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Your Right to Play

Brandon did an awesome job summarizing yesterday’s landmark Supreme Court decision on videogames’ status as protected speech, but I’d like to weigh in as well. Mostly because I weighed in with a blog post at Boston.com yesterday, as part of ye olde day job.

It’s very rare that said day job intersects with the world of mainstream gaming. While it’s true that we’re getting into game development on some level, that’s more of a “Games for Change” sort of gig, and less of a “big breaking news” kind of deal. So when I get to flex some first Amendment muscle talking about games, I’m happy to jump at the chance.

It has to be said, however – it can be pretty weird talking to the opposite end of the audience. If you write about games for any length of time, you tend to get used to the idea that your audience knows that games are valid/fun/interesting/worthwhile, instead of mindless junk – or worse, poison for children’s minds.

Either way, what happened yesterday is very important – and not just for games, but for all new formats of speech and expression. From the post:

“Even if you don’t care much for video games one way or another, this represents an important victory for civil liberties in an age of ever-evolving technology. What we have here is essentially a new form of speech enabled by technology–and like many new formats, it expands upon some of our older definitions and challenges us to seek out new ways to protect our freedoms in a changing environment.”

Take that, haters!

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Seriously – this is a big deal, though it may not necessarily feel like it at the moment. You can claim this is just another win for corporate speech, but the terms produced here are broad enough to actually help the proverbial “little guy” as well (in this case, an indie developer). And while everything is framed in terms of children and the sale of “violent” or “inappropriate” content to kids – the majority opinion rightly recognizes (and even spoofs) the paternalism inherent to that argument.

Maybe the best statement of all comes from the Amicus brief filed by the IGDA and AIAS intending to educate about what games really are. After explaining the serious side (educational games, newsgames, etc.), they address the bulk of what’s out there:

“At the other end of the spectrum are games written primarily to entertain–but often also having important expressive components. Indeed, as this Court wrote in Winters v. New York, ‘the line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive’ to serve as a distinguishing factor in First Amendment analysis.”

Danielle Riendeau

What I do for work: spend my days as the ACLU design/code/video ninja, write about games, make (tiny) games, teach digital media at Northeastern University. What I do for fun: all of the above, plus lots of running, fitness fun, filmmaking, outdoor exploration, world travel, sci-fi everything.

2 thoughts to “Your Right to Play”

  1. On topic here in Canada the state news agency CBC is reporting on it as well. They slap dashed a feature of the “ten most violent games” and I would suggest they missed the mark. Its good for a chuckle.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/photos/768#igImgId_10919

    Of note the write up of Resident Evil that seems like they can’t differentiate between Resident Evil and House of the Dead.

    I also wouldn’t describe Silent Hill as Lovecraft inspired.

  2. I had some very real fear about this ruling. It seems to me that with each newly created media, society takes the opportunity to impose more stringent speech restrictions than the first amendment would seem to allow.

    For instance: You can go to a museum and see a Pallid Bust of Pallas without qualm. The DeYoung in SF is hosting a Picaso exhibit that a) features nudes and b) for which it will gleefully sell tickets to children.

    At the any mainstream bookstore will sell Mein Kampf to anyone. I used to work at a bookstore, and sold about 1 copy of that book every other month.

    However: anyone wanting to make a movie depicting consensual, erotic sex between adults will not find themselves able to find a large distributor. Let’s not kid ourselves: the social obstacle was created to prevent a legal one from being erected.

    And television? Television is even more restrictive than movies. A hint of a pierced nipple on broadcast TV faces a government mandated fine. As a result there are only 2 stations in the US willing to air patriarchy smashing shows like Game of Thrones.

    So when the court was asked to rule on whether video games ought to be regulated as if they were TV (heavily) or regulated as if they were books (not at all), I didn’t expect good news.

    Glad I was wrong.

    Side note: I did vote for the guy who pushed the bill in the CA Senate. And I (later) worked for one of the Senators who pushed for it. Yes. Yes I did (privately) take her to task over her position. She doesn’t seem to understand anything about games, gaming, or how markets function.

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