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Video Game Free Speech Ruling Aftermath 258

Posted by Soulskill
from the knee-deep-in-the-opinions dept.
On Monday we discussed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors was in violation of the First Amendment's free speech protection. By now, both sides of the debate have had a chance to respond to the Court's ruling. Congressman Joe Baca and CA State Senator Leland Yee pledged to continue the fight for stricter controls on the distribution of violent games, while others cried, "think of the children." Game industry groups were unsurprisingly pleased with the decision, but warned that this won't be the end of it, and asked lawmakers to stop wasting time with such legislation in the future. An article at the NY Times points out how the ruling highlights the lack of clear evidence supporting either side of the debate, and Time notes the Supreme Court's double standard, asking, "Why does the court treat violent images and sexual images so differently?" Finally, an editorial at Gamasutra reminds us that even though most game developers are breathing a sigh of relief, many would like to see the industry shift toward something more creative and meaningful than violence.
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Video Game Free Speech Ruling Aftermath

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  • by retroworks (652802) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @06:37AM (#36608962) Homepage Journal
    Other than for politicians who like to say they voted "against" sex and violence, and retailers and producers, do these laws have any effect to begin with on kids? I have seen opinions that it "desensitizes" kids to violence. But I've also read that access to porn has led to less sex crime. It kind of feels like violent games would reduce empathy in kids, but I'd be more interested in slashdot links to actual studies of behavior than political posturing and opinion about the ruling.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHHdovKHDNU

      Experiment by Albert Bandura. Shows how kids will reproduce acts of violence they have witnessed.

      A few notes:
      - This experiment features kids who have unsupervised access to visual depictions of violence. It's not clear if kids still act violent when an adult puts this violence into context for them.
      - The experiment does not seem to say much about the long-term effects of exposure to violence.
      - Kids will imitate almost any behavior they observe in others, violence is

      • Children that play at violence learn empathy. They learn that it hurts when you get punched. All mammals play fight when young. It an important social function.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @07:15AM (#36609140) Journal
      Aside from the question of how effective the law (almost certainly wouldn't) have been in terms of changing minors' access to the games it applied to(see the complete absence of minors with access to cigarettes, under-21s with access to booze, and people generally with access to schedule 1 drugs...) there seem to be two 'schools' of result, depending on how researchers approach the question:

      In individual-scale studies, people often demonstrate that subjects primed with violent video games are somewhat more likely to act-out violent behaviors, answer ambiguous prompts with the more, rather than less, violent possibility, etc.

      In population-scale statistical work, of the 'epidemiological' style, the results usually seem to be that video games, presumably by providing an extremely easy and attractive(and generally quite cheap, too) timesink for the idle and troublesome youngish males who handle most of society's grunt-level violence, appear to reduce the levels of violence sufficiently intense to show up in crime statistics.
    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      do these laws have any effect to begin with on kids

      I'd be more interested in slashdot links to actual studies of behavior

      The supreme court ruling refers to articles on both those points. They stated that in California, 20% of retailers will sell violent games to children, which compares to the 18% of liquor stores that sell alcohol to minors. The justices also commented on various studies, basically concluding that they are all very subject and totally inconclusive. The actual opinions are full of interesting facts.

    • do these laws have any effect to begin with on kids?

      Does this DECISION have any effect either? The industry already self-censors, so what practical impact does it really have. It isn't going to make it any easier to get a AO rated game made, published, or sold. It isn't going to make it any easier for a kid to buy a M-rated game (since most retailers won't sell them to a kid anyway). It has no real-world impact at all. I suspect the court only did it so they could *look* like they were championing free speech (after a year of ultra-conservative decisions tha

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @06:45AM (#36609004) Journal

    Why does the Supreme Court treat violent video games differently? Its a double standard...blah blah They acknowledged that and said why in their ruling. They pointed out that not just in American history but in western society leading up to American, we have always done so. Our oldest fairy tails and even our Bible stories depict rather graphic violence even though they are intended for presentation to children. Meanwhile we have always restricted the presentation of sexual images, when not presented in away that society broadly recognizes as high art.

