free game


Like movies or novels, computer games are media. In accordance to the intentions of its authors, designers, and developers, a computer game mediates experiences to the players. The malleability and potential of the medium allows the mediation of a vast range of experiences. In the case of Max Payne [Remedy 2001] it is the experience of living through a crime story, rather than the experience of some kind of contest. Besides being a medium, a computer game first of all is a piece of software, a complex piece of program code [...]

While I was writing these sentences—their German equivalents, that is—for an upcoming anthology-article of mine, the news came in. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association [EMA] in favor of the EMA. Hereby a California law, enacted in 2005, is struck down which banned the sale of certain (which exactly?) computer games with violent content to minors without parental supervision. It is a bit ironic that of all Californian administrations it was Governor Schwarzenegger’s—who since long is, and for ever will be identified with the ‘Terminator’ (Cameron 1984, 1991, Mostow 2003, McG 2009)—which deviced and tried to implement the law in question. The core argument of the decision is that computer games qualify for First Amendment protection. The issue of computer games and free speech is a complex one—for an in-depth discussion I recommend Rousse 2011, and of course the Supreme Court’s decision itself. For those with limited time, the according entry at Wikipedia has it in a nutshell. But if you’ve got some time at hand: the court’s decision really is worthwhile reading, especially the opinions of the two dissenting judges. I very much agree with a lot of what the latter two had to say. But for the moment I only focus on the free-speech issue. Here’s a quote from said decision, which I wholeheartedly embrace:

Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection. 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.” [...] And whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, “the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment’s command, do not vary” when a new and different medium for communication appears. (Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011))

CAMERON, JAMES. 1984. The Terminator [motion picture]. Los Angeles: Orion Pictures.
CAMERON, JAMES. 1991. Terminator 2: Judgment day [motion picture]. Culver City: Tri-Star Pictures.
MCG [aka MCGINTY NICHOL, JOSEPH]. 2009. Terminator salvation [motion picture]. Burbank, Los Angeles: Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures.
MOSTOW, JONATHAN. 2003. Terminator 3: Rise of the machines [motion picture]. Burbank, Los Angeles: Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures.
REMEDY. 2001. Max Payne [computer game]. New York et al.: TakeTwo Interactive, 3D Realms, Gathering of Developers.
ROUSSE, THOMAS HENRY. 2011. Electronic games and the first amendment: Free speech protection for new media in the 21st century. Northwestern Interdisciplinary Law Review 4(1): 173-233.