This morning the U.S. Supreme Court put to rest, perhaps finally, the debate over not only whether video games are protected speech, but whether they are art.
We reached out to more than half a dozen of the best game makers and publishers in the U.S. to get their reaction. Read on to read what Activision's Bobby Kotick, EA's John Riccitiello, Irrational Games' Ken Levine, Gearbox's Randy Pitchford and others have to say about the decision.
Mike Capps, president of Epic Games, developer of Gears of War
Today we commend the Supreme Court's landmark decision, and as always, support the right of game developers to create works of art and entertainment for people of all ages.
Epic Games applauds the Court's validation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board rating system as a successful tool that helps parents decide which video games are appropriate for their family. We advocate and abide by the ESRB ratings system, and are thankful the Court has recognized that our industry capably empowers parents to make sound decisions on what games are right for their kids.
As an independent developer, Epic is proud to be an active member of the Entertainment Software Association, especially during this historic moment in video game history. This is a pivotal achievement and sweeping win not just for large publishers but for all game makers in this country.
Vince Desi - CEO of Running With Scissors, developer of Postal
Thank God some of us still believe in the Constitution. Every morning I wake concerned about what new insanity have our politicians bestowed upon us. However I strongly believe that all parties from developers to parents, publishers and retailers between; must start taking responsibility for their part and stop the hypocrisy that has been the standard in our industry.
Bobby Kotick, president of Activision Blizzard, developers and publishers of Call of Duty, Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero
We are pleased with the ruling, which is an important affirmation of First Amendment rights and a victory against an unwarranted, selective attack on our industry. Protecting children from age inappropriate content is important and that's why we have an industry-standard ratings system that is clear and unambiguous.
Ken Levine, Creative Director, Irrational Games, developer of Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite
I would love to read through the entire decision before writing this, but Kotaku has asked for our immediate responses. So let me just quote this from the first page of the decision:
"Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium."
This was a terrible law to begin with. It could have effectively made ALL games M-rated games, because publishers would have been rightly nervous about "under-labeling" their titles and facing the wrath of the state (or, more precisely, states, because a California law would have no doubt spawned up to 49 deformed siblings). A cartoon plumber lands on top of an anthropomorphic mushroom and crushes it to death? Hmmm. Better label it "M".
This in turn would have discouraged the industry developing content for non-adults. Why bother, if you're just going to have to label it in a way which means it can't be sold to them? This would have the net effect of the industry under-serving children.
All of our freedoms derive from the right to express ourselves. The wonderful thing about speech is that is both powerless and omnipotent. The Emancipation Proclamation and Das Kapital are both simple collections of words. One led to the freeing of an entire race of people in one country. The other led to the effective enslavement of a population under a brutal dictator. But who has the vision to see where these collection of words lead? The greatness of the American experiment derives from the humility of the First Amendment. Why am I a better judge of where these collections of words lead than you are? I am not. Therefore, the law remains silent on them and lets the words take us where they will.
Today, the Court brought the medium we love fully into that circle of freedom. And we move forward empowered, but also with a sense of responsibility that words have meaning. So we as creators will choose our words with respect, understanding their power. But no law will have the authority to choose them for us.
Randy Pitchford - President of Gearbox Software, developer of Duke Nukem Forever and Borderlands.
The decision today is obviously a landmark for our medium. The very decisive ruling did not merely restrict itself to offering a decision on the question of the day, but definitively proclaimed video games to be protected speech.
The court also went on record with the conclusion that California could not pass strict scrutiny of its claims that there is a causal connection between violence in video games and behavior in children. Of course, we video gamers already know this to be true because we feel confident in our individual and collective moral compass regardless of nature of the entertainment content we have exposed ourselves to or have been exposed to both as children and as adults. But the ruling by our highest court is significant because it further helps to lay to rest attempts to erroneously convince non-gamers that our medium can affect behavior. Nevermore can anyone make such an argument and cite any studies prior to this day without having their argument be crushed with the simple fact that the Supreme Court of the United States of America had looked at the evidence and had said definitively that "California's claim that ‘interactive' video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive."
I'm sure there are people (the kind who fear new things) that will continue to attempt to make their arguments against our medium, but if we put aside the expected behavior of zealots and extremists, I think it's fair to expect that today's decision also serves to put the nail in the coffin of the argument that video games are harmful. It will take time, of course, before the argument's coffin can be set to the ground and covered in dirt, but the time will come.
