Why It Matters

Stop Video Game Censorship Laws

Brown vs. EMA/ESA Supreme Court Action Center

The Supreme Court, in the case Brown vs. EMA, ruled that California's attempt to regulate the sale of violent video games is unconstitutional. The decision is an important victory for game players, parents, and everyone who values free speech and creative expression. Sign up to learn about how you can continue stand up for games and your First Amendment rights.

Why Gamers Should Care about the Supreme Court Case

For the first time in video game history, the Supreme Court has the power to curb your rights as a gamer. If the Supreme Court sides with the California legislature and allows video game sales to be restricted, here are some possible outcomes:

Creative "Chilling Effect"

By placing legal limits on certain types of video game content, the government is effectively telling game publishers what to produce. Publishers will be afraid to innovate and create edgy content for fear of the legal restrictions. Retailers would stop selling more mature games to avoid the risk of prosecution.

Legislative Slippery Slope

State and local governments have already tried on numerous occasions to place restrictions on the sale and content of video games. If the Supreme Court allows these regulations, we could see a patchwork of legislation from state to state. Each state could enact its own set of laws regulating games in different ways, creating confusion and making it more likely that game developers stay away from anything even vaguely controversial. We may also see restrictions spread to other creative mediums such as movies, books and music. After all, if the attack on video games succeeds, there is nothing to stop legislators from going after other media.

What can free speech and video game advocates do?

The Supreme Court is not a legislature that can be petitioned, so it's up to the ESA and its amici ("friends" on the case) to represent our interests before the Supreme Court. But while we can’t influence the Supreme Court directly, we can win over the court of public opinion. That’s why it’s really important to help people understand that a case about video games could have serious implications for other entertainment mediums, such as movies, books and music. Talk to your friends about this issue and protect your rights as a gamer.

Why the Supreme Court should overturn California censorship

Courts have consistently upheld video games as protected speech

State and local governments have repeatedly attempted to regulate the sales of video games. Each time, however, the Courts have consistently ruled that computer and video games are protected speech—twelve times in eight years. Repeatedly, courts across the country declared that limiting access to games based on "objectionable" content would violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Take for example the ruling in ESA v. Hatch. In that case, Judge James M. Rosenbaum struck down a Minnesota law that would penalize minors for purchasing M or AO rated games. The court ruled that "there is no showing whatsoever that video games, in the absence of other violent media, cause even the slightest injury to children" adding that "several other states have tried to regulate minors’ access to video games. Every effort has been stricken for violating the First Amendment."

In 2006, the Honorable James Brady of the US District Court blocked implementation of a Louisiana law trying to ban the sale of violent video games to minors on the grounds that video games "are as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature". Judge Brady added that existing enforcement methods—the ESRB rating system and parental controls—were less restrictive and accomplished the state's goals.

Self-regulation, not bad law, empowers parents

But this case before the Supreme Court isn't just about free speech. It's about the right of parents to make their own decisions about their child's welfare. The video game industry has done everything it can to ensure that parents are empowered to make those decisions. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) uses a comprehensive ratings guide to provide accurate and impartial information about gaming content so that consumers, especially parents, can make an informed purchase decision. Learn more about the ESRB Rating Guide.

Parents themselves are already involved in the purchase and monitoring of the video games that their children are playing. And, according to the Federal Trade Commission, over 80% of parents are aware of the ESRB ratings system and over 70% of parents use the system in making buying decisions.

92% - Percentage of time parents are involved in purchase or rental of games
94% - Percentage of parents who monitor the content of the games their children play

Retailers, in addition to parents, are serious about enforcing the ESRB rating policy. In a 2009 report, the Federal Trade Commission found that retailers on average, deny 80% of M-Rated game purchases and that "nearly all retailers use systems to prompt cashiers to request photo ID."


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