Games industry wins crucial US court case

First amendment protects violent games.

Video games secured the same retail status afforded to books and films in the US today, following the conclusion of the long-running Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association legal struggle.

The case was an attempt to reinstate a 2005 California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, introduced new labelling laws for packaging and threatened retailers with fines of up to $1000 for failing to comply.

Had the ruling gone in favour of Brown it could have seen retailers refuse to stock more mature titles due to fear of prosecution. The knock-on effect of that scenario, of course, would be that publishers would no long bother to make them in the first place.

"This country has no tradition of specifically restricting children's access to depictions of violence," read the court's ruling, which was 7-2 in favour of the EMA.

"And California's claim that 'interactive' video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive."

Cue much rejoicing from key members of the games industry.

"Supreme Court does the right thing. Fist bumps to the 7, WTFs to the 2," tweeted Bioshock creator Ken Levine.

"I'm so thrilled about the Supreme Court ruling right now," added Gears of War lynchpin Cliff Bleszinski.

"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," EA boss John Riccitiello told IndustryGamers.

"Throughout American history, every new creative medium has to fight to establish its rights. Like books and film, videogames 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."

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Fred Dutton

Fred Dutton

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Fred Dutton was Eurogamer's US news editor, based in Washington DC.

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