April 3, 2006 6:00 PM PDT

Judge nixes Michigan law aimed at 'violent' games

A federal judge has overturned a Michigan law restricting the sale of violent video games, the most recent in a series of decisions that have gutted similar laws on free-speech grounds.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh ruled on Friday that a state law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to anyone under 17 years of age is unconstitutional because those forms of entertainment are protected by the First Amendment's freedom of expression clause.

"Video games are a form of creative expression that are constitutionally protected under the First Amendment," Steeh ruled. "They contain original artwork, graphics, music, story lines and characters similar to movies and television shows, both of which are considered protected free speech."

The ruling (click here for PDF) represents another setback to politicians and anti-game activists who have mounted a state-by-state campaign for such restrictions. In the last few years, the 7th and 8th Circuit courts of appeal, plus federal judges in Washington, Illinois and California have found such laws to be unconstitutional.

"As long as they keep losing and most of the time don't even appeal, things are unlikely to change," said Paul Smith, a partner at the Jenner and Block law firm who is representing the Entertainment Software Association and the Video Software Dealers Association in the lawsuit.

One reason for the judicial skepticism is that academic studies have not established a link between simulated violence in video games and real-world action. (Under Supreme Court precedent, such a link between simulated violence and "imminent lawless action" would be necessary to make those laws constitutional.)

Craig Anderson, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, offered testimony on behalf of Michigan, saying that simulated violence can become "automatized" with repeated exposure.

But Steeh, in a 17-page opinion, said that "despite this claim, Dr. Anderson's studies have not provided any evidence that the relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior exists. His tests fail to prove that video games have ever caused anyone to commit a violent act, as opposed to feeling aggressive, or have caused the average level of violence to increase anywhere."

Politicians who support more laws targeting video games have, however, been trying to write large checks to researchers they hope will come up with more compelling studies. Last month, Democratic senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Hillary Clinton of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois persuaded a Senate committee to approve a sweeping study of the "impact of electronic media use."

Last year's news about a sex scene embedded in Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" also has caused politicians to complain. (Rockstar, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive, has said the so-called Hot Coffee modification--which permits a player to simulate sex with a woman--was the work of hackers who performed "significant technical modifications and reverse-engineering" of the game.)

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 355 to 21 last July for a resolution calling for an investigation of "Grand Theft Auto," and a similar measure was introduced in the Senate.

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42 comments

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it really amazes me how...
politicians have so many more important things to deal with like the defecit, terrorism, immigration, and civil liberties, yet they waste time and money on video games.

the only reason that clinton and others are doing this is for publicity. it makes a good soundbite for politicians and makes them seem to "care about the children."

i say parents are ultimately responsible for most everything their kids do and its not the government's responsibility to watch over kids.

even if video games are proven as having a link to violence, how can they be restricted by the government. as the court said, they are forms of entertainment like video or music and free speech can't be restricted (in these cases).

i wish some politicians would stand up against this waste of time and money. but the same reason that clinton supports it (favorable publicity) others will stay quiet to avoid a negative portrayal by the media. "__________ congressman supports giving kids violent video games that rot their brains." when actually it should be "__________ congressman supports free speech and personal responsibilty of parents for their kids.
Posted by stealt403 (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Votes
Since politicians care about nothing else than the votes that keep their snouts in the pork barrel, it's obvious they're only going to tackle issues that a) are simple for voters to understand, b) are morally unambiguous and, c) that concern the twin middle-American obsessions of 'family' and 'children.'

Videogame violence fits the bill neatly. Most middle-aged voters have no idea what videogames are about. Their only exposure to them are the sounds of shooting and explosions coming from the family room when their kids are playing on the XBox. It's 'simple' to see that violent games are 'BAD.'

Secondly, being against 'violence' is morally unambiguous. All right-thinking people are against violence (unless it's directed at Iraquis, Afghans or other foreigners, of course), so coming out against violence is about as controversial as coming out in favour of kittens and big hugs.

Finally, by portraying violent videogames as a threat to the 'family,' cynical politicians can win votes by pretending to care about other people's kids.

The press laps this garbage up too, which is why all it takes is some DC waster to belch about videogames, and it's front page news.

Compared to such an easy target, the defecit, terrorism and street crime are way too tough and ambiguous to get snarled up in. They would also require our representatives to do a bit of research into the issues and that would cut into the time reserved for lunch, hookers and counting the money they get from lobbyists. Not a good use of time.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
You just dont get it!
You people just dont get it. In the grand scheme, this is one of the best things our government should be working on. In a congress that cant get anything passed, this is a law that could use legal precedent (the laws regarding the film and porn industry).

