ESA suing California over Vilent Video Games Law

The Entertainment Software Association is planning to sue the State of California over the passage of AB1179, a bill that has outlawed the sale of violent video games to minors. President Douglas Lowenstein said that he “intends to file a lawsuit to strike this law down,” and added that he is “confident that we will prevail.”

Wild. Not sure if this will help the Video Game image or not.

EDIT: Note, this is apparently about VIOLENT video games, not the Vilent ones. Vilent game developers need not worry about this.

Chris Woods

Given how vague the wording of the law is, it’s quite likely this will be struck down by the courts in short order. Kudos to them for doing so. How about they simply make it illegal to sell M rated games to minors. I don’t think anyone would object to that, and then you can have people who are familiar with videogames making the judgements on whether or not minors should be viewing them.

I agree that an M rating would make more sense and probably be more court friendly if that’s how they phrased the law. “Violent” is probably too broad.

Just like the postings in the other thread a football game could be considered violent, so could mario stomping on turtles. You need a stricter standard for a viable law.

There are no fewer than 10 types of violence as defined by the ESRB. If they define “violent game” as simply being rated with any one of these 10 violence tags, then it’s hard to imagine any enjoyable game being purchasable by minors under the new law.

What’s also funny to me is that every game I’ve worked on (ranging in rating from E to T) has been rated as containing some form of violence. Yet I would personally rate them on the very mild end of the scale – certainly not anything that would require an adult mind to withstand. :?

I guess I’m more concerned with the way this spins. I can see the headlin now: “Video Games sue State of California for right to sell Violence to Teens!”

To me, the law itself is almost irrelivant at this point. The major damage is coming from this constant and sudden stream of anti-video game news. I’m like, “What’s next? Bush allowing the military to torture gamers?”

Chris Woods

It wouldn’t.

For starters, it would be codifying the ESRB’s rating standards into law which would be a pain to work out. The ESRB would either become an actual government agency of some kind or the government would have to co-opt the IP. (There’s an odd eminent domain case for you.)

Also it holds games up to a higher standard then other mediums. Why would retailers face government sanction from selling an M rated game but not for selling a ticket to an R rated movie or selling an R rated DVD?

Limiting sales of M rated games is censorship.

edit: And fuck anyone who thinks the government should do a job that should be up to parents.

No more so than is limiting the sale of tabacco, alcohol, pornography. I’m not necessarily saying that M-rated games are as bad as any of these things, but it’s not censorship. You can still make all the cigarretes, booze, and porn you want, but you just can’t sell them to minors. It’s regulation.

It’s censorship in a roundabout fashion, because it’s forcing a control on the market, and that control will force developers to censor themselves so as to maximize sales.

There are a lot of sales of M rated games to teens, and the fact of the matter is that the content of most of these games isn’t particularly bad. It doesn’t take much to get an M rating. It would be a huge constriction on the industry if forced, which would definitely result in censorship.

Self-enforced censorship is still censorship.

Actually, not at all.


Man, lots of misspelled thread titles

The law will get tossed out in the courts as it should. This is just example number 1 billion of pollitically correct politicians doing their ususal work. I’d think Californains would rather want their lawmakers to spend a little more time on their States abysmal econimic situation then on this crap.

Not in the sense of the word that I’m used to. What you describe above is more like what a lot of people call a “chilling effect.” It’s a very real concern that you’re right to point out, but nobody’s being censored.

I’m only splitting this hair because “censorship” is one of those emotionally and politically charged words that gets thrown out and misused when people want to be, well, emotional and political instead of rational. It dilutes the effect of talking about real censorship when it happens.

It’s fun to do a search on different combinations of vices on that ESRB page and see what comes up.

Hmmm, I want a game with Sexual Situations, Blood, Simulated Gambling, and Tobacco Reference, but not use. Ha.

Oh no, wait. Fantasy Violence, Nudity, and Drug Use.

No, wait. Intense violence and crude humor. And booze.

Wrong on all fronts.

Alcohol and tobacco sales can be regulated because neither are speech. Pornography can be regulated because it’s obscene speech. It’s exempt from First Amendment protection.

In order for the sale of games to be regulated you’d have to make violent speech exempt from the First Amendment. That would also open up regulation of any violent speech. It wouldn’t matter if it was film, print or machine readable code for some electronic device.

