Stand up for Gamer Rights

Like I mentioned in my last blog post, I've been lucky enough to land some contract gigs while I look for a full-time community management job.  One of the main projects that I've been able to line up is working with the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA), in an effort to raise awareness of their Gamer Petition.

The Gamer Petition is a petition that is arguing for gamers rights with regards to the Schwarzenegger v. EMA case, the "violent video game" case that hopes to restrict the sales of violent video games to minors.  This case is going before the United States Supreme Court, which is the first time a case like this has been ruled on by the Supreme Court.  If the Court agrees with the lower courts/the case, it would mean that video games remain to be protected by the First Amendment and will be seen as Free Speech.  If the Court disagrees with the case, it would mean that Video Games are no longer protected as Free Speech, and would be open to special legislation that restricts the sales of video games, which could impact the game industry in a huge way.

This is what the law proposes to do (For more details, go to the Why This Case? page on the ECA website):

The law that California passed imposes a fine of $1,000 on retailers that sell “violent video games” to minors. The definition used in the law labels a video game as being a “violent video game” if it meets one of two methods of determination. The first method requires a game to be violent in a manner that meets the standard of variable obscenity which has been developed by the courts. This standard provides exception speech that is protected for adults, but may be regulated for minors. Variable obscenity has never been broadened by the Supreme Court beyond sexually explicit material to apply to violence. The second method relies on definitions written in the law that focus on the gratuitous and heinous nature of some violence depicted in the game “upon images of human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics” without defining what “substantially human characteristics” means.

The Schwarzenegger law is trying to undermine the ESRB rating system, which is an organization setup by the game industry to self regulate.  This is the same way music and movies are regulated.  There is no government interference at all – it's up to the industry to make sure their entertainment is rated properly and that consumers are educated well enough to make good purchasing decisions.  At the end of the day, it's up to parents to protect their children from content that they feel could be harmful to their child.  It isn't up to the government to make that decision.  Studies have shown that the ESRB is pretty effective, as 86% of parents of children who play games are aware of the ESRB ratings.

To make an exception to the First Amendment for video games is really scary, as it opens the door for future legislation against "violent" books, movies, music, and other forms of entertainment.  We shouldn't let the government regulate our art and entertainment – This is America, and artists should have the freedom to choose what they want to create, and consumers should have the right to decide what they want as entertainment.  Even if you don't care about this particular case and how it will impact video game sales and video game creation, I hope people realize what this could mean for other forms of entertainment that they love.  I don't think any of us want to see our music, movies, or books restricted or censored.

Please join me in signing the Gamer Petition on the ECA website, as it is a fantastic way to show the Supreme Court that we, as consumers, care about this case and how it will impact our favorite hobby.  The ECA is standing up for us as consumers, and I hope you can help the cause by signing your name on the petition.

Thanks so much!


  • Jason

    The reason legislation like this keeps coming up is that game retailers don't, in general, take the ratings seriously.  Every movie theater around will card people for R rated movies, but I don't know of a single retailer who cards for M rated games.  Sure, they'll ask for the parent when an eight year old walks up with cash and an M rated game, but not anyone who "looks old enough".  Most retailers seem to consider it a hassle, and if they won't do it people are going to continue to try to legislate it.