First Arcade Video Game is Released
Nutting, an early arcade game manufacturer, produces 1,500 Computer Space machines. The components are packaged with a 13-inch black-and-white TV set in a futuristic-looking cabinet. The first arcade video game is released, but the public finds it too difficult to play. The following year, Pong, a simple tennis video game, is released in a local bar to great success.
First Home Video Game, Magnavox’s “Odyssey,” is Released
100,000 units are sold. Many people buy it because it is the closest thing to a home version of Pong.
First Controversial Video Game, "Death Race," Pulled Off Store Shelves
The objective of the lo-fi black and white game that looks like a slightly more advanced version of Pong is to earn points by running over as many "gremlins" as possible within a given time frame. According to video game historian Steve L. Kent, “What got everyone upset about Death Race was that you heard this little 'ahhhk' when the person got hit, and a little gravestone came up.” Due to public outcry, Death Race’s manufacturer takes the game off the market.
"Custer’s Revenge" Protested
In the game persona of General Custer, the player runs from "enemy" arrows toward a Native American woman strapped to a pole. Once there, Custer would get it on with (or, according to many critics, "rape") the woman for points. Two hundred fifty protestors gather at the spot where the public is viewing the game for the first time; it never finds much success.
"Night Trap" Banned; "Mortal Kombat" Scrutinized by Congress
The Sega CD version of Night Trap is removed from store shelves at Toys "R" Us and F.A.O. Schwarz locations in the United States in direct response to a December 9, 1993, joint Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee hearing on video game violence. Night Trap is cited as "shameful", "ultra-violent", "sick", and "disgusting", encouraging an "effort to trap and kill women". In particular, a scene in which the character Lisa is wearing a nightgown while captured by Augers attempting to drain her blood is found to be very offensive, given the circumstances in which she is attacked (scantily clad in a private bathroom). The game's goal is not to trap or kill women but to save them from harm.
Mortal Kombat is the first video game to feature lifelike, realistic violence. Together with Night Trap and Doom it is the focus of the 1993 Congressional Hearings. The formation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board as a self-regulated entity deflects potential government regulation, and Mortal Kombat stays in stores.
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) Created
The ESRB, a self-regulatory organization that assigns age and content ratings to video games is established by the Entertainment Software Association (formerly Interactive Digital Software Association). The rating system is strictly voluntary; however, nearly all video games are submitted for rating because many retail stores prohibit the sale of unrated video games and the major console manufacturers will not license games for their systems unless they carry ESRB ratings. The formation of the ESRB deflects potential government regulation of video games.
"Phantasmagoria" Banned in Some Stores
Like Night Trap, this game features a helpless female as the central character, except Phantasmagoria is extremely bloody, and sex and violence are closely linked–in fact, directly, as one video sequence is of a rape scene. The game is banned in some retail outlets in the U.S.
Jack Thompson Files First Video Game Lawsuit
Anti-video games activist and attorney Jack Thompson files the first of what are to be a large number of lawsuits claiming video games are responsible for violence perpetrated by teens. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of the parents of three children killed in the Heath High School shooting in 1997. Investigations show that the perpetrator had regularly played various computer games (including Doom, Quake, Castle Wolfenstein, Redneck Rampage, Nightmare Creatures, MechWarrior, and Resident Evil), accessed some pornographic websites and owned a videotape of "The Basketball Diaries," which includes a high school student dreaming about shooting his teacher and some classmates. The suit alleges that the producers of the games, the movie, and the operators of the Internet sites were negligent in distributing this material to a minor because it would desensitize him and make him more prone to violence. The suit is filed in federal district court and is dismissed for failing to present a legally recognizable claim. In July 2008, Thompson is permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for inappropriate conduct, including making false statements to tribunals and disparaging and humiliating litigants.
Release of "Grand Theft Auto" Causes Controversy
The game earns notoriety for its theme and approach almost immediately after it is released. The player’s mission is to drive prostitutes around town, evade the feds, and run drugs and porn, and in the process, kill lots of people. In 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the release of GTAIII is postponed in order to alter content involving New York City.
Video Game Panic Reaches New Heights Following Columbine Massacre
Once it is revealed that the two students who opened fire at Columbine were fans of violent games, Doom in particular, people begin to blame the games for the tragedy. Several families of Columbine victims file a federal lawsuit against 25 entertainment companies for allegedly causing the deaths. The suit is dismissed in 2002; another case making similar allegations about a 1997 school shooting is dismissed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals the same year.
Indianapolis Enacts Ordinance Limiting Minors’ Access to Violent Games
The city ordinance would have forbidden any operator of five or more video-game machines in one place from allowing a minor unaccompanied by a parent, guardian, or other custodian to use "an amusement machine that is harmful to minors”; it requires appropriate warning signs, and that such machines be separated by a partition from the other machines in the location and that their viewing areas be concealed from persons who are on the other side of the partition. The ordinance never goes into effect, and is struck down by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals the following year in American Amusement Machine Ass'n v. Kendrick.
Surgeon General Finds Little Correlation Between Media & Violence
Surgeon General of the United States David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., leads a study on violence in youth and determines that while the impact of video games on violent behavior has yet to be determined, "findings suggest that media violence has a relatively small impact on violence." According to the report the strongest risk factors for school shootings center on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure.
Federal Legislation Proposed to Ban Sale of Violent Games to Minors
US Representative Joe Baca (D-Calif.) introduces a bill that would make selling or renting video games to minors a federal crime. The bill is aptly named the Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2003. Washington State introduces a similar law, which would fine retailers about $500 for selling violent games to minors.
More GTA Controversy
Two Tennessee families sue the maker of Grand Theft Auto and other video game companies after a shooting in which the killer claimed he was imitating GTAIII. The suit is dismissed. Later the same year, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg pressures the game company to remove the line “Kill the Haitians” from GTA: Vice City following a wave of protests by Haitian-American interest groups over the discriminatory content. The groups also files suit in federal court, then removes the case to state court in Florida which is expected to be less First Amendment-friendly.
Law Professor Speaks Out Against Video Games
Professor Kevin Saunders argues that video games cause violence and violence should be included with obscenity in a category of unprotected speech.
Psychologist Criticizes Claims About Link Between Video Games and Violence
Guy Cumberbatch, PhD, director of the U.K. Communications Research Group, writes in a report: “The evident weakness in the individual studies and the general pattern of inconsistent findings would not normally lead us to expect researchers to make any strong claims about video games. However, this is far from the case. As with other research on media violence, some of the strongest claims are made on the most flimsy of evidence…The real puzzle is that anyone looking at the research evidence in this field could draw any conclusions about the pattern, let alone argue with such confidence and even passion that it demonstrates the harm of violence on television, in film and in video games.”
Federal Court Finds Illinois Video Game Statute Unconstitutional
In Entertainment Software Ass'n v. Blagojevich, the Northern District of Ill. grants a permanent injunction against enforcement of a law that bans the distribution to a minor of any video game with certain violent content, requires such games be labeled as restricted to adults only, and requires retailers to post signs explaining the industry ratings system. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals later affirms this decision.
Senator Pushes for Video Game Regulations
US Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) advocates for new regulations on video game sales after controversy over the sexually explicit “Hot Coffee” modification made available online for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Professor Debunks Theory of Link Between Games & Violence
Henry Jenkins, PhD, Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at University of Southern California, writes: "According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers – 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. ("Reality Bytes: Eight Myths about Video Games Debunked")
Michigan and Louisiana Video Game Laws Found Unconstitutional
In Entertainment Software Ass'n v. Granholm and Entertainment Software Ass'n v. Foti, district courts in Mich. and La., respectively, grant injunctions against state laws barring dissemination to minors of video games with certain violent content.
Thompson Files More Lawsuits Against Video Game Creators
Now-disbarred attorney Jack Thompson files a lawsuit against several video game companies claiming Grand Theft Auto: Vice City caused a teenager in New Mexico to “act out, copycat, replicate and emulate the violence” when he murdered his father, stepmother and stepsister. Thompson also files suit in Florida to have the video game bully removed from store shelves, calling the game a “nuisance” and “Columbine simulator.” The Florida judge determines there is no content in the game that was not already on late-night television.
Oklahoma Video Game Law Struck Down
In Entertainment Merchants Ass'n v. Henry, the Western District Court of Oklahoma finds the state’s law barring the dissemination to minors of video games with “inappropriate” violent content unconstitutional, and grants a permanent injunction against its enforcement.
Professor Alleges Link Between Video Games and Violence
Psychology professor Craig Anderson and his colleagues, Douglas A. Gentile and Katherine E. Buckley, publish Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy, in which they claim that exposure to violent video games and other forms of media violence constitutes a significant risk factor for later aggressive and violent behavior. They argue that society should begin a more productive debate about whether to reduce the high rates of exposure to media violence, and delineate the public policy options that are likely be most effective. In their introduction the authors also claim: "…. the scientific debate about whether exposure to media violence causes increases in aggressive behavior is over and should have been over 30 years ago." Dr. Anderson's research has been widely criticized for overstating his results and failing to adequately acknowledge alternate views or limitations of the data on media violence.
Minnesota Video Game Ban Enjoined
In Entertainment Software Ass'n v. Swanson, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down a Minn. law that bars anyone under 17 from buying or renting a video game rated “Mature” or “Adults Only.” The same court enjoins a St. Louis County ordinance in 2003 that bars the sale or rental of video games with violent content.
Mental Health Experts Disclaim Link Between Games & Violence
Lawrence Kutner, PhD, and Cheryl K. Olson, ScD, co-founders of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, write in their book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games: "It’s clear that the ‘big fears’ bandied about in the press – that violent video games make children significantly more violent in the real world; that children engage in the illegal, immoral, sexist and violent acts they see in some of these games – are not supported by the current research, at least in such a simplistic form. That should make sense to anyone who thinks about it. After all, millions of children and adults play these games, yet the world has not been reduced to chaos and anarchy."
Ninth Circuit Rules Against California Video Game Statute
In Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Ass'n, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rules: "In sum, the evidence presented by the State does not support the Legislature’s purported interest in preventing psychological or neurological harm. Nearly all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology as they relate to the State’s claimed interest. None of the research establishes or