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Censorship Your Rights Online

Salon on Video Games and Free Speech 283

EyesWideOpen writes: "There is an article at Salon that covers a U.S. District Judge's ruling that computer games don't deserve First Amendment protection. The ruling is in response to The Interactive Digital Software Association's request for the dismissal of an ordinance that requires parental consent before children under 17 can buy or play violent or sexually explicit video games. From the Salon article: 'From his ruling, [US District Judge] Limbaugh appears to believe that no amount of contextual information, or additional narrative, in a game is enough to make it a work of art or expression worthy of the name 'free speech.'' The judge's deliberations were based in part on his review of four games: 'Fear Effect,' 'Doom,' 'Mortal Kombat' and 'Resident Evil'."
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Salon on Video Games and Free Speech

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  • Game selection (Score:4, Interesting)

    by delphin42 ( 556929 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @05:36PM (#3472912) Homepage
    Who picked the games for the court to review? Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil? How about Final Fantasy X (or just about any other RPG)? Black and White and Medal of Honor were mentioned in the review, but there are tons of games with a lot more content than Mortal Kombat.
  • If this judge had reviewed, say, System Shock 2, or even Half-Life, he might have had a higher opinion of computer gaming. Heck, even Starcraft would have gone a long way towards convincing the judge that games can be as legitimate a story-telling format as any book, and should be entitled to the same rights. So where did he get the idea to review these specific games?
  • What the fuck (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WeaselGod ( 145056 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @05:49PM (#3473015)
    Maybe we should judge all mediums by some of the worst representations.

    Maybe movies shouldn't be protected because all of those actions thrillers just have violence.

    Maybe books shouldn't be protected because all those romance novels are just softcore porn.

    Maybe music shouldn't be protected because all that gangster rap just talks about killing cops.

    What the hell is wrong with people. Sure there are games that have no decent content, but there are also games like black and white, sim city, etc that actually have redeeming value. I don't think most games should be banned from kids, regardless, or more precisely because of their content. If I didn't have video games to vent my frustration with when I was younger I might have vented in a far more destructive manner. Give me the violent games, god knows the sims aren't going to keep me from being frustrated with the stupidity of this judge.
  • Games as speech (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mr. Shiny And New ( 525071 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @05:53PM (#3473041) Homepage Journal
    I'd agree that most games are not speech. But come on, just because they AREN'T doesn't mean they can't be. Just the other day I was in a game store and I found a game that tells Bible stories and stuff. It's some kind of first-person-shooter or something, where the character has to make moral decisions and fight the good fight against the evil, fallen angels. You can't tell me that THAT game is not speech.
  • At least read the slashdot tagline! ordinance that requires parental consent before children under 17 can buy or play violent or sexually explicit video games...

    Final Fantasy whatever is neither violent nor sexually explicit. Neither is Black and White. Nor Myst. Nor Civilization. Nor any of the other games that were mentioned to defend "video games" as protected speech.

    Doom, Mortal Kombat, and Resident Evil are famous games for their violence. And they're also all three lacking in *speech*. They're great marvels of techonlogy (for their times) and gameplay (for even now, in some ways), but they're not necessarily worthy of judicial protection.

    The ruling isn't saying "all games aren't speech." It's saying "game's aren't always protected speech."

    Heck, I mean--NO form of expression is always protected speech. If I slander someone in a song, I'm still civilly / criminally liable. If I write a novel that's sexually evocative, I'm still regulated as porn.

    I for one and quite happy with "mature" video games being regulated as "adult content." Especially when the law rests on the permission of the parents, who in my day were the ones actually purchasing the games anyway.
  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @05:59PM (#3473089) Journal
    The judge's deliberations were based in part on his review of four games: 'Fear Effect,' 'Doom,' 'Mortal Kombat' and 'Resident Evil'."
    That's a very specific subset of the computer game industry. Mortal Kombat may not have any political statements to make, but many other games do. Take Grand Theft Auto 3: it may be a very violent game, but it works a lot of social and political criticism into the commercials.

    "My Zaibatsu Monstrosity can even cross rivers! So far I've only hit a few puddles in the parking lot, but it's good to know that it's there. Besides, I'm a mom, not a conservationist."

    It touches on gun control, child labor and other issues that companies or political action committees would rather not have pumped into the ears of teenage consumers.

    Could Ford pull GTA3 off the shelves by claiming it unfairly portrays its Explorer line? Could the NRA block the release of GTA4 by complaining it doesn't like the game's portrayal of gun owners?

    How far does this go? What about games like Sim City? Could the mayor of a major city sue EA for defamation of character (by teaching people that his style of city-management doesn't work)?

  • Copyright? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sterno ( 16320 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @06:22PM (#3473245) Homepage
    For the record, despite the substantial quality of the articles in playboy, it is none the less illegal to sell it to a minor. Now, I think this judge is being a little silly saying that video games are not expression, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the ordinance is a problem.

    When forbidding access to things that are protected by the first amendment, like Playboy, there are certain requirements about it being the least burdensome approach to restriction, etc. If the court believes that there is a relevant social interest in preventing minor access to violent video games, then all this ruling determines is how they are allowed to go about preventing this access.

