The video game industry is under pressure from government, parents, and media due to a perceived connection to violence. That pressure led the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to remove light-gun arcade games from its public rest stops earlier this month.
Yesterday, the National Coalition Against Censorship released a letter from its executive director, Joan Bertin, to Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, claiming that action is “constitutionally problematic.”
“Video games are protected speech under the First Amendment and, as such, cannot be regulated or restricted by state officials in response to concerns about their message or content,” Bertin wrote in the letter. “The [Supreme] Court struck down a California state law restricting the sale of certain video games depicting violence to minors. The [Department of Transportation’s] action in removing certain games because some people object to their message or content is equally constitutionally problematic.”
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Bertin is referring to Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the 2011 Supreme Court case that ruled video games have full protection under the First Amendment. The anti-censorship advocate then goes on to argue that this will have a chilling effect, since the decision to remove the light-gun games came from a single individual’s complaint.
“There is no legitimate state interest that could be asserted to justify removing specific games to appease the sensibilities of certain motorists,” wrote Bertin. “Moreover, by caving to the demands of one passer-by, the [Department of Transportation] will inevitably invite others to register complaints about material they deem inappropriate. It is not a stretch to imagine someone demanding a ban on certain DVDs, magazines, or books. Perhaps other travelers will think it is inappropriate to broadcast news about war or crime, or other televised content. It is no more acceptable for the [Department of Transportation] to remove certain kinds of video games than it would be to selectively remove other materials in rest stops and concessions because some motorists find something in them objectionable.”
While the NCAC is making an argument based on the Constitution, it is unlikely that this will reach the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden reiterated the need for more information about the effects of video games. This is far short of the ban on violent games that many critics called for in the wake of some recent mass shootings that some believe have a link to the interactive medium.