to make, not for the government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of the majority.” What does this mean?

I am the LAW!
I like to imagine that Antonin Scalia wore this while delivering his ruling.

A great many things, actually. Video Games are now influential enough that they are being considered a legitimate art form by the courts and are, as such, on equal footing with movies, television, and music. This may come as a shock to people (including many gamers themselves) who still think that the gaming culture is a subculture rather than a part of mainstream culture. But this transition is something that had to occur for the industry to progress and grow, and the trial of Brown v. EMA is a benchmark in the progression of the medium from a limited, inclusive hobby to an important and legitimate facet of popular entertainment.

Additionally, this ruling will help immensely in protecting games from further legal ramifications due to their content. We have all seen news story after news story of pundits and reports blaming violent and/or vulgar crimes and behavior on video games, as if targeting the medium because of its inferred inability to argue its defense. For decades, the general public has refused to view video games as a credible form of artistic expression. As of now, that is no longer the case: courts have acknowledged that studies linking games to deviant behavior have little evidence to support themselves, and that video games are on the same level of expression as film, music, and traditional art with regards to messages and legitimacy.

Justice has been served, but will this victory have lasting effects? What are your opinions on this ruling, readers?

4 comments

  1. I have always thought it extremely peculiar that games were being treated differently from art, books, and movies, especially given their similarities. I am glad the Supreme Court was similarly perplexed, and drew similar conclusions.

  2. @Lusipurr I’ve always reckoned that the reason many pundits are unable to see gaming as an worthy avenue of expression is because of its property of being an active medium (that is, having the audience simultaneously participate in and absorb their entertainment) rather than a passive medium like books, film, etc. It’s hard to develop and execute an experience that depends on input from a somewhat unpredictable source while the work is in progress, but that’s just one thing that separates vidya games from other methods of expression. But I also concur that despite that, this isn’t enough to make them any less of a medium than others.

  3. One of the primary proponents of this bill was California senator Leland Yee, who has been embroiled in anti-game legislation of all types since the Hot Coffee days. This bill was simply the last of the reheated leftovers from that misguided and unfortunate time for the game industry, and I can only hope that Yee himself realized that BEFORE the Supreme Court laid down its ruling.

    On a more personal note, this ruling holds special significance for me, seeing that my earliest days in game journalism were often spent writing about the Hot Coffee debacle and all the subsequent, willy-nilly legislation that came about. It’s like the end of an era, I suppose. In a way, I’ll almost miss it.

  4. How many great works of literature/art were initially threatened by censorship, or at least derided as obscene? This tendancy further legitimates video games as works of art, although I don’t really feel that the violent video games are the ones which deserve that much recognition as such…

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