Moreover, anyone who says we need parental responsibility is plain uninformed. UNDERSTAND THIS! If you want the parents to be responsible with their children and video games, the best way is to give the parents control over what the kids buy. By letting the kids purchase games on their own, you take the parents out of the equation. Face it, parents generally dont pay attention to what their kids are doing, and this is partly due to the fact that kids dont need their parents anymore. If you want parental intervention, require parental notification, pretty simple...
Posted by jjesusfreak01 (83 comments )
Link Flag
Irrespinsible
Its irresponsible to say that a parent is fully responsible for regulating their child's video game exposure. That's not a possibility in our culture. Do your kids go over to friends' houses after school? On weekends? Do they ever spend any time unsupervised in your home--even if your also in the home?

Parents have traditionally only had to ensure that their kids were in the home--if they were, they were safe. TV is easy to control, because the industry has been forced to put different types of content into different time slots. If you kid is watching TV at 3:30pm, you don't need to worry that its sexually or violently explicit (unless you have unrestricted VOD). But if he or she is playing video games? Are you sure that he's playing the same game when you leave the room? (Remember, kids are clever, and they want the forbidden fruit, every time.)

Video games change that equation, and people like you say that PARENTS need to change and adopt hyper-vigilance. Because in the case of video games, the industry WANTS to sell violent games to your child. They are fighting for the right to do so, under the "patriotic" blanket of the First Amendment. Fighting for the right to expose your 10 year old child to this (this is copied VERBATIM from the judicial decision):

"The defendants give the example
of Postal II, a game in which players have the ability to shoot schoolgirls in the knees, set them on fire, and urinate on their corpses."

And its the parents that need to change? No, video games present a new threat to children's minds, one that you can't analogize to movies (because children have to get to the theater and get in to the movie--a higher degree of difficulty or "burden" in the law-language) or TV (because of the aforementioned standards that have been developed). You might think that there is no threat, but a parent is legally entitled to think that there is: it's their kid, they have the freedom to control the content. A new type of threat needs a new way of thinking about the law if the state is going to be able to help the parents that want and need help keeping the Id and Take-Two wolves away from their young.
Posted by shrippyshram (25 comments )
Link Flag
Wow
100% Right!! Parents want the government to watch their kids instead of themselves. To them its so easy to blame Rockstar then blame themselves for their kids commiting criminal acts or misbehaving in general. Watch your kids, its up to you parents how your kids act not big brother. You should know what games your kids play instead of the government having to monitor them cause you are too busy to raise them properly.
Posted by lazarus_vendetta (13 comments )
Link Flag
it really amazes me how...
politicians have so many more important things to deal with like the defecit, terrorism, immigration, and civil liberties, yet they waste time and money on video games.

the only reason that clinton and others are doing this is for publicity. it makes a good soundbite for politicians and makes them seem to "care about the children."

i say parents are ultimately responsible for most everything their kids do and its not the government's responsibility to watch over kids.

even if video games are proven as having a link to violence, how can they be restricted by the government. as the court said, they are forms of entertainment like video or music and free speech can't be restricted (in these cases).

i wish some politicians would stand up against this waste of time and money. but the same reason that clinton supports it (favorable publicity) others will stay quiet to avoid a negative portrayal by the media. "__________ congressman supports giving kids violent video games that rot their brains." when actually it should be "__________ congressman supports free speech and personal responsibilty of parents for their kids.
Posted by stealt403 (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Votes
Since politicians care about nothing else than the votes that keep their snouts in the pork barrel, it's obvious they're only going to tackle issues that a) are simple for voters to understand, b) are morally unambiguous and, c) that concern the twin middle-American obsessions of 'family' and 'children.'

Videogame violence fits the bill neatly. Most middle-aged voters have no idea what videogames are about. Their only exposure to them are the sounds of shooting and explosions coming from the family room when their kids are playing on the XBox. It's 'simple' to see that violent games are 'BAD.'

Secondly, being against 'violence' is morally unambiguous. All right-thinking people are against violence (unless it's directed at Iraquis, Afghans or other foreigners, of course), so coming out against violence is about as controversial as coming out in favour of kittens and big hugs.

Finally, by portraying violent videogames as a threat to the 'family,' cynical politicians can win votes by pretending to care about other people's kids.

The press laps this garbage up too, which is why all it takes is some DC waster to belch about videogames, and it's front page news.