    They said all this in their ruling, maybe these people should try reading it and then respond.

    • by bmo (77928)

      >... Bible stories depict rather graphic violence even though they are intended for presentation to children. Meanwhile we have always restricted the presentation of sexual images,

      You really haven't read the Bible, have you?

      The Song of Solomon is a pretty good bit of literary erotica.

      --
      BMO

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        >... Bible stories depict rather graphic violence even though they are intended for presentation to children. Meanwhile we have always restricted the presentation of sexual images,

        You really haven't read the Bible, have you?

        The Song of Solomon is a pretty good bit of literary erotica.

        -- BMO

        Incestuous erotic literature at that:

        9 You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
        you have stolen my heart
        with one glance of your eyes,
        with one jewel of your necklace.
        10 How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!
        How much more pleasing is your love than wine,
        and the fragrance of your perfume
        more than any spice!
        11 Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride;
        milk and honey are under your tongue.

      • by stms (1132653)
        Yeah and they don't usually teach The Song of Salomon to kids in church... but stories of violence like the story of David and Goliath where David Bashes Goliath's head with a stone then decapitates him are favorites for children. Furthermore The Song of Solomon would be considered art.
      • by Bengie (1121981)

        Song of Solomon is quite arousing.

        Anyone who doesn't get this, Song of Solomon talks about oral sex and many other delights.

      • by DarkOx (621550)

        I have not read the "Song of Solomon" recently and I don't have it handy but If my recollection is at all correct its mostly euphemism. Quite titillating, yes if you have any experience with acts alluded to, but not exactly graphic if you don't. The depictions of violence on the other hand tend to be quite specific, and might even be characterized as technical.

        My suspicions if it were translated as,

        Oh the joy I felt shoving my throbbing penis into your swollen vagina repeatedly.

        society would take a dimer view of letting children read Bibles.

    • by Eivind (15695)

      Who the fuck came up with the ida that bible stories "are intended for presentation to children" ?

      The bible is most definitely *not* written to be child-friendly, it has plenty of gruesome murders and torture, and a fair bit of sex.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by vlm (69642)

        The bible is most definitely *not* written to be child-friendly, it has plenty of gruesome murders and torture, and a fair bit of sex.

        We need to ban that book. Think Of The Children!

    • Interestingly enough I attended a talk by a few well know authors who were talking about themes in old folk tails and fairy tails which they'd come across while researching old stories.
      One striking thing was that there tended to be a lot more sexual references.
      A lot of disney stories are older ones with the violence toned down and the sex stripped away entirely.

      • Given that, until comparatively recently, the population-level western standard of living often didn't include enough dwelling space to necessarily separate the humans from the livestock, much less the existing children from the production of siblings, 'protecting' children from sexual material would have been pretty tricky(though, at the same time, willingness to use fairly coercive means to attempt to control sexual behavior was quite high)...
        • by jackbird (721605)

          When Gunther Grass was outed as having joined the Nazi Youth, his excuses included being unable to stand hearing them have sex every night in their shared bedroom.

    • They said all this in their ruling, maybe these people should try reading it and then respond.

      They did say why, but perhaps some people don't think that "tradition" is a good reason to uphold a decision.

      • by DarkOx (621550)

        Which is a fine argument and a legitimate response to the decisions. Saying we should not do something just because of tradition is different than saying I don't understand why we do then when the court has just told you its by tradition.

        The Supreme Court has long taken the view that not only should it keep consistent in the technical sense, as to its interpretations but also in the character sense, at least until that character no longer reflects the general character of the public.

        This is why geeks alw

  • by cgenman (325138) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @06:46AM (#36609008) Homepage

    The thing newspapers keep missing is that there is already a voluntary rating system out there, which all game retailers adhere to. Console makers have already banned Adults Only games from their consoles, and violent M games are kept away from kids by retailers already. By most tests, the system is more effective than the Movie rating system at keeping kids away from M (R) rated content.

