The game seems to be over for those seeking to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to children after the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the government doesn't have the authority to "restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed." While gamemakers celebrated the high court's decision, the ruling is hardly inspiring more acts of virtual brutality.
"It's business as usual," said George Rose, chief public policy officer at Activision Blizzard Inc., the Santa Monica, Calif.-based publisher of the "Call of Duty" franchise. "We're not in the business of making more and more terribly violent games. The number of mature-rated games has actually decreased. The landscape is changing for the industry."
California's 2005 law struck down by the high court Monday would have prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from buying or renting games that give players the option of "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." Retailers who sold those games directly to minors would have faced fines of up to $1,000 for each game.
When it comes to violent games, virtually all game publishers and retailers follow the guidelines of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The voluntary rating system is similar to the one used by movie studios and theaters, assigning one of eight ratings, then blocking the sale of games that are rated M for "mature" and AO for "adults only" to children.
"After today, I expect now you're going to see more growth, more creation and more promotion of the ESRB," said Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the industry. "The decision today didn't create any new rights for the industry. It simply affirmed the rights that we believed we had all along."
In recent years, such kid-friendly games as the hip-shaking choreography simulator "Just Dance 2" have competed atop the sales charts against realistic military shoot-'em-ups like "Call of Duty: Black Ops." Last month, four M-rated games were among the top 10 top-selling titles, according to NPD Group, which tracks the sales of games at retailers.
"I don't think this ruling will change how people make games," said Simon Carless, publisher of Game Developer magazine. "There are obviously many games about war, but there are plenty of other games about puzzles. I think games will continue to diversify. I think even the concept of video games that are all about violence is quite outdated now."
The court's ruling in favor of the gaming industry is an affirmation for gamemakers that their interactive medium is a form of protected speech on par with books and movies. Opponents don't believe Monday's decision will give way to more violent games but affirm that there will be no protection for such games getting into the hands of children.
"Adults are the main driving force on what kind of content is produced," said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, who formerly worked in the interactive division at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. "I don't see this in any way, shape or form making for more violent games. What this allows is for retailers to sell violent video games to children."