Kotick, Riccitiello, Levine And More Praise Supreme Court Victory

This morning the US 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 US 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 recognised 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 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 behaviour 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 behaviour. 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 behaviour 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 favourite 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?

Likely, no.

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 US 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.


    Dear Ken Levine,

    You are rad. Don't ever stop believin'.

    Warm regards,

      He talked about words, and how the meaning of words is created by the beholder, but also not all at the same time. And sometimes words a full of authority and power, but we can chose them, or something.

      Was it just a viral campaign for BioShock Infinite?

    I still find this quite hypocritical on the part of the games industry.

    Here in Australia they're campaigning strongly for an R18+ rating, which will restrict the sale of violent games to children. Meanwhile, over in America, they're launching Supreme Court challenges against a law in California that will... restrict the sale of violent games to children.

    Mixed messages?

      They're arguing that games are a mature form of self expression which should be as available and unaltered as any other form of self-expression according to the laws of the land.
      In Australia, we have ratings and censorship and they want the laws to be appropriate to the medium, not a condescending exception.

        We are starting from opposite positions. The Californian law would be introducing the first restriction of its kind.

        In Australia we already have much tighter restrictions, so the introduction of an R rating here is actually a liberalisation of our system. Our law effectively says its illegal for everyone to have the R18 game, so we want to reduce it from everyone to just children.

          Except one of the big arguments that they keep pushing here is that the introduction of an R rating will PROTECT children by taking inappropriate content out of the MA15+ rating that it currently gets squeezed into and put it into the adults-only R rating to prevent children buying them, which is exactly what the California law was trying to do.

          So apparently the amount of "protection" the games industry thinks children needs depends on the nation those children live in and what the games industry think they think they can get away with in that particular jurisdiction.

            Further to this, there's this line from Ted Price: "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".

            This is serious bullshit. Why would they self-censor because of that? If the retailer breaks the law, that's the retailer's problem, not the publisher's or developer's. You don't see breweries taking the alcohol out of their beer because liquor stores might get fined for selling it to underaged customers. Retailers can ALREADY be fined for selling their games to minors right here in Australia - you sell an MA15+ game to somebody under 15 and you can be fined. And the same will apply if/when we get an R18+. I haven't seen any evidence of "self-censoring" to make sure their games fit into the M or lower ratings here in Australia (or any other part of the world with enforcible ratings).

            In Australia's case, where classification is codified in law and controlled by the powers that be, an R-rating is a god send. We don't have an expressed right to freedom of speech, therefore nothing protects games or medium from government control.

              Yeah, I understand that and support it, and I'm all in favour of an R rating. What irks me is that the industry is saying one thing in Australia (we need to change the law to prevent kids getting access to these games), and something completely different in America (we must not change to the law if it will prevent kids getting access to these games).

              The freedom of speech argument I have no problem with, but they've completely undermined their own argument on the child-protection issue by showing that they want to be able to sell these games to kids if they can get away with it.

                The issues involved in your argument are unfortunately situational and jurisdictional. The fact that classification of movies and games are codified in law severely limits how one can express their ideas without infringing the criteria established by law and the A-G's.

                Where America is free to express their games without legal consequences, devs and publishers who wish to release games in Australia must follow the law. At this point, developers must ensure that the games they release here satisfy the laws and classifications because the mere fact that the game involves extreme violence automatically puts them in MA 15+ rating. At that point, the dev or publisher must tread carefully so it won't tip the game rating above MA 15+, consequently making the game unclassified and henceforth banned.

                The argument established in the case therefore is situational only in the US, where expression of idea is protected and, in most cases, separate from Government control. As such, the concern for Americans is that the law will enable Government to control content in their quest determine what is violent and unsuitable for children, which the judges in this case determined to be unconstitutional.

                In contrast, Australian classification is determined by the powers the be, as such the Government is already able to establish what is violent and unsuitable for children. In this case, the publisher must play a different game to convince the government to release unclassified games without modifying them while ensuring that children will not be able to get their hands on it without approval by their parents or guardians.


              @Braaaains: Further to what Dominique has said here, the California law was attempting to move the protection of children out of the hands of parents and into the hands of government. The only precedent for this is hardcore pornography. So if this law were to pass it would effectively be saying that videogames are like hardcore porn in that they are so deviant and dangerous that the US requires a federal law to control them.

              The situation is totally different in Australia. Here, the government can do whatever the want with whatever media they want, whenever they want. So I reiterate my point again, regardless of what content is moved out of MA15+ category, the addition of an R18+ rating is a liberalisation of our current system, where the introduction of the same rating would be a tightening of the American system.

              The rhetoric we have to use here is different. We use the protecting children from MA15 content because we have that rating to begin with, with all its inherent ambiguity both at the point of classification and at the point of sale. We also use protecting the children because its a taken-for-granted piece of rhetoric that always comes up in this debate. The pro-R18 rating people here use it in response to the anti-R18 claim that it would do more to harm them. We've turned that argument back on them by pointing out that children are not, currently, perfectly protected by the system as it is.

                But under the current system, the protection of children isn't in the hands of parents, it's in the hands of retailers. They can choose to comply with the ESRB ratings, or they can choose to ignore them and sell mature rated games to children. With an enforcible rating, the protection of children is then put in the hands of parents where it belongs because their kid can't legally buy these things - they need a parent (or some other - hopefully responsible - adult) to buy it for them.

    Honestly these guys are only happy because they know kids buy their games and it would hurt their pockets.

      Partly, but they're mainly happy because the form of expression they have chosen to support/make money from has been vindicated by the US Supreme Court to be constitutionally equal to literature, movies, music and paintings.

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