    So really, the court didn't rule that you can't have a ban. The court ruled that to overcome the first amendment challenge, California had to prove significant interest in a government-enforced ban above and beyond the already in-place industry ban. Since the California law was only going to add legal confusion to an already working voluntary system, the supremes ruled against them.

    • by DrXym (126579)
      Exactly, the need for legislation is not required because the industry is so meek, so paranoid of bad publicity that stores ask for ID even when it is not required and will take "controversial" games off shelves. It's not like legislation would have any teeth either for non-commercial games - mods, flash content etc. where the more extreme stuff is likely to be found anyway.
    • Most retailers don't sell them to minors... but what about third party sellers? Small game shops? Ebayers?
      • If if you want to ban violent media sales to children by law it better be all media. There is no legal force behind movie ratings.

  • There is also lack of clear evidence that rules restricting the sale of tobacco, alcohol, and porn to minors is making a difference. For that matter, the closest analogue is probably R-rated movies, and there isn't any evidence that restricting those at the theatre is useful, either.
    • by bmo (77928)

      Just to let you know, the MPAA rating system is purely voluntary by the studios and the theaters.

      --
      BMO

      • Just to let you know, the MPAA rating system is purely voluntary by the studios and the theaters.

        Sure, but the theatres face all kinds of hell if they intentionally allow unaccompanied minors in to R-rated movies in the states.

        • by Creepy (93888)

          You miss the double standard - retailers don't face any punishment if they sell an NR or R rated movie to a minor, so why should they face punishment for selling an M rated video game to a minor? An NR (or uncut) movie probably would get an AO rating by the MPAA (effectively either pornographic or have graphic violence that is beyond what even the MPAA allows), but they still sell them in retail stores.

          Also, as I've pointed out all along - buying a video game and going to see a movie is not an apples-to-app

  • Double Standard? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @07:01AM (#36609076) Journal

    "Why does the court treat violent images and sexual images so differently?"

    To call it the 'court's' double standard seems rather unfair. The justices specifically noted that it was rather odd how American tastes in media, past and present, were highly permissive of violence, even for fairly young children; but much less permissive of sexual material. However, in keeping with their job description, they couldn't really do much about that. 'Miller-test obscenity', while pretty unsatisfactory in a number of respects, is one of the few ways to successfully exempt something from First Amendment protections. For reasons having to do with American culture in the past, continuing into the present, that one doesn't mention violence.

    Perhaps more importantly, the court argued that the law was attempting to enforce an (unconstitutional) double standard by imposing special restrictions on violent media that happened to be video games, restrictions that were not imposed on violence in other media: had the law flipped out at violence per se, as people often do about sexual content, regardless of medium(except for stuff old enough to have a gloss of cultural respectability, which is why 120 Days of Sodom is on the shelves and Playboy behind the counter, wrapped in plastic...), it would have at least had a shot at getting some Miller-esque test carved out for it. Since it specifically targeted video games, it was quite arguably an attempt to legally silence one specific class of speakers, rather than a specific perfidious topic(which might not have necessarily succeeded; but would have had a better chance...)

    The court, for the most part, was just repeating back to us an observation on our own standards.

    • by reimero (194707)

      Fuzzyfuzzyfungus got it exactly right. The Supreme Court basically ruled that video games are to be afforded the same protections as books, movies, TV shows, music and works of art, because video games are a legitimate form of creative expression (seriously, play the original Deus Ex and tell me that doesn't qualify.) California can't discriminate against violent video games because California also can't discriminate against violent books, TV shows, movies, paintings and what have you.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      To call it the 'court's' double standard seems rather unfair. The justices specifically noted that it was rather odd how American tastes in media, past and present, were highly permissive of violence, even for fairly young children; but much less permissive of sexual material

      Sure they could have. They can rule according to the Constitution. There's nothing in the Constitution about community standards. They have chosen to give community standards more weight than our Constitution. That's entirely thei

      • Don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of the theory of 'obscenity' as somehow being a nebulously different and unprotected class of activity.

