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back to article US Supremes dump violent video game ban

The US Supreme Court has upheld a lower-court decision that blocked a California law which made the sale or rental of violent video games to minors an offense punishable by fines of up to $1,000. "California has singled out the purveyors of video games for disfavored treatment – at least when compared to booksellers, cartoonists …

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Happy

Wow some common sense for a change

Yay! for common sense (for a change). Every time someone gets the power to choose what others get to see, we create a power base for corrupt social manipulation.

If you don't like what you see, the answer for changing a society isn't allowing prohibition of knowledge, where someone gets to choose for others, because that power always ends up getting abused.

The people who make the fundamentally flawed association between violent behavior with violent imagery are profoundly ignorant of the real reasons why some people are violent towards others. (Here's a hint, its not violent imagery!). That ignorance is what has to change, if they truly want to change society for the better.

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Unhappy

Is it common sense?

I have to disagree that its "common sense" - many countries see the value of prohibiting minors from seeing certain forms of media based on content - Kids really shouldn't be playing games like Manhunt. This would have just given the parents the ability to say no - if they still wanted to buy it for the kid, they could have.

(Then again, Noone should be playing Manhunt - simply because it was a bad game - I have no problem with adults playing violent games)>

Adults (Parents) almost always get to choose for their kids (until they're old enough to make sensible decisions) its always been that way, and always should be.

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Thumb Down

I don't like this line of reasoning very much

Would you argue that it should be illegal to sell food to children because their parents might want to control what they eat?

Arguably this is a much more serious problem, since it would be default sneak a game back home and play it in secret where as unapproved food could be eaten on the spot.

Or how about clothing? Lots of parents are concerned about how their children dress, should clothing stores be allowed to go behind their backs? Something must be done. </dailyfail>

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Stop

Well

I think there's a world of difference between sustinance and entertainment.

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FAIL

Bad law

Even given the free speech and commonsense side of this whole issue, the law sounds incredibly vague as to what is and isn't illegal. This kind of thing makes for really bad law.

"A reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors."

Who defines what is and isn't reasonable? How can you know up front whether or not your game is going to breach this law if whether or not it does is determined by someone's opinion?

"It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors."

Again, who gets to decide? And which community? The deep south? The Islamic community? The Jewish community? They all have different opinions.

"It causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."

I don't see anything resembling "pure entertainment" in that list, which is kinda missing the whole point isn't it?

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True but...

That crazy wording is mostly borrowed from famous Miller Test for obscenity, probably the most poorly thought out of the relatively few first amendment exceptions recognized by SCOTUS. Presumably lawmakers hoped they could persuade the court that this too was constitutional by using similar language.

Honestly, I think the obscenity exception itself really needs to go. Or more specifically, I think it should be narrowed to cover only obscenity inflicted on unwilling people, not content distributed to those who voluntarily accesses it. I suspect the court would not have created such a broad free speech exception nowadays, but they're still reluctant to go back and fix it.

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Common Sense From Washington? The World MUST Be Ending!

Justice Scalia has never really impressed me, but I enjoyed reading his opinion, particularly the quotes from children's literature.

Perhaps he DOES have both a brain AND a sense of humor! At the very least he seems to possess some degree of common sense, which is way more than we're used to out of Washington.

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Anonymous Coward

Won't anybody think of the pornographers?

So what about pornography/eroticism then?

I gather it's allright for the character to be hacking someone to bits, free speech and all that, but as soon as a (virtual even!) nipple shows... what then, all of a sudden it's obscene and not worthy of constitutional protection?

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WTF?

er ... wtf ?

pronography *is* protected by the 1st amendment. Which is why the worlds porn capital is in California.

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Facepalm

Not by your standards it isn't

You say: pronography *is* protected by the 1st amendment. Which is why the worlds porn capital is in California.

Actually by your definition of protected it isn't. Anyone under 18 cannot buy a Playboy in the US. Thanks to the SCOTUS they can however purchase any violent video game or movie or book they want. But perish the thought of them seeing a topless female.

I don't see how restricting the sale of something violent to someone under 18 is a violation of the first amendment but restricting them buying a Playboy isn't.

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Nail in the Coffin

And for once, I'm glad to see the opinion turn some of the arguments of the "nannies" back in their faces. The Hansel & Gretel one is particularly poignant, since it's a kid's story of kids committing what in any books would be considered cruel and unusual punishment (and points for using the raw versions of the tales, not the sanitized ones we tend to hear these days). And not mentioned in the article but mentioned in the opinion is Scalia's point that interactivity itself is nothing new (as any kid who has ever read a Find Your Fate or Make Your Own Adventure book can attest)

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Huh?

