Games Take Over Supreme Court

November 2, 2010 -

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California Assembly Bill 1179 into law on October 7, 2005, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to today’s oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide whether the First Amendment can stop a state from prohibiting the sale of violent videogames to minors.

Two issues are at stake for the Court to decide: Do violent games for minors fall within a category of speech unprotected by the First Amendment and does California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent videogames to minors satisfy the strict scrutiny test applicable to content-based restrictions on speech?

Arguing for the California side in Schwarzenegger vs. EMA was Supervising Deputy Attorney General Zackery Morazzini, while Jenner & Block lawyer Paul Smith took the lead for the gaming industry.

The entire time allotted for oral arguments—and questions—is one hour.

Kicking off the 60 minute extravaganza was Morazzini, who only got a little bit into his preamble, before being accosted by Justices. Justice Scalia threw out a reference to Grimms Fairy Tales before Justice Ginsburg asked about comic books and films. Morazzini responded that games are specially harmful.

When asked about specific studies that indicated violent games have a negative impact on minors, Morazzini referenced research from Iowa State University's Doug Gentile.

Justice Sotomayor (we believe, our view was terribly obstructed) brought up cartoons and their lack of social value, a topic to which Morazzini answered that cartoons do not depart from social norms.

Justice Sotomayor then mentioned rap music and wondered if ultra-violent lyrics could also be considered obscene.

Justice Alito asked exactly what constituted a minor, is it a 17 year old? A 10 year old? He received the clarification from Morazzini that the statute considers minors under the age of 18 as one entire group.

Justice Scalia asked how manufacturers would know what games are covered under the law, saying that if he was such a producer, he “wouldn’t know what to do.” Morazzini answered, “I think they would know what to do.

In response to comments from Justices that the statute was vague, Morazzini said that the state had to start somewhere, and that it could eventually build a consensus, to which Justice Scalia remarked, what would be next to be targeted after violence.. drinking? Smoking?

Justice Scalia wondered if the statute might eventually lead to a “California Office of Censorship” overseeing what could and could not be sold to kids, to which Morazzini responded that “California is not acting as a censor.”

By the time it came around to Smith’s turn to face the Court, Morazzini, who answered at least one question from a Justice with “I don’t know,” may have been happy to take a seat.

Smith argued that California had not “marshaled a shred of evidence” in its case, before Justice Breyer jumped in to state that dueling game researchers Chris Ferguson and Craig Anderson are in disagreement, “but not that much,” in that both suggest that games do hurt children.

Smith, answering questions regarding if parents need additional help in regulating what types of content their kids consume, argued that any harm was supposed to manifest itself over years, which would give parents plenty of time to mitigate their ward’s exposure.

Justice Kagan then asked Smith if any research results would be enough to justify the California law. Smith said that perhaps a study which indicated that 75 percent of viewers of a certain media turned into murderers would be enough.

Responding to Justice Alito’s comment that the First Amendment, when written, could not have taken into consideration modern media such as videogames, Smith replied that vast overreactions to new media came about all the time, mentioning comic books, television content and rock lyrics as previously targeted mediums.

When asked if all games were considered speech, Smith replied that games feature narratives and plots, prompting Kagan to wonder if games could be broken down into narrative and non-narrative types, which also prompted a discussion on which side Pong would fall under.

Smith contended that there is no problem that California law is needed to solve.

A discussion on whether games should be treated like cigarettes and kept literally out of reach of kids prompted an exchange between Smith and the Court that resulted in Smith stating that “Cigarettes are not speech.” That statement prompted a neighboring (and more SCOTUS seasoned) journalist to whisper that Smith had come close to crossing the line in talking to the bench that way, while others might say that Smith was just strongly defending his sides position.

Morazzini returned to face the Court, and referenced an earlier conversation about whether kids could afford to buy new videogames or not by noting that there’s plenty of inexpensive rental options for game consumers as well.

Morazzini argued that the California law was expressly tailored towards games with “no artistic value,” to which Scalia replied, “Will that be the test?” Smith attempted to reply with an answer that it would be one of the tests, before Scalia asked, “Artistic for who?”

Justice Kagan then wondered if the Mortal Kombat series would be a target of the California law, to which Morazzini replied, “It’s a candidate… the videogame industry should look at it.” He added, “Postal II would be…”

Justice Sotomayor then wondered what if the on-screen videogame violence was directed at simulated people. Sotomayor continued along that line of questioning, wondering if an in-game character had its head chopped off, but then sprang back to life second later, would that too fall under the statute.

Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) Vice president AD GENERAL Counsel Jennifer Mercurio was also in attendance at the oral arguments. Her take on the proceedings: "The oral arguments were an awesome display of intellectual prowess and debate.

She continued, "The Justices obviously have a clear understanding of video games, as well as the First Amendment principles at play in this case. We hope that their spirited dialogue was an indication that they agree that video games are protected speech like other entertainment media."

After the oral arguments, Leland Yee gave a quick press conference, in which he once again stated that he had no interest at all in applying this law to other media types. Yee told us that he thought the Justices were equally hard on both sides in the oral arguments.

We also asked Yee how many controllers his office received following the ESA’s First Amendment initiative to deluge him with videogame controllers. Yee stated that all the controllers were returned to their original senders due to the possibility that they could be perceived as gifts.

Overall, it was (obviously) a thrilling experience to be able to witness the arguments in person. Even with the obstructed view, we had a clear line of sight to Morazzini and Smith, but could only really view Justice Kagan, and even then it required a severe bend to one side. Not knowing exactly what to expect going in, it was surprising in the way the Justices constantly grilled each side’s representative throughout the hour-long process. Morazzini came off as less-prepared and seasoned than his counterpart Smith.

