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This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.
America's video game industry was the winner in a decision by the United States Supreme Court. In late June the justices rejected a law in California that banned the sale or rental of violent video games to people under eighteen. They said the two thousand five law violated the free speech guarantee in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The vote was seven to two.
The court decided that video games are a protected form of creative expression like books, plays and movies. Paul McGreal, dean of the University of Dayton law school in Ohio, says California did not see gaming that way. "The state of California tried to argue that this was not speech, it was more of an activity because children interact and play with the video games, and so it's not traditional speech like a book or like a magazine."
California lawmakers argued that violent games were especially harmful to children. But the court said they were no more harmful than the violence in other forms of media. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion. He pointed to the violence in fairy tales like "Snow White" and "Cinderella" and in cartoons.
Professor McGreal says the court sees its job as only to decide what is and is not legally protected speech. "We don't want to get the Supreme Court into making fine distinctions about what is better than others, because that will lead us down a slippery slope. Once you start deciding that, what's to stop the government from saying that, for example, Grimm's fairy tales themselves are too violent, or that particular books should be banned?"
In fact, from nineteen fifteen to nineteen fifty-two, the Supreme Court permitted censorship of movies for fear they could be "used for evil."
Today the film and music industries have voluntary rating systems, and so does the video game industry. For example, extremely violent games are rated "M" for mature. These are meant for ages seventeen and older.
Only five percent of the more than sixteen hundred games rated last year were rated M. Still, Abby Halloran, a manager at a Gamestop store in Maryland, says M-rated games like Call of Duty, Halo and Fallout are the most popular games in the store. She says parents have to give their permission for children to buy M-rated games. "But the majority of the time when we tell them what's in it, they don't."