A good call from the US Supreme Court? Common sense has prevailed? Did I wake up in the Twilight Zone this morning?

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And no, you can't play it in Court

Wow, the Supremes are seeing Free Speech in every receipt out of the Cash Register these days. They really have to stop reading the bad economic news in the papers.

Come to think of it, you never could shout 'Fire!' in a crowded Theater, at a 2 pm Matinée when you've called in sick to work. That sort of thing will get you into trouble.

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Childcatcher

Yay!

Now kiddies can play Postal 3!

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Go

federal oversight

its basically an industry protection measure; The fed states it has the authority, not individual states, to regulate the videogame industry, which means Rockstar only has to tweak a Europe/Germany/Australia/USA version of GTA, rather than potentially 50 separate versions for each state. considering allowing individual states to legislate content would effectively balloon the cost of developing and publishing, and drive piracy through the roof as people in the more restricted states turn to clandestine downloads to find the "directors cut" of the game they want to play, protecting production under the terms of free speech is the most pragmatic move available.

you can argue that its semi-pointless anyway, as the XBOX, Playstation and nintendo platforms refuse to licence games without ESRB certification, and still further refuse to licence games that recieve AO certifications. Fun times; Protecting developers from localisation hell is only part of the problem.

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WTF?

Federal oversight?

Having read the full decision, the federal oversight involved is the First Amendment, not a claimed authority for regulation of the video games. "Localisation hell" had nothing to do with it; on the contrary, this Court has on several recent occasions defended the rights of the states to regulate a variety of things in lieu of or in addition to federal regulations.

Here are several products that are subject to different regulations determined by the state in which they are purchased and/or used: Petrol, firearms, insurance (medical and property), and alcohol. Guess what? While it might make business harder, these industries get by somehow.

In two recent cases involving firearms, the Supreme Court reiterated that states have the right to regulate firearms, so long as they don't exceed the Constitution's guarantee of the right to bear arms. The Court did NOT impose the standard of, say, Vermont's gun laws on Washington, DC or Illinois to preclude "localisation hell."

With regard to the ESRB, that is not a government agency, but the video game industry self-policing. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are all within their rights to exclude what they want. California does not, under this law, have the right to tell those companies what they must exclude.

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Joke

Right to bear arms?

Wow that's lucky for those bears in the US, if they didn't have the right to bear arms then would they have to be given prosthetic ones?

Rob

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Childcatcher

studies that "have found causal evidence that playing these games results in harm,"

And those self-same studies have subsequently been discredited for flawed methodology, limited sample sizes or even self-selected sample groups.

It's just good that most of the Supremes don't believe the nonsense produced by people whose real motivation is "we don't like this, so *you* aren't allowed to see it" with a subtext of "Won't Someone Think Of the Children!!" whilst ignoring the fact that it's the responsibility of parents to stop their kids from seeing this stuff.

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Devil

I want

"As an example, Breyer described one game that was submitted to the court in which "a character who shoots out a police officer's knee, douses him with gasoline, lights him on fire, urinates on his burning body, and finally kills him with a gunshot to the head."

Sounds cool - what game is that!

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That would be

any of the Postal series of games from Running With Scissors.

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Childcatcher

The obvious problem here...

...is that public urination might well be a sex offence in some areas, and thus trumps aggravated assault and murder. Won't someone think of the police officers??

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Stop

A safety note

I'd just like to point out that should a police officer or other party be well ablaze with the aid of a gasoline type accelerant, urination will have negligible effect in extinguishing the flames and may indeed spread the fire, hazarding the urinator and any bystanders.

This type of information should be made clear with a prominent warning, I feel.

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Bedtime Stories

Yep, murder, poisoning, cutting witches heads off, or burning them alive, pagan rituals witchcraft or sorcery, dragons, ghosts, goblins, ghouls and other nightmarish creatures. All loving recited to children each night the world over.

Must admit nothing beats the classic children fairytales for that sort of graphic violence and horror themes.

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FAIL

Movie ratings

So it's now okay for a US minor to buy an adult rated violent video game? Why then are minors not allowed into cinemas to watch violent movies? Surely the 'Grimm's Fairy Tale' argument applies for those too. 5 year-olds should (if this warped logic applies) be able to both listen to 'Little Red Riding Hood' at bedtime (in which a wolf eats an old woman and is eventually hacked to death) and then go to see 'Red Riding Hood' at the cinema, which is actually rated 12 and has far LESS violence (as you'd expect from a 12 rating).

