Frequently Asked Questions

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.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

About Brown vs. EMA/ Entertainment Software Association (formerly Schwarzenegger v. EMA/ESA) - where did this case come from?

In 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill No. 1179 into law. The bill would have restricted the sale of "violent video games" to anyone under the age of 18 and fined violators up to $1,000. In 2007, the United States District Court in California struck down the law on the grounds that video games are protected by the First Amendment and that there is no evidence linking violent video games to real world violence.

Last year, the ruling was upheld by the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. Judge Consuelo M. Callahan stated that there was no "substantial evidence that supports the Legislature’s conclusion that violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to minors". Judge Callahan elaborated that the ESRB rating system, already in place, is a less-restrictive way to make sure gamers are playing age-appropriate content.

On April 26, 2010 the US Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments in the appeal of the Ninth Circuit's decision.

Resources: 
Assembly Bill 1179: HTML | PDF 
Essential facts about video games and court rulings: PDF


When will a decision be made?

The Entertainment Software Association filed their written arguments with the Supreme Court on September 10, 2010. Oral arguments were held on November 2, 2010. The nine Supreme Court Justices will deliberate the case behind closed doors for an indeterminate amount of time.

Resources:
Oral Arguments Transcript from 11/2/2010 - PDF


What are the possible outcomes?

The Supreme Court is responsible for reviewing the decisions of lower courts. If the Supreme Court agrees with the US Court of Appeals that handled Brown vs. EMA/ESA (formerly Schwarzenegger v. EMA/ESA), et al, then that decision will remain and the California law will not be implemented. If the Supreme Court does not agree with the ruling of the lower court and upholds the California law, then, depending on what the Court says, other states could have the ability to enact similar laws prohibiting the sale of "violent video games" to minors.


What would happen if the Supreme Court sides with the California legislature?

If the Supreme Court sides with the California legislature then other states could be empowered to pass similar laws preventing minors from purchasing "violent video games". Attorneys General from 10 states have already signed on to support California's anti-gaming law. It would be a matter of time before these state governments, and others, enact their own gaming laws.


Where can I read ESA's Supreme Court filings?

The Entertainment Software Association filed their written arguments to the Supreme Court on September 10, 2010. Written arguments are submitted to the Supreme Court before oral arguments are heard.

Read the summary of ESA's Supreme Court filing 
Read the full Supreme Court filing


Are video games protected by the First Amendment?

State and local laws restricting access to video games continue to be struck down by the courts based on First Amendment concerns. Unsurprisingly, courts find that contemporary video games are enormously complex forms of entertainment that blend elements of literature, cinematography and graphic design—all of which are amply protected by the First Amendment.


How are video games regulated?

The video game industry and its retail partners already employ the most effective safeguards preventing minors from accessing inappropriate content. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings system is considered by the FTC to be the "most comprehensive of the three [entertainment] industry systems". The ESRB empowers parents to make informed decisions regarding gaming purchases, and research shows that parents are present 93% of the time when games are bought or rented.


Is state regulation needed to prevent minors from accessing inappropriate content?

State regulation of video game purchases is simply unnecessary. The video game industry and its retail partners already employ the most effective safeguards preventing minors from accessing inappropriate content.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings system is considered by the FTC to be the "most comprehensive of the three [entertainment] industry systems". The ESRB empowers parents to make informed decisions regarding gaming purchases, and research shows that parents are present 93% of the time when games are bought or rented.

In addition to ESRB ratings, parents can activate parental controls on video game consoles to make sure that their children are only playing age appropriate games. These password-protected controls allow parents to determine what level of content the console will play. Allowing individual states to regulate video game content would create a patchwork system that would confuse parents and actually reduce their ability to make smart choices about their children’s game playing.


Do video games cause violence?

No causal relationship between video games and aggressive behavior has been proven. Moreover, almost every social / cultural indicator of importance, such as juvenile violent crime, has been improving in recent years and decades. These improvements have occurred even as media exposure and video game use among youth has increased. Courts routinely strike down video game censorship laws in part because of the lack of a proven causal connection between video games and violence.
Learn more about video games and violence.


What can free speech advocates do?

We can't influence the Supreme Court directly. But it's really important that we win over the court of public opinion. Talk to your friends about this issue.