Compared to such an easy target, the defecit, terrorism and street crime are way too tough and ambiguous to get snarled up in. They would also require our representatives to do a bit of research into the issues and that would cut into the time reserved for lunch, hookers and counting the money they get from lobbyists. Not a good use of time.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
You just dont get it!
You people just dont get it. In the grand scheme, this is one of the best things our government should be working on. In a congress that cant get anything passed, this is a law that could use legal precedent (the laws regarding the film and porn industry).

Moreover, anyone who says we need parental responsibility is plain uninformed. UNDERSTAND THIS! If you want the parents to be responsible with their children and video games, the best way is to give the parents control over what the kids buy. By letting the kids purchase games on their own, you take the parents out of the equation. Face it, parents generally dont pay attention to what their kids are doing, and this is partly due to the fact that kids dont need their parents anymore. If you want parental intervention, require parental notification, pretty simple...
Posted by jjesusfreak01 (83 comments )
Link Flag
Irrespinsible
Its irresponsible to say that a parent is fully responsible for regulating their child's video game exposure. That's not a possibility in our culture. Do your kids go over to friends' houses after school? On weekends? Do they ever spend any time unsupervised in your home--even if your also in the home?

Parents have traditionally only had to ensure that their kids were in the home--if they were, they were safe. TV is easy to control, because the industry has been forced to put different types of content into different time slots. If you kid is watching TV at 3:30pm, you don't need to worry that its sexually or violently explicit (unless you have unrestricted VOD). But if he or she is playing video games? Are you sure that he's playing the same game when you leave the room? (Remember, kids are clever, and they want the forbidden fruit, every time.)

Video games change that equation, and people like you say that PARENTS need to change and adopt hyper-vigilance. Because in the case of video games, the industry WANTS to sell violent games to your child. They are fighting for the right to do so, under the "patriotic" blanket of the First Amendment. Fighting for the right to expose your 10 year old child to this (this is copied VERBATIM from the judicial decision):

"The defendants give the example
of Postal II, a game in which players have the ability to shoot schoolgirls in the knees, set them on fire, and urinate on their corpses."

And its the parents that need to change? No, video games present a new threat to children's minds, one that you can't analogize to movies (because children have to get to the theater and get in to the movie--a higher degree of difficulty or "burden" in the law-language) or TV (because of the aforementioned standards that have been developed). You might think that there is no threat, but a parent is legally entitled to think that there is: it's their kid, they have the freedom to control the content. A new type of threat needs a new way of thinking about the law if the state is going to be able to help the parents that want and need help keeping the Id and Take-Two wolves away from their young.
Posted by shrippyshram (25 comments )
Link Flag
Wow
100% Right!! Parents want the government to watch their kids instead of themselves. To them its so easy to blame Rockstar then blame themselves for their kids commiting criminal acts or misbehaving in general. Watch your kids, its up to you parents how your kids act not big brother. You should know what games your kids play instead of the government having to monitor them cause you are too busy to raise them properly.
Posted by lazarus_vendetta (13 comments )
Link Flag
Movies?
Aren't rated R movies restricted to those under 17? I know that NY
has a law that requires a parent or guardian to accompany
someone under 17 to a rated R movie. Many other states have laws
that simply forbid the sale of tickets to those under 17. Was this
deemed unconstitutional? Age discrimination is less suspect than
other forms of discrimination because ago is not an immutable
characteristic like gender or race. Everyone will eventually be over
the age of 17.
Posted by dbw784 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i agree somewhat...
this isn't just for videogames, but people should keep in mind that age restrictions are always put in place by people that will never be affected by the restrictions, in other words old guys. they may not have young peoples' rights in mind as much as they should.
Posted by stealt403 (48 comments )
Link Flag
Movies?
Aren't rated R movies restricted to those under 17? I know that NY
has a law that requires a parent or guardian to accompany
someone under 17 to a rated R movie. Many other states have laws
that simply forbid the sale of tickets to those under 17. Was this
deemed unconstitutional? Age discrimination is less suspect than
other forms of discrimination because ago is not an immutable
characteristic like gender or race. Everyone will eventually be over
the age of 17.
Posted by dbw784 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i agree somewhat...
this isn't just for videogames, but people should keep in mind that age restrictions are always put in place by people that will never be affected by the restrictions, in other words old guys. they may not have young peoples' rights in mind as much as they should.
Posted by stealt403 (48 comments )
Link Flag
Time and time again...
Every time one of these comes up, it's struck down for violating the first amendment.

So I wonder: how do you craft a bill that DOESN'T violate freedom of speech? Not that I'm in favor of censorship, I'm just curious.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i think they always get struck down...
because free speech should not be very regulated at all. then it wouldn't be free anymore. we would have to rename it "government approved speech."
Posted by stealt403 (48 comments )
Link Flag
Well...
Like the judges have said, prove the harm. You can't just pass laws against something because you don't like it or disapprove of it. That's infringing on someone elses rights whether you choose to believe it or not.
Posted by freemarket--2008 (5058 comments )
Link Flag
Time and time again...
Every time one of these comes up, it's struck down for violating the first amendment.