Or perhaps children should be protected from visual imagery not appropriate to their age and the US courts again show the stupidity of dogmatically applying 'freedom of speech' to everything and everyone in every circumstance.

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Mushroom

Feel free...

...to move to Singapore, where the government will generously decide for you what you are allowed to see and think. With any luck, El Reg will appear on the banned list.

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ESRB

Or, they could simply make something like ESRB or RSAC mandatory, like MPAA ratings for movies. The system is already in place, no need to write stupid laws like this one. Let an actual board set the standards!

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@nick

Um you do know that your example is flawed. Why ? cause it's the movie industry that is doing the regulation not the gov. Most major retailers won't sell mature video games to minors, but once again that's the industry self policing it's self. Nothing to do with the gov.

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What censorship?

As far as I can see noone was proposing to censor anything. What's the free speech angle? Or isn't there one?

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Thats just it

There really isn't one (for adults at least). Just a lot of misinformed people that believe its an attempt to ban the games themselves.

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"feels the sensation of blood on his face and hands"

I want to know what kind of gaming rig this judge has, because I can blow any number of zombies to bits in Left 4 Dead 2, I have never felt any sensation of blood whatsoever.

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I think the point

I think the point was that it's a future proviso...

The law as interpreted now may need refinement at some point in the future where that level of interactivity is possible.

Think direct neural interface where you would actually experience the game as if you were there as it's jacked right into your brain... though that does lead to the "die in the game" scenario :\

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Ru
FAIL

Why is it always the vendors who are in the firing line?

Anyone ever proposed a law to punish parents who let their children play violent games? Or more to the point, buy those violent computergames and supply them to children?

Responsibility should start at home.

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FAIL

Yeah, right

Which system are you imagining here:

"Here's your pocket money, Timmy. I want receipts for everything you buy filed at the end of each month."

or perhaps:

"No pocket money for you, Tim. And I've jacked in work so that I can spend 24hrs a day watching you and your friends."

There is such a thing as parental responsibility of course. But there's also such a thing as reality and most of the "censorship" claims for this sort of perfectly normal regulation come from people with a very distant relationship with either reality or truth.

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Anonymous Coward

@Ru

Not really practical to enforce - how do you prove that parents allowed children to play violent games, as opposed to didn't know they were being played? And where do you draw the line on violence? Arguably chess is violent, football certainly is (any flavour of football you want) - I know I have never got into a fist fight playing computer games but I certainly mixed it up as a child playing football, rugby and British Bulldog (and many of these were pre-1982 so no access to violent computer games as a possible reason).

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Silver badge

Depends on the circumstance

If a parent intentionally buys the game for the kid and the kids ends up doing something wrong, then you MIGHT have a case for "Contributing to the Delinquence of a Minor". But in general, as a matter of principle and freedom, many governments don't want to step on parents' toes on the grounds of "My Family, My Business" (that is a topic that can itself stir heated debate on the subject of contribution to society and so on). But there are other avenues for the kids to obtain the game without the parents knowing...

- Like the buddy in college who buys it (since he/she IS of legal age) with cash (so no paper trail) and then passes it own down (the classic 2nd-party approach).

- Like the kid who secretly downloads a pirate copy then removes the traces from the family machine (the "kid is smarter than the parent" scenario).

- Like the kid who's tall for his age and gets a fake ID (the "kid is smarter than the clerk" scenario).

Responsibility may start at home, but don't forget that with authority comes rebellion. Some kids just won't take "no" for an answer. Plus times are tough. When both parents have to work, how do you keep watch on "latchkey children" and still make ends meet?

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Black Helicopters

sad to see what it's become

seems everyone + dog is all about "free speech" when it comes to sex, violence and gutter-bottom swear words...but quick to lock down anything potentially "offensive" to a preset minority or the media-darling political party.

I understand the slippery slope, but it has become as Huxley predicted, the truth and necessity of free speech in America is to keep government under control, not to be buried under endless bullsh*t. It is to make sure there is always discourse and education, not making sure kids don't have to learn any verb other than "f*ck" and no adjective other than "f*cking".

Meanwhile, media assaults us with more spin and propaganda, plays newspeak definitions with words (1984 and Brave New World ended up the same, just different methods of oppression) in order to keep things unbalanced, and the water turns up a little higher as even the tadpoles are kept staring at new noisy shinies.

What will be the next forbidden thing for children to desire? Or adults for that matter?

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