Aside from the decision itself, one of the key points that struck me is the court's clear regard for video games as expression – further serving, perhaps, to help non-gamers, cynics and those associated with other mediums who wish to keep the designation narrow understand better and finally accept that our medium is, in fact, art. Over and over throughout the Opinion of the Court is language and discussion that classifies video games in the same way that literature, music and motion pictures are classified. Even the dissenting opinion confirmed video games as speech – using instead what it interpreted the founders to believe regarding the differences between adult and children's rights to defend its opposing view.
The Supreme Court of the United States of America has decided that video games are art. Perhaps that debate can now rest beside the other in the coffin.
My favorite sentence in the ruling is where Justice Scalia wrote, "Under our Constitution, "esthetic and moral judgments about art and literature … are for the individual to make, not for the Government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority. United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U.S. 803, 818 (2000).
Later in the ruling, I was happy to see our Court's specific recognition of the existence and high performance record of our existing, self-regulated ratings system as a factor of their decision. Responsible industry earns the liberty to be self-regulated – THIS is a very important message that our Court wanted to make clear and a valuable lesson that other less responsible industry should note.
All in all, it is truly a landmark decision.
Given the nature of the arguments regarding sex and violence in video games, I cannot help but think about the case in light of the recent launch of Duke Nukem Forever.
In our current information age, where we have seen 2 girls, 1 cup and Goatse and where we all have magical, digital windows that are connected to an infinite universe of uncountable volumes of porn and violence and obscene material of disgust and horror, I imagine most of us expect that we can no longer see or hear anything that truly shocks us.
Yet here exists, on the eve of the Court's most important decision in the history of our industry, a video game that, somehow, has managed to shock people. And not just grandparents and culturally secluded people, but those people who are most connected to our digital world and the information that is shared and contained within it.
"I was shocked that I had found myself repeatedly, well, a little shocked." – Luke Plunkett, on playing Duke Nukem Forever.
So I cannot help but wonder: Would the Supreme Court have ruled differently had they played Duke Nukem Forever?
Scalia writes, "it does arouse the reader's ire, and the reader's desire to put an end to this horrible message." But counters, "disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression."
So, today, to celebrate this landmark decision, I'm going to be playing Duke Nukem Forever.
Ted Price, president of Insomniac Games, developers of Ratchet & Clank and Resistance
Today is a great day for the videogame industry. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed what we've known all along – that videogames deserve the same protection under the First Amendment as any other form of entertainment. But what does this really mean to those of us who make games for a living? It means that we won't have to self-censor because a store owner could be fined for selling one of our games to a minor. It means that we won't have to try to predict how a legislative body interprets ambiguous "rules" regarding game content. But most important it means we can continue freely expressing ourselves in one of the most vibrant and culturally relevant artistic mediums in existence.
Today is a great day for parents. Parents can continue to look to the ESRB ratings for a clear explanation of what a game contains instead of having to deal with multiple rating systems. And better, parents can continue to make their own choices about what their kids play without government interference.
Best of all, today is a great day for gamers. Developers will continue doing what they do best – creating amazing experiences for players without fear that the content of their games will be treated differently than film, books or television. As a gamers this means that we get to keep enjoying unique worlds, characters and experiences we just can't find anywhere else.
Personally I belong to all three groups. I'm very fortunate to work with many extremely talented and creative people developing games at Insomniac Games. I'm a father to four great kids – all gamers. And I'm a lifelong gamer myself. So this decision means a lot to me for many reasons.
Thank you to the U.S. Supreme Court for a dose of sanity in a sometimes crazy world.
John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, developers of Battlefield, Madden and Mass Effect
Everybody wins on this decision – the Court has affirmed the Constitutional rights of game developers; adults keep the right to decide what's appropriate in their houses; and store owners can sell games without fear of criminal prosecution.
Throughout American history, every new creative medium has to fight to establish its rights. Like books and film, videogames have had to face down censors and stand up for creative freedom.
This was a long, hard, expensive fight, but it pulled together the developers, publishers and fans into a powerful political coalition. There will be other censors, other challenges. But now we've got an army in the field to stand up for the rights of game developers and players.