Summary of Video Game Legislation

I'm heading out on vacation, and bringing Steven Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You" book about the educational nature of pop culture (including video games). So I should have some posts when I return on the first of the month.

I've been out for a while working on my summer class. Sorry. But I've just finished a detailed research and analysis project on the value of video games. I'll post segments on here to share my thoughts with you. Here is my summary of the current legal challenges of video game regluation:

Legal Regulations

As a result of the concern expressed over the content and potential effects of that content, cities and states passed legislation to regulate the sale of violent video games. Both the cities of Indianapolis and St. Louis passed video game regulation which the courts struck down (Smith, 2006). Judge Posner stated in the Indianapolis case that shielding children up to the age of 18 from violence would not allow them to be equipped to handle the outside world (Lowenstein, 2006). Within the last year, the courts in Illinois, California, and Michigan struck down regulations that attempted to limit and penalized the sale of “M” rated video games to those under 17 (Smith, 2006). These court decisions on video game regulation focused on both the freedom of expression, as provided within the First Amendment, and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit court ruled in the cases of James v. Meow Media, that video games fell under the protection of the First Amendment in cases of liability. The court in the Michigan case ruled that video games are creative expressions of free speech covered under the First Amendment (ESA v. Granholm, 2006). Each of the regulations restricted violent video games, but not other media and this violated the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment (ESA v. Granholm, 2006). Isolating the regulation to violent video games and not other violent media contradicts rights established by the Constitution (ESA v. Blagojevich, 2005). The court ruled that the California regulation was unconstitutional since the definition was too vague and would limit the free expression of creators (Video Software Dealers Association v. Schwarzenegger, 2005). The courts have consistently ruled that setting video games apart from other media is unconstitutional and the current regulations violate the First Amendment. The only video game regulation that has stood up to constitutional scrutiny is a Maryland law that regulates the sale of games with explicit sexual content, and thus treats them like any other media with explicit sexual content.

In spite of these rulings, the state legislatures of Minnesota, Louisiana and Oklahoma all passed laws this year that regulate and penalize retailers for the sale of violent games to those under 17. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and others in the industry have filed lawsuit in each of these states. Video game software president Ted Price filed a statement with the United States District Court of the Middle District of Louisiana, in the case of ESA vs. Foti. He stated Louisiana law that limits the sale of games does not clearly define what “a morbid interest in violence” is. Due to various definitions and extents of game-play it would be extremely difficult to create games that would fit all definitions (Price, 2006). The Senate and the House of Representatives held hearings on violent video game regulation this March and June respectively. The challenges to regulation at the federal level involve both the established violations of free speech rights, but also the enforcement of a ratings system (ESRB) that is independent and not government mandated (Smith, 2006).

Up next: Social Informatics Analysis