        However, speaking empirically about what the court actually does, and what people stand for it doing, things that were invented from whole cloth sufficiently long ago are called "precedent" and taken seriously, and asserting in some vaguely plausible way that a work satisfies the Miller test is, in fact, a successful way to exempt something from First Amendment protections
        • by Hatta (162192)

          Well, sure, in a "might makes right" kind of way. It's nothing but thuggery though, and deserves to be called out as such at every opportunity.

  • ... violence. Raw violence, controlled violence, channeled violence... it's all the same. "Competition", that poster boy of capitalism, is really nothing more than a highly channeled and almost symbolic form of violence. Competition is all about putting your figurative foot to the other guy's figurative throat and squeezing until he cries uncle, right? Would somebody please explain how that is really so much different than the caveman version of that scenario, where it's actual feet and necks in play ra

  • by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @07:38AM (#36609240) Homepage

    Sex is usually obvious to identify. What actual "damage" sex does to minors is still a bit of a mystery to me. I recall as early as 5 finding girls to be "interesting" and being quite curious about the differences. This is considered normal and healthy for kids. Oddly enough, the interest and curiosity never stopped. And we also know that when something is denied to someone, it just makes them want it all the more. What's more, I also recall my first experiences with alcohol -- I was also quite young and guess what? I hated it! I didn't learn to like it until my early 20s. I can't say they same would be true for sexual experiences for kids because I have no experience to relate, but there seems to be some indication that "protecting children" from exposure to sexual information is probably more damaging emotionally and psychologically.

    Violence is really subjective... easy to identify, but we have to approve the cause or justification first. Recall that people weren't upset that yet another war game was created, but that there was a depiction of a playable present-day "enemy" where the player attacks US soldiers. (There would have been no commotion if the game was only about US soldiers attacking the Taliban.) It's not the violence itself that we seek to limit, it's the thinking behind the violence we seek to limit. Of course, we can't say what we actually mean because then it is clear and obvious that what we think or feel on the subject is pretty anti-american ideal-wise.

    So instead of admitting that to ourselves and everyone around us, we just say "ban violence! (with the following exceptions: [insert list of things I approve of])"

  • Not likely (Score:4, Funny)

    by mswhippingboy (754599) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @07:46AM (#36609286)

    many would like to see the industry shift toward something more creative and meaningful than violence

    Yea, except those that do the purchasing. Though I'm sure it's been tried, "Call of Knitting: Black Yarn", "Mundane Borrowing Bicycle" or "Halo: Frolicking" probably just wouldn't sell very well.

    • This is why "The Sims" almost bankrupted EA before they wised up and released "The Sims: Noire." and why Nintendogs had to be rebooted as "Michael Vick's Nintendogs: First Blood" right?
    • by russotto (537200)

      Yea, except those that do the purchasing. Though I'm sure it's been tried, "Call of Knitting: Black Yarn"

      Led to copyright infringement by the senior set.

      "Mundane Borrowing Bicycle"

      Led to bicycle traffic violations

      "Halo: Frolicking"

      And right back to sex.

      The bluenoses will always find something to object to.

  • Unconstitutional (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bengie (1121981) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @07:57AM (#36609360)

    If something is found unconstitutional and people keep attempting to push the exact same laws over and over, they should be personally fined for the amount of the cost to the system if again found unconstitutional.

    • by chemicaldave (1776600) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @09:24AM (#36610078)

      On the other side of the coin does the same hold true for people petitioning the courts to overturn laws they view as unconstitutional? Should we have started giving fines to women's suffrage activists? Civil rights activists?

      Fines are not the answer. The correct answer is to just not re-elect those people.

    • by LordNimon (85072)

      Two members of the Supreme Court did say that a more precisely defined law could pass Constitutional muster. This is an open invitation for politicians to try again. This is how our legal system works.

  • Why wouldn't the court treat violent images and sexual images differently? Human brain has a different response to seeing violence and to seeing sex.
    • by Mods (1424749)
      The brain has a different response to hearing the word 'free' than it does to the word 'kill' but they are both protected under free speech. Just because one evokes a different emotional response does not mean that they need different rules.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      In what way are they different? Please provide a neurophysiological explanation.

  • even though most game developers are breathing a sigh of relief, many would like to see the industry shift toward something more creative and meaningful than violence.

    Regardless of whether the "many" in that sentence are the developers or the 3rd part observers, these "many" have an opportunity to either develop other types of games themselves or to patron different types of games. The benefit of for-profit art, just as the the benefit of for-profit anything is that they have to strive to keep pleasing their customers.

  • they are about expressing and releasing violent and sexual energies that have no other outlet. much of violent and sexual impulses cannot be released in socially acceptable ways. so on some basic level, this is why violent and sexual media are so successful: they fill a need

    it has always been my assertion that violent and sexual media doesn't CREATE inappropriate violent and sexual real life behavior, but instead serves as a form of releasing what is already there. in other words, those who oppose violent and sexual media are working on an inaccurate model of human psychology: we are not empty vessels that are corrupted. we are vessels already, naturally, innately, full of violent and sexual impulses. and we need a way to release them harmlessly, lest they be released harmfully. so violent and sexual media DECREASE real world inappropriate violence and sexxual behavior in my view

    of course, videogames don't HAVE to be violent or sexual

    but what i am saying, psychologically, is that the most successful videogames will always be violent or sexual. that's the most important need they fill

    • by Hatta (162192)

      but what i am saying, psychologically, is that the most successful videogames will always be violent or sexual. that's the most important need they fill

      Is that why Myst, the Sims, and Farmville are among the most popular games of their times?

    • Homo sapiens are an intelligent species. However, we use our intelligence to satisfy our primal needs rather than abstract ourselves from it. I still haven't decided if this is good or bad to maintain a cohesive civilization for generations to come. If the answer is "no", humanity may find itself using its intelligence for societal destruction and not simply entertainment...yet again.

      See the fall of Rome.

  • I feel it is up to a parent to choose what is best for his/her child. By the standards that some politicians are choosing my son (when younger) would have limited to "age level" reading only, when he was capable of reading adult books. (Note: One of his parents always read every book before he was allowed to read it, as we felt it was our responsibility.) My son is an adult now, but I felt and still feel it is the parent's decision for their child as they grow. Each child is different. Some children ca
  • I would actually have liked to see certain computer games restricted to adult sale only. The average gamer is apparently now 37 years old so why should companies not be able to produce games that are aimed exclusively at adults? If a parent wants to show let their kid play Doom or whatever then let them but force the parent to make the choice by purchasing it for them.

    By allowing certain games to be restricted to adults we may get more games that were produced exclusively for adults. Some of them might be q

  • "Gamasutra reminds us that even though most game developers are breathing a sigh of relief, many would like to see the industry shift toward something more creative and meaningful than violence." When I come home after a full day of dealing with idiots I like to blow off some steam by killing people (on my computer of course :-) I don't consider COD Black Ops an especialy violent game. I do my best to keep this away from my daughter so I have to wait till she goes to bed to play. If the industry self regul
  • If games are free speech, aren't movies and magazines?

    Why can't a minor go and buy porn whenever he wants to?

    Why is it that violence is more acceptable than sex?

    • by russotto (537200)

      If games are free speech, aren't movies and magazines?

      Why can't a minor go and buy porn whenever he wants to?

      Agreed. If you're old enough to enjoy porn, you're old enough to buy it. Now, stop trying to toss us down a slippery slope.
       

  • What's wrong with movie-style ratings for video games?

  • Why it's not Ok to show sexual images (people loving each other) but it's alright to show people killing each other to kids. To me this is a basic problem in the way our society views "objectionable" material. When I was in high school, teachers could show movies that were rated R for violence but not for love scenes... I think the video game makers can make whatever they want, I just don't want the 19 year old cashier at gamestop selling GTA 27 to my kid when he's 14-15 and out with his friends. So again..

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