    Personally I think that if this gets appealed it will get thrown back in the judge's face. He'll have to accept that it is a first amendment protected form of expression. Then he'll likely proceed to rule that the ban is okay anyhow, and then the court can review the issues of it being least restrictive, etc.
  • regardless (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Steveftoth ( 78419 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @06:23PM (#3473249) Homepage
    Not playing a video game is like reading a book based on a movie. You only get the idea and it's not the same thing, sometimes radically different.

    Video gamimg is the first automated warm medium, where the player (or audience) is part of the feedback that creates the show. Movies, TV, and playing music on a CD are cold mediums, where the audience has no/little effect on the entertainment. (though some would argue that the audience is the entertainment at plays/concerts) Story telling (esp. with small children), books, stand up comics ( esp. in small clubs) are warm, where the audience takes part in the performance.

    Video gaming being as young as it is, and having such a high cost to entry for new games has created a culture where everyone goes for the largest market, throwing aside everything but the almighty dollar. Even the Salon article admints that the Sims almost didn't get made, which goes to show how single minded these game publishers are. $$$$$

    So far, I've seem many comments about people comparing these games to RPGs, but what about the true classics, like Pac-Man, Tetris, Galaga, Bust-a-Move, etc. These games are like poetry compared to the monstrous volumes that are required to encompass most RPGs. Games like Golden Axe where the whole point is to destroy the tyrant who has usurped the power from the king in the region.

    Some of the best examples of games and conveyance of ideas come from old Sierra games, especially the Lesiure Suit Larry series. That series was nothing but satire, pure and simple. The game was solving the most insane puzzles to advance the almost non-existant plot, but the items you got and the way they were described picked on a multitude of facets of american culture.

    Unfortunatly, most games teach that might = right and you must be the strongest most powerful (Insert stereotype here) in the world. And that concludes their message. It's the games like Ultima, B&W, every Sim game ever that show us new ways of thinking, since in many cases we must change the way we think about a problem in order to solve it in the world of the game.
  • Of course (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lightspawn ( 155347 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @06:37PM (#3473374) Homepage
    Remember, free speech only applies to existing media - any new media has to earn the right for free speech.

    This is, I believe, because new industries don't own any legislative assets like senators or judges, by the very virtue of their newness.

  • by VValdo ( 10446 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @06:44PM (#3473433)

    1. What is the relation between "free speech" and "copyright"? If a game is not free speech, can it still be copyrighted? According to this [], "any original expression that is fixed in a tangible form" can be copyrighted.

    2. Could a saved game-- which maybe would be considered a "performance" -- be considered free speech? I mean, if I play some 3d shooting game and kill only the politicians, isn't the saved game a kind of performance art?

    3. What about hacked ROM [] games? Some of these must fall under "parody", no?

    4. Surely games written by recognized literary greats, such as Douglas Adam's "Beaurocracy" is not only legitimate expression but social satire?

    5. How do you draw the line between straight fiction, a choose-your-own-adventure book, and an Infocom interactive adventure?

    6. If you printed out an Infocom game's text replacing the user's typed instructions with "Turn to page 7 to do xxxx" and published it as a book, would the video game suddenly become speech?

    Maybe Dave Touretsky needs to set up another gallery [].

  • by IIRCAFAIKIANAL ( 572786 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @08:36PM (#3474079) Journal
    Seriously, could you watch every movie and show, listen to every song, play through every game, and generally monitor every bit of media that pervades your childrens life? It's easy now, but wait until they are older and Barney goes out of style. (Not that I would let a child watch that shit). Of course not.

    Example: Let's say Spider-Man had no rating - how would you know that it's ok to take an 8 year old to see it? Would you go first, watch it, decide it's ok, and then go again with your kid? That's time and money wasted when the movie is more than appropriate for children, by any reasonable standard.

    I agree with you - Wal Mart and Blockbuster and anyone else that filters products based on labels are wrong, but is it the fault of the rating system? I don't shop in either place anymore (for more reasons than censorship).

    The problem I have is when a label is too brief. I like movie ratings as they give the reason for the rating (ie/ language, mild nudity, gory violence, cartoon violence, Saddam with a dildo, etc). That allows someone to make a reasonable decision about what their children should watch. Look at CD labels - explicit lyrics - I would let a 12 year old listen to a song that contains a few swear words (especially if it's saying something vaguely intelligent ala Rage Against the Machine), but not music that suggests skull-fucking a dead prostitute is an enjoyable pastime. The label doesn't tell me what is so explicit about the lyrics, and my standards probably differ from the standards they use.

    If anything, all labels should do is inform the parent of the potentially offensive content of the media and stop the child from buying it on his or her own in extreme cases. As long as it is strictly a guide, I don't see the problem.