So I wonder: how do you craft a bill that DOESN'T violate freedom of speech? Not that I'm in favor of censorship, I'm just curious.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i think they always get struck down...
because free speech should not be very regulated at all. then it wouldn't be free anymore. we would have to rename it "government approved speech."
Posted by stealt403 (48 comments )
Link Flag
Well...
Like the judges have said, prove the harm. You can't just pass laws against something because you don't like it or disapprove of it. That's infringing on someone elses rights whether you choose to believe it or not.
Posted by freemarket--2008 (5058 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah, this is what our Founding Fathers envisioned
It simply amazes that some people feel that the government needs to be involved in this kind of stuff. I am 100% responsible for raising my children and it shouldn't be any other way. The schools do not bear that responsibility, their friends do not and certainly not the government. Wake up folks. Video games are just the "Rock N Roll" of the these times. How ridiculous does it seem now that parents in the 1950s thought the music of Elvis and Chubby Checker were eroding the fabric of society and poisoning the minds of their children. Every generation has an example of this all the way back to the Greeks and Socrates who was forced to commit suicide by the government for it.
Posted by cruz280 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the law is good!
you can buy the game for your kids. laws like this just make it
harder for your kids to go out and buy it without your permission.
in other words, it makes it easier for you to be responsible for your
children.

p.s. i'm just playing the devil's advocate. i don't really believe that
crap.
Posted by dbw784 (19 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah, this is what our Founding Fathers envisioned
It simply amazes that some people feel that the government needs to be involved in this kind of stuff. I am 100% responsible for raising my children and it shouldn't be any other way. The schools do not bear that responsibility, their friends do not and certainly not the government. Wake up folks. Video games are just the "Rock N Roll" of the these times. How ridiculous does it seem now that parents in the 1950s thought the music of Elvis and Chubby Checker were eroding the fabric of society and poisoning the minds of their children. Every generation has an example of this all the way back to the Greeks and Socrates who was forced to commit suicide by the government for it.
Posted by cruz280 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the law is good!
you can buy the game for your kids. laws like this just make it
harder for your kids to go out and buy it without your permission.
in other words, it makes it easier for you to be responsible for your
children.

p.s. i'm just playing the devil's advocate. i don't really believe that
crap.
Posted by dbw784 (19 comments )
Link Flag
What kids really need
The majority of parents today are constantly ducking, running, and hiding when it comes to the education and well being of their children. They are very quick to place blame in a 360 deg splatter just as long as its not their fault. Politicians are equally loath to place blame where it lies as its voters who they would be pointing at and those voter would no longer be in their bucket.
The solution is to expose children to real life. Want to eat, go kill somethng. Watch it fall, twitch, and die. See the actual change of the eyes as life becomes death. After all, it's a natural part of life and has been until well meaning but clueless protectionists shelter children from the realities of life.
Video games are not to blame, its the games played by society on the initial development of young minds that's the problem.

Maybe its time to make sunday dinner the lesson for the day.
Posted by R Me (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What kids really need
The majority of parents today are constantly ducking, running, and hiding when it comes to the education and well being of their children. They are very quick to place blame in a 360 deg splatter just as long as its not their fault. Politicians are equally loath to place blame where it lies as its voters who they would be pointing at and those voter would no longer be in their bucket.
The solution is to expose children to real life. Want to eat, go kill somethng. Watch it fall, twitch, and die. See the actual change of the eyes as life becomes death. After all, it's a natural part of life and has been until well meaning but clueless protectionists shelter children from the realities of life.
Video games are not to blame, its the games played by society on the initial development of young minds that's the problem.

Maybe its time to make sunday dinner the lesson for the day.
Posted by R Me (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Freedom of expression guaranteed to those under 17??
If the constitution offers First Amendment protection to everyone, even those under 17, does this mean that it's unconstitutional to enforce the movie rating NC-17?? It sure seems to make that implication to me.

How in the world is the court going to be able to make the distinction that SOME of the expressions of free speech are guaranteed, while others are not??
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Freedom of expression guaranteed to those under 17??
If the constitution offers First Amendment protection to everyone, even those under 17, does this mean that it's unconstitutional to enforce the movie rating NC-17?? It sure seems to make that implication to me.

How in the world is the court going to be able to make the distinction that SOME of the expressions of free speech are guaranteed, while others are not??
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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