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Video Game Industry Celebrates Supreme Court Victory
Video Game Industry Celebrates Supreme Court Victory
June 27, 2011 | By Frank Cifaldi

It's a historic day for video games, as the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the video game industry against a California law that sought to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors on the government level.

In a 7-2 decision, the court found that California's proposed law violates the rights set forth by the First Amendment, saying they qualify for protection.

"Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium," the ruling stated, while also saying that the court found no proof in studies "purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children."

Industry-wide, from game makers to lobbying groups and representative associations, companies are celebrating this landmark victory. Below we've highlighted some of the responses received by Gamasutra so far. We will update this story as we receive more reactions.

The Entertainment Software Association

"This is a historic and complete win for the First Amendment and the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known - that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music," said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of video game industry representative group the ESA. "The Court declared forcefully that content-based restrictions on games are unconstitutional; and that parents, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide what is appropriate for their children."

"We are very gratified that our arguments - and those of over 180 other groups and individuals from across the ideological spectrum -- were heard in this case. The Court has now definitively held that legislative attempts to restrict video game content will be struck down.

"It is time for elected officials to stop wasting time and public funds seeking unconstitutional restrictions on video games. Instead, we invite them to join with us to raise awareness and use of the highly effective tools that already exist to help that parents choose games suitable for their children. Congratulations are due to our legal team, including Paul Smith of Jenner & Block who did a superb job in oral arguments before the Court. Ken Doroshow, the ESA's former general counsel and lead architect of our industry's legal strategy, also deserves an enormous amount of credit for spearheading our winning approach."

Electronic Arts

"Everybody wins on this decision - the Court has affirmed the Constitutional rights of game developers; adults keep the right to decide what's appropriate in their houses; and store owners can sell games without fear of criminal prosecution," said John Riccitiello, CEO of major game publisher Electronic Arts.

"Throughout American history, every new creative medium has to fight to establish its rights. Like books and film, video games have had to face down censors and stand up for creative freedom.

This was a long, hard, expensive fight, but it pulled together the developers, publishers and fans into a powerful political coalition. There will be other censors, other challenges. But now we've got an army in the field to stand up for the rights of game developers and players."


Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement to Gamasutra, "We are pleased with ruling, which is an important affirmation of First Amendment rights and a victory against an unwarranted, selective attack on our industry. Protecting children from age inappropriate content is important and that's why we have an industry-standard ratings system that is clear and unambiguous."

The Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly Video Software Dealers Association)

"While we appreciate this victory in the court of law, it does not obviate the concern that parents may have about the appropriateness of some video games for their children. But, as the Court noted, the ESRB rating system for video games 'does much to ensure that minors cannot purchase seriously violent games on their own, and that parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home,'" said Bo Andersen, president and CEO of EMA, a not-for-profit trade association that represents the interests of entertainment merchants.

"Video game retailers understand that they have a responsibility to help parents make informed decisions about the video games they buy for their children and to ensure that children are not able to purchase Mature-rated games without their parents' permission. EMA-member retailers have a high level of ratings education and enforcement and, in fact, in an undercover shopper investigation released in April of this year, the Federal Trade Commission found that video game retailers turned down minors that attempted to purchase Mature-rated video games 87% of the time. Video game retailers remain committed to maintaining what the Federal Trade Commission termed their "vigorous" enforcement of the video game ratings.

"In addition, EMA and other entertainment retailing trade associations have declared this June to be Entertainment Ratings & Labeling Awareness Month, as we do annually. The purpose of Entertainment Ratings & Labeling Awareness Month is to promote ratings education and enforcement by retailers and increase parental awareness and use of the ratings."


Ed Kaufman, EVP of business and legal affairs at THQ told Gamasutra in a statement, "Today, THQ proudly stands with the ESA and the ESRB praising the United States Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. EMEA/ESA protecting the first amendment right of creative artists everywhere. The Supreme Court declared forcefully that content based restrictions on video games are unconstitutional. This decision validates THQ's belief in the industry's self-governing ratings system for all video games."

[UPDATE: Comments from Activision, THQ added.]

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Philip Michael Norris
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"Video Game Industry Celebrates Supreme Court Victory"? We certainly do :D

james sadler
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Wow. Those stats on the ESRB enforcement are a lot higher than I thought they'd be. Good job retailers.

Bryan Wagstaff
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The FTC also publishes reports to Congress about what it sees. There is a plaintext version of the 2008 report summary here: and a longer PDF version of the latest report (the sixth follow up edition) is here:

In short terms, they found that the video games industry is by far the leader in the entertainment industry. They say that of their secret shopper program, the past two years they were able to make underage video game purchases only 20% of the time at physical stores (ignoring that last year we crossed the boundary of over half of games sold through digital distribution using credit cards). Explicit movies at retail were at 50%, traditional theaters at 35%, and obscene music at 56% non-compliance.

Contrast our 20% with 40.2% underage purchase rate of tobacco, which is federally regulated.

Retailers are doing an excellent job at self-regulation of games. Online stores require credit cards, physical stores almost always require an adult. Good job, retailers. Keep it up.

Benjamin Delacour
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"and that parents, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide what is appropriate for their children."

Which is why ESRB has accomplished 87% of that job and we applaud them for it. I guess it theoretically lets parents set up an account and have their kid give ID. That's not what was at stake. The decision is good, certainly. I just am noting a lot of words are being spoken that don't actually say what's going on.