    If anything, ratings should be intentionally descriptive - This CD contains lyrics that propose that God is hypocritical and may offend SUV driving suburbanite scum that cling to their vague notions of spirituality out of fear and ignorance - or something like that :)

  • The Games We Play (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Monday May 06, 2002 @09:26PM (#3474332) Homepage
    I think I speek for many in saying that I can fully understand his ruling in regards to Doom and Mortal Kombat. That said, I'm suprised with RE, as that game definatly has a story. As for the fourth, I've never played it and don't know anything about it. But like many of you, I think that he needed to review a few other games. Here is a list I think would have been much better:

    • First, let's keep the initial 4
    • Final Fantasy VII (I'm sorry, but I still think VII is the best one, the rest were great to, but as the stories go, I love VII)
    • A sim game (SimCity, a Sid Meyer, just not SimGolf, i've had so many problems with that game, but that's a different topic)
    • Something like Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
    • A game like Pikmin (for example, Pikmin)
    • Grand Theft Auto III (it's import to get a fair sample)
    • A puzzle game, maybe Aqua Aqua
    • Maybe something like JSRF

    I should mention my stance, I guess. Yes video games have freedom of expression and are most definatly works of art (although I still could see otherwise for Mortal Kombat), I support limiting minors from violent games. I thought that State of Emergency was fun, but if I had a 10 year, I would NOT want him to be able to walk into a store and just buy it.

  • Relevant quote (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DreamingReal ( 216288 ) <dreamingreal @ y a h o o . c om> on Monday May 06, 2002 @11:51PM (#3475169) Homepage
    Excellent points. Your post reminds me of John Perry Barlow's words accompanying his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace [], in response to the Communications Decency Act of '96 -

    This bill was enacted upon us by people who haven't the slightest idea who
    we are or where our conversation is being conducted. It is, as my good
    friend and Wired Editor Louis Rossetto put it, as though "the illiterate
    could tell you what to read." [source] []

    Holds true here as well, I'd say. As does Barlow's response -

    Well, fuck them.

    (Emphasis mine!)

  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Tuesday May 07, 2002 @01:33AM (#3475519) Homepage Journal
    From the Salon article:

    How significant is the ruling? The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has already ruled, in a separate case involving a similar ordinance, that games are indeed speech. According to Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Limbaugh's ruling doesn't possess sufficient legal kung fu to take down the higher court's decision.

    "Technically," says Tien, "no other court is bound by [Limbaugh's] decision, unlike the decision by the 7th Circuit, which binds many district courts in that circuit."

    At least for now. "But if it is appealed and upheld," adds Tien, "then you'll have a decision of equal weight to [the 7th Circuit's ruling]."

    So basically Limbaugh made a ruling that went contrary to a higher court's ruling. It applies only to his district, and will only acquire any serious legal weight if the appeal is upheld.

    I sincerely hope that the IDSA learns from this initial bout with Limbaugh and brings to bear many of the arguments you all have been putting up here on Slashdot, when they appeal.

  • The issue here is not artistic expression or game publishers' freedom of speech. The publisher is not being prevented in any way from publishing the games. The law is just trying to regulate access by minors, and guess what, that's not an issue of the rights of the minors either, it's an issue of the rights of their parents.

    Kids really have very few legal rights, but they also have very few legal responsibilities. They also have very few people in their lives who see them as anything other than faucets plugged into bank accounts. Along with feeding, clothing and sheltering their kids, part of a parent's job is to shield them from candy-waving marketers who know that kids with low self-esteem will buy lots more stuff. Until you get to a certain age your parents are supposed to outsmart these PhD psychologists, usually with little help from the government.

    The cutoff point between childhood and adulthood may be ridiculously arbitrary and inappropriate in some cases, but at some point you suddenly do get the basic human rights our founding fathers fought for, like lawsuits, credit card debt, and unrestricted access to cigarettes and video games. Until then your parents get to call the shots. There's nothing draconian about it, it's just their job.
  • by Stanza ( 35421 ) on Tuesday May 07, 2002 @08:52AM (#3476401) Homepage Journal
    While I'm not fully aware of the history of comics, I do know there was once upon a time that they weren't conisidered fully considered "art". You can read "Understanding Comics" (Scott McCloud) or "Sequential Art" (Will Eisner) and watch them moan about how it's come a long way, but they don't still garner the same respect.

    While I haven't been reading comics since Krazy Kat, it seemed to me that once upon a time comics were violent and simple, kind of like video games. In an effort to get parents not so worried about thier kids reading them, they established the "Comic Book Code Authority" or something (I'm doing this all from memory, bear with me!) and it basically was huge self imposed censorship board. And Wal-mart was not going to sell your comic without the stamp of approval they would give.

    While we don't have all that, you can still understand the point: comics, at one point (and even now) were considered debase and not "art". Now, no one can deny that some comics are incredible works of art (finding examples are left as an exercise for the reader, because they no doubt will not be the same examples as mine) although there are still comics getting in trouble for being "obscene".

    Personally, I think video games are going to follow a similar path. I can point at "Zork" and say "art!" or if you say that's not a video game, then I point at "Battlegirl" (awesome game for the mac) or "Escape Velocity Overdrive" and say "art!"

    Remember, kiddies, send your spare bills to the Comic Book Legal Defense fund [], and when the Video Game Legal Defense fund comes into existance, let me know. Some poor kid who makes a nifty-cool game in his basement is going to get sued for offending sensibilities and causing violence in the wrong town.

"Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never." -- Winston Churchill