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ECA Rallies Gamers for Supreme Court Showdown

Should video games be protected by the First Amendment?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 12, 2010
It's been a debate that has refused to go away: do people subjected to hours and hours of interactive entertainment with a decided bent toward spent bullets and spilled gore end up acting violent themselves? So far, only tenuous relationships have been shown at best, leading most gamers to happily spout the "correlation is not causation" defense, and indeed they're right... for now.

It's likely there will be no shortage of data resulting from endless studies until this matter is finally resolved -- or at least gets far closer than we are right now to making or breaking a definite link. That doesn't mean the legal eagles out there aren't going to rally behind both sides of a decidedly different debate, however: should the sale of violent video games be banned or at the very least policed by the government rather than the self-regulation that exists currently in the games industry?

At least thus far, the response has been a simple, "no." Games right now are protected by the First Amendment's definition of free speech, just like any other form of expression, and that was the official decree of Cali's 9th Circuit Court. Things have escalated, however, to the Supreme Court, and the ultimate decision will happen... well, likely in months rather than years.

"The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the State of California's infamous 'violent video game case' later this year, or early next," explains the Entertainment Consumers Association's Veep and General Council, Jennifer Mercurio. "At that time, the Court is going to listen to oral arguments on whether to agree with previous federal court findings or not. Agreeing would mean that they believe that video games are, and should continue to be, First Amendment protected speech; just like movies and music. The Court disagreeing would mean that video games should be treated differently, which the ECA strongly believes to be unconstitutional and could lead to new bills and laws curtailing video game access in states across the country."

"The gaming sector, as a whole, has arrived at perhaps the single most important challenge it has ever faced in the U.S.," adds ECA President Hal Halpin. "The medium itself and how it, the trade, and its consumers will be perceived for the long term is at stake. Anyone who cares about gaming should feel compelled to both sign the petition and encourage their friends and family to do similarly. These documents will provide the court with one clear collective voice with which to vocalize our position and reinforce that we agree with the lower court findings: games, like music and movies, are protected free speech."

It's a hot button issue to be sure, and one mired in more than a few extenuating debates that will likely rage on -- such as the one we mentioned earlier that formed part of the basis for California Democrat Leland Yee's original bill that kick-started this whole debate. Up for judgment by the Supreme Court in the near future, however, is whether or not video games are protected by the First Amendment. The ECA, a non-profit that "represents gamers," has tapped the very folks they're repping and created an official gamer petition that will be added into the court documents when the case begins in earnest.

This is a debate likely to generate some rather heated opinions, but if you're curious about the actual details (and indeed you should be), you can check out the full filing with some much-needed breakdowns by the good folks over at GamePolitics, including the previous rulings and the original bill.