And yet tobacco advertisements, which are pure speech and not obscene, are regulated. In fact, some forms of violent speech are already regulated – for example, threats against the President are illegal, incitement to riot is illegal, and I am pretty sure (although I haven’t actually checked) that “snuff” films are illegal not just to make, but also to possess or distribute. Thrrrpt’s main point is exactly right: what you are talking about here, particularly the concerns about chilling, is not censorship. It’s regulation of what material will be available to minors. It might still be a bad idea – I think it’s definitely a bad idea – but calling it “censorship” is wrong and trivializes true censorship concerns. It’s like the way people always seem to want to compare things they don’t like to the Nazis, the Holocaust, or Vietnam. Take a pill and get some perspective, and talk about the genuine issues.

Commercial speech is also exempt.

In fact, some forms of violent speech are already regulated – for example, threats against the President are illegal, incitement to riot is illegal, and I am pretty sure (although I haven’t actually checked) that “snuff” films are illegal not just to make, but also to possess or distribute.

And all of those fall under public safety issues which has always been a good way to get around the first amendment. There’s no evidence that video games, Vin Diesel movies or Tom Clancy’s books present a threat to the public’s health or safety. (Although I hear that Teeth of the Tiger came pretty close.)

Thrrrpt’s main point is exactly right: what you are talking about here, particularly the concerns about chilling, is not censorship.

What would you call the regulation of speech protected by the first amendment then?

Well, in regards to the regulation of Cigarettes it was a freedom of speech issue, and has appeared before the Supreme Court, where many regulations that were created by the FTC were struck down. The State had to prove that they had a compelling interest in protecting minors from this form of speech (As do all of the examples you’ve cited.) and the court was split pretty much down party lines. If and when the courts balance to the right, these restrictions will probably be lifted, if challenged, because the right leaning court does not look at compelling interest as a factor in determining law.

Also, the Supreme Court is going to rule, sometime soon, if Obscenity restrictions on pornography is legal. A federal judge in Pennsylvania found obscenity law to be unconstitutional, and it’s heading to the Supreme Court.

(Not work safe)

So these issues of censorship are not as cut and dry as you make them out to be.


There are, of course, many definitions of censorship. I think the following from Merriam-Webster holds up:

“The process of examining text or speech in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable.” I would add, usually by an authority with the power ultimately suppress this material. In this country, it’s the government. In others, it may be the junta or the Central Party. In any case, ultimately it’s the guys with the guns.

So let’s get down to it. Let’s look at deleting first. Many game companies delete material in order to get a lower rating. The ESRB in this country gives out ratings. But these ratings are voluntary and you don’t have to submit a game to them in order to sell it or distribute it. So involuntary deletion of material is out of the question, except in the order of outright suppression, which I’ll detail below.

Suppression, in my mind, has to come from an authoritative force. Walmart not selling your game because it got an AO rating is not censorship, because its not suppression by an authoritative force. Neither is the ESRB giving out a rating. Clearly though a law that forbiddes the sale of certain expressions to an age range is censorship. It’s very specific, very controlled censorship. Basically, the government is saying that certain speeches are not protected. Whether this deals with adults performing sex acts, violent videogames, or expression of religious ideals is irrelevant to the legal argument. It’s expression, and it’s controlled, or regulated, as some say.

If you agree with the law, then you agree with some limited censorship. I think that most rational people (which is what a lot of really poorly worded obscenity laws are based on) would agree we don’t want 5 year olds to be able to buy hard core pornography. It’s just too damaging to their normal sexual development. However, let’s not mince. Suppression of this towards a certain group IS censorship, albeit a limited one most people agree with.

Argue on either side of whether violent videogames are bad for kids; the government banning these sales and fining those that don’t comply (and jailing by force those that don’t pay the fines) is clearly censorship.

Censorship is not always, bad, is it? It’s just what you censor that you have to be ultra careful about.

Except that I think most people think of “censorship” to mean not “regulated,” but rather “suppressed” (in line with the MW definition you’ve quoted). Saying that porn is “censored from minors” is, I guess, one way to look at it, but I don’t think that’s what is usually meant by “censored.” “Censored” means censored from everybody, not just from some small group of people. Of course there’s a line-drawing issue lurking out there – “What if I ban the sale of this book to everyone except Marion Hudsacker of Eyesocket, Montana?” – but for today’s discussion I think that there’s a big difference between censorship (meaning total censorship) of certain ideas, and regulation of access by minors. And it’s particularly inapt in this discussion, where the regulation at issue allows the game to be purchased and used even by minors, with parental consent.

As to Al’s “but this isn’t a public safety issue” comment: as you’ll see from reading the law itself, the legislature has determined that this is, in fact, a public safety issue. You may argue (and I would agree with you) that they’re wrong in that conclusion. But they’re our elected representatives and that’s what they’ve decided.