Preserving the First Amendment for Video Games
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up the case of Schwarzenegger v. EMA, which centers on whether government can exempt some video games from First Amendment protections. Banning content (such as books and movies) to adults is clearly unconstitutional, however California has followed many other states in attempting to ban the sale of "violent" video games to minors. While these laws may have good intentions, banning the sale of video games directly places a government bureaucrat into what should be a parental decision. Additionally, every court that has considered similar laws has rejected them on First Amendment grounds, costing taxpayers millions of dollars for state Attorneys General to defend them.
While we await the U.S. Supreme Court's decision - and hope they will shoot down the California law - below are some resources to better educate yourself on the issue. Instead of a one-size-fits-all policy handing politicians and bureaucrats the authority to raise children, parents should be able to utlize current game ratings systems to raise their children how they see fit.
U.S. Supreme Court Case Amicus Briefs
Briefs and documents related to the U.S. Supreme Court's case (including those by proponents of the law) can be found here. However, a number of bipartisan amicus briefs were filed arguing against the California law:
- Digital Liberty joined an amicus brief headed by the Center for Democracy in Technology arguing the law would have a severe impact on online gaming, is impractical given online age verification systems, and would violate First Amendment rights of adults, who would also have to prove their age.
- The Progress and Freedom Foundation and Electronic Frontier Foundation's amicus brief highlighted the importance of existing parental controls as opposed to government regulations, argued that video games are constitutionally protected under the First Amendment, and contends that the state does not have a compelling interest in establishing such regulations.
- The Cato Institute's brief highlights the importance and success of industry self-regulation.
Adam Thierer, blogging on Tech Liberation Front, has two excellent posts on the issue:
Thoughts on Oral Arguments in Schwarzenegger v. EMA Video Game Case
If We Ban Violent Video Games, Why Not Violent Theme Park Attractions?
Additionally, for parents concerned about video game ratings, click here to see the current rating system. Note that there are seven age ratings and thirty content descriptors, eight of which describe a specific type of violence. The California government's proposal would reduce this down to one age descriptor.