According to someone who had witnessed previous oral arguments, it was an extremely talkative session by Supreme Court standards, except for Justice Thomas, who uttered nary a word during the proceedings. Justice Scalia should also consider the possibility of a post-SCOTUS career as an entertainer, as he prompted a good handful of laughs throughout the courtroom with a variety of his comments and witticisms.

Now we wait…


Comments

Re: Games Take Over Supreme Court

"Smith argued that California had not “marshaled a shred of evidence” in its case, before Justice Breyer jumped in to state that dueling game researchers Chris Ferguson and Craig Anderson are in disagreement, “but not that much,” in that both suggest that games do hurt children."

That's odd.  I could be wrong but I don't recall either saying that playing violent video games hurts children.  Increases aggression levels and stuff like that, sure but I don't recall either confirming actual harm.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: Games Take Over Supreme Court

No, that was a curious read.  Perhaps Anderson might sign onto that idea, but not Ferguson.

Re: Games Take Over Supreme Court

 Ya i don't believe i've hard Ferguson ever subscribe to such a belief... if anything I'd imagine he might give a more fair idea that we just don't know and that their is no proof one way or the other; that would suggest that there MIGHT be harm...

Re: Games Take Over Supreme Court

No, every researcher that the State has propped up as an expert witness does not actually agree with the State. Anderson does not believe that playing violent video games increases violence. What every legitimate study has concluded is that playing violent video games increases aggression. So does playing football, watching the World Series, and reading the Holy Bible.

Aggression is an emotion. Feeling aggressive and actually attacking people are very different. I doubt that the Justices are familiar with the facts that psychologists distinguish aggression in such a way, and that media-violence researchers don't care about graphically explicit content.

Justice Breyer either misspoke or is un/mis-informed.

Re: Games Take Over Supreme Court

My impression is that Anderson (from reading his writings) DOES think video games cause violence but when pressed, acknowledges the research can't show this (but my feeling is that he encourages people to make that connection though).  Just my impression of course. 

 
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Neeneko@Wonderkarp - there is still a lot of debate regarding if the movie was a motive or not. Unnamed officials say yes, the timeline says no.12/18/2014 - 9:10am
NeenekoSomething does not smell right though, Sony is no stranger to being hacked, so why cancel this film? For that matter, they are still not giving in to hacker's original demands as far as I know.12/18/2014 - 9:06am
PHX Corp@prh99 Not to mention the Dangerous Precedent that sony's hacking scandal just set http://mashable.com/2014/12/17/sony-hackers-precedent/12/18/2014 - 8:25am
Matthew WilsonI hope its released to netflix or amazon12/18/2014 - 12:11am
prh99Basically they've given every tin pot dictator and repressive regime a blue print how to conduct censorship abroad. The hecklers veto wins again. At least when it comes to Sony and the four major theater chains.12/17/2014 - 11:55pm
MaskedPixelante"It's not OUR fault that our game doesn't work, it's YOUR fault for having so many friends."12/17/2014 - 9:48pm
Matthew Wilsonapparently tetris did not work because he has a full friends list12/17/2014 - 9:21pm
WonderkarpSo Sony cancelled the release of the Interview. was it ever confirmed that the Sony hacking was done because of that specific movie?12/17/2014 - 8:54pm
MaskedPixelanteWow, Ubisoft went four for four, I didn't think it was actually possible.12/17/2014 - 8:37pm
MechaTama31Oh, ok, I was mixing up "on Greenlight" and "Greenlit".12/17/2014 - 8:23pm
Matthew Wilson@phx you beat me to it. how do you screw up tetris?! my ubisoft this is just stupid. no one should ever preorder a ubisoft game again! ps people should never preorder any game regardles of dev.12/17/2014 - 6:28pm
PHX Corphttp://www.ign.com/videos/2014/12/17/what-the-heck-is-wrong-with-tetris-ps4 I give up on ubisoft12/17/2014 - 6:01pm
MaskedPixelantehttp://comicbook.com/blog/2014/08/16/exclusive-original-unaltered-cut-of-star-wars-trilogy-to-be-rele/ Yeah, this'll never happen.12/17/2014 - 5:03pm
NeenekoThey have and exercise control over which games are allowed on their privately controlled 'open forum'. Their endorsement is fairly minimal since it is only 'we do not reject this', but it is still an endorsement of sorts.12/17/2014 - 3:58pm
NeenekoHistorically there have been issues with libraries allowing some groups but not others. Perhaps 'endorsement' is too strong a word, but their editorial control IS a preapproval process, even if the standards are pretty minimal.12/17/2014 - 3:56pm
E. Zachary KnightLet's put this a different way. My local library allows any group to reserve and use multipurpose rooms. That does not mean that the Library endorses all events that take place in those rooms.12/17/2014 - 12:54pm
E. Zachary KnightValve's editorial control comes from removing problem games and accepting games to Steam. They make no claim over any games otherwise.12/17/2014 - 12:52pm
E. Zachary KnightNeeneko, It is not at all a form of endorsement. Grenlight is an open forum for game developers to pitch their game to Valve/Steam and Steam users. Does Valve have some editorial control? Yes, but not to the point that they preapprove games.12/17/2014 - 12:51pm
Neeneko@EZK - I disagree. Greenlight is built off Valve's brand. While not an explicit endorsement, it is a form of it, otherwise Greenlight would have no value over other platforms.12/17/2014 - 12:05pm
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.latino-review.com/news/exclusive-viola-davis-bags-amanda-waller-role-in-suicide-squad Latino Review says Viola Davis will be Amanda Waller. History of Latino Review says "wait for a REAL news site to confirm".12/17/2014 - 10:48am
 

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