Video Games

State Lawmakers Still Seek Ways to Regulate Video Games

Censorship, ahoy!

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Still smarting from their blow-out loss at the Supreme Court two years ago, state legislators are laying the groundwork for a new push to censor video games.

Last week, TechFreedom joined the National Coalition Against Censorship and four other groups to file comments expressing concerns about legislation proposed in Massachusetts. The bill, which would commission a study on video games as causes of real-world violence, sounds harmless at first. But it's clearly intended to cause the Supreme Court to finally uphold video game censorship. Luckily, the study wouldn't really satisfy the government's burden in justifying censorship—but it certainly would unleash years of pointless litigation.

In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California law imposing special restrictions on teens' ability to buy video games deemed "violent" by the state. A major win for free speech advocates, the ruling in Brown v. EMA made clear that video games are protected by the First Amendment just like books, movies, and other media. Therefore, laws imposing special restrictions on video games must be justified by data showing that they're uniquely likely to cause violence—that, for example, video game depictions of Revolutionary War naval battles have substantially different effects than depictions in books or movies.

California conceded it could not "show a direct causal link between violent video games and harm to minors" but claimed it "need not produce such proof because the legislature can make a predictive judgment that such a link exists, based on competing psychological studies." The Court said this would be true only for laws regulating all types of content, but since the law in question targeted video games alone, California bore the burden of proof—and failed to meet it.