Games are not considered "speech"

Video and computer games are rated, based on contect by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This was a self-imposed rating system by the game industry to help parents decide what games would be suitable for their children to play.

The city of St. Louis passed a law codifying this rating system, making retailers criminally liable if they did not follow the ESRB ratings by checking IDs or having parents give consent to minors buying Mature-rated games.

This law was challenged by a group called the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). They argued that the ordinance improperly violated their protected speech, etc. And so, after filing their complaint, they promptly filed their Motion for Summary Judgment.

The judge seeing the case not only denied the Motion, he wrote a 26 page descision unnecessarily ruling that games are not speech.

From a news report:

The games that the judge reviewed before making this momentous descision?

“Mortal Combat”
“Fear Effect”
“DOOM”
“The Resident of Evil Creek”

One of these isn’t even a game.

So, after reviewing such a representative sample of the genre, this judge decided that no game had any sort of “conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech”.

So, what do y’all think? Are all games really not speech?

[sub]I freely admit that this was inspired by today’s Penny Arcade.[/sub]

Well, I’m a bit iffy about -requiring- ID for purchasing games… And while yes, a computer game may have usually more in common with a board game than a movie, I don’t think it makes a difference. A better comparison would be to, say, paper-and-pencil RPGs. Those are identified rather clearly as “speach” (Well, as much as a game or book can be speach), and most computer games would fall under that category too. The guy should try reviewing something like a (Good) CRPG and seeing how little “speach” that has in it.

What a maroon. I can understand with, say, DOOM and MK, but Fear Effect? It has about as much story to it as your typical SF novel, and should be as protected by free speech as said novel would be. I’ve played narrative-driven games that are as insightful as some of the best genre novels I’ve read, and it’s still a really young medium.

(I mean, even if was half-baked, can anybody argue that Metal Gear Solid did NOT have a point it was trying to make?)

Bah. They should bring it to the Supremes. It’s not like the IDSA doesn’t have loadsadough and this ruling is utterly ludicrous. I shudder at the chilling effect on game designers and game importers if this becomes commonly cited precedent.

He could not have reviewed Fear Effect and concluded there was nothing amounting to protected speech in there. The damn game plays like a movie!

This judge, incidentally, is the same doof who recently ruled that laws prohibiting unsolicited junk ad faxes are unconstitutional, thereby protecting the sacred right of other people to use my toner and paper to advertise to me, even if I don’t want them to. What a knob.

So if they’re not a form of speech, why are they being outlawed? Presumably they’re regulated because they expose children to harmful ideas. But if they expose children to harmful ideas, then they must convey ideas, which makes them speech.

All carding minors for 17+ games will do is turn them to downloading them illegally even more than they already do. The industry knows this, which is probably part of the reason their protesting it.

Games are just as much speech as a movie, or radio show, or painting, or words coming out of my mouth, or my words on this board.

Games have nothing in common with movies? Tell that to anyone who’s played Metal Gear Solid (1 or 2), Final Fantasy (7, 8, 9, 10), Silent Hill (1 or 2)…

Where did this idiot get the idea to review Mortal Kombat and DOOM, which are about 7 years old? No one plays those anymore, you can’t even find them in stores except under a layer of mold at the bottom of the bargain bin. Sounds like he had his mind made up beforehand, and made his choices accordingly.

If anything, they have a little too much like movies. I mean, MGS kinda got a little overbearing at times.

Oh, Ryan, don’t go thinking this guy was being logical about the affair! That kind of assumption is simply unwarranted. :wink:

Wait a minute, wait a minute… he reviewed a grand total of FOUR games? FOUR??? That’s supposed to be representative of the entire gaming industry… hundreds upon hundreds of games?!?

Hell, Doom and Mortal Kombat aren’t even contemporary, for Christ’s sake. Did he happen to miss games like Half-Life and Deus Ex?

Of course it is; the judge is Rush’s uncle. Apparently, idiocy is a familial trait :wink:

I have a question; assuming one does equate the speech in games to that in movies, aren’t movies age-rated and legally enforced as such? I don’t understand how if freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee a universal audience for movies, it would do so for games. Obviously the ruling is stupid in the extreme, but I don’t see what difference it makes either way.

Movies aren’t speech either.

Or so I gathered from 4 randomly chosen movies:

Jason X

Nightmare on Elm Street 4

Halloween 3

and Playboy magazine.

No. The moving ratings in the US are a completely voluntary, private system (unlike, for example, the UK) implemented by the movie industry (see MPAA’s web site for more details). The movie producers apply for a rating from the MPAA, a private entity, and the movie theaters and video store owners enforce the rating. AFAIK, there are no criminal statutes by which you could be charged, for example, with being under 17 and attempting to see a “rated R” movie unaccompanied by an adult. In any case, the movie ratings are meant to be more advisory (to parents) than prohibitive.

Sorry, didn’t see Silentgoldfish’s post come in. I was responding to Dead Badger’s question.

To actually stand up a little for a Limbaugh (it hurts, Mommy, it hurts so much), his ruling is not without precedence. Whether video games are considered speech has been debated in the legal community since Pong, and many courts have ruled that they are not. Many of those cases dealt with regulations of arcades (for you younger people, they once had these wonderful, magical places where you had to go to play good video games like Battlezone and Tempest). This ruling is in line with those other rulings.

Of course that being said, video games have changed a lot since the 1980’s, and courts need to realize that. They went through much the same progression with movies and television. Those were not immediately accepted as protected free speech, because they were considered merely entertainment. However, in 1952, SCOTUS actually held that films were protected free speech in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson.

As far as I’m concerned, video games are clearly “speech” and should, and soon will be, considered protected under the First Amendment. That won’t mean they won’t/can’t be regulated, but at least the first hurdle will be over.

Just FYI, here’s a link to the opinion itself (PDF, sorry).

I agree that this is a boneheaded decision insofar as it finds games are not protected speech (the judge also finds the regulation permissible even assuming games are protected speech). I’ve gone into more detail at my blog (yeah, I’m a link whore ;)).

Ironically, yesterday Jesse Ventura’s campaign advisors indicated they might use games as a campaign tool. Which to my mind puts a big exclamation point on the idea that games should have first amendment protections.

In agreement with Hamlet, games just aren’t the same as they were before. They used to be about the gameplay - speed, reflexes, graphics. A trip down memory lane at the local nickel arcade can show you that.

With the advanced capabilities of more memory, game makers could put more into a game than repetition. A plot, perhaps - one that is explained in the game with more than a paragraph in the manual. The ability to tell a story also gives the ability to convey ideas - and therefore can and should be construed as speech.

Granted, not all games are “speechworthy.” Serious Sam, Shadow Warrior, or Smash TV aren’t going to make you think, but art and movies don’t have to make you think either. The capability is there, and it takes more than reviewing a selection of old games for a few minutes to tell you that.

Sit the judge down, and make him play Xenogears for the full 70 or so hours it takes to tell the whole story, and then ask him to say that there’s no “conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech”. He just doesn’t want to put any effort into trying to disprove a position that he feels strongly about, so he plays a few minutes of Mortal Kombat and the first couple levels of Doom. We’re lucky he didn’t get his hands on a copy of Postal, or he’d be trying to bring down the entire industry.

Has anyone here ever played Planescape: Torment?

Games not speech my fanny. Incredibly rich setting, multiple fleshed-out characters, cunningly interwoven subplots, and a moral dilemma that sticks in my mind though I beat it weeks ago.

Final Fantasy (Not too final, are they?) 7-10 definitely qualify, as do Fear Effect and Half-Life and probably theother ones mentioned above that I haven’t played.

But Torment blows these all out of the water.