The U.S. Supreme Court Battle for Free Speech in Video Games: How This Will Affect You

This past Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme court convened in order to hear arguments for the case of Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchant Association/Entertainment Software Association (EMA/ESA). Here, the court will decide whether to overturn the decisions made by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Northern District of California Court which ban the sales of "violent" video games to minors. Simply put: These laws will treat violent video games like pornography, making it illegal for minors to purchase them. There are currently no laws that limit the sales and exposure of violent video games to minors, but the court could decide based on the hearings that the time for restrictions is right and would not be considered unconstitutional. On the other hand, many believe that the restrictions proposed by the state of California are a violation of the first amendment, and do nothing more than take away the rights of individuals to make their own choices. It is the responsibility of the parents, not the government, to decide what games are appropriate for their children.

Vice president of the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) and general counsel Jennifer Mercurio states, "I'd say it's clearly the most important and influential decision that the video game industry has ever faced."

Although it will be months before we hear any decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, it's important to understand how these hearings will affect all entertainment mediums--whether it is movies, books, music or video games. Regardless if you are a gamer or not, if the Supreme Court sides with the California legislature and allows video game sales to be restricted, it will affect the entire landscape of entertainment media. The following is a summary of how the U.S. Supreme Court's hearings of Schwarzenegger v. EMA/ESA may affect all entertainment media and everyone involved with it.

The Restriction of Violent Video Games Will Lead to Creative Censorship

The U.S. Supreme Court Battle for Free Speech in Video Games: How This Will Affect You

By placing limitations on various video game content, the government is effectively enforcing game developers what they can and cannot produce. Game developers will stay away from anything vaguely controversial, and will be less likely to innovate and create new, edgy content in order to meet these limitations. They will be censoring themselves in the creative process, and it is possible that they will make one version for the U.S. and another version for the rest of the world.

The Restrictions Placed on Video Games May Spread to Other Creative Mediums
If the restriction of violent video games succeeds, it isn't out of the question to believe that legislators will enforce the same kind of restrictions on other forms of media.  This case is about whether or not video games will be protected like other forms of creative mediums, such as books, movies, or music. If the Supreme Court decides that it should restrict the sale of violent video games, then it would be possible for the question to be reopened for other forms of entertainment media as well. This restriction of various forms of creative media is considered a violation of the first amendment, and will take away the rights of the individual to make his/her own choices.

The Cost for Video Games and Other Media May Rise
The cost and availability of video games, regardless of whether they are violent or not, may be affected for the worse. Games will be less accessible and more expensive. The added cost for developing, marketing, and selling games with violence restrictions will be passed onto the consumer.
The Law Would Put Unfair Financial and Legal Pressure on Store Clerks

The store clerks are the ones that can take a lot of unfair pressure, because they are the ones who will be held legally responsible if an inappropriate game is sold to a minor. Because the law won't be using the industry-developed ESRB ratings, it'll be up to the clerk to guess whether the game that is to be sold will be covered by the law or not. These clerks could be faced with losing their jobs or finding a way to reimburse their employers for any incurred fees.

Retailers May Stop Carrying Certain Games Altogether
Many retailers, especially the family-friendly ones like Wal-Mart and Target, without a doubt will sell games differently than the way we're all used to if the Supreme Court decides to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors. They may create a separate area of the store to sell these games, similar to the "adults-only" corner of the video store. Some stores may stop carrying these games altogether due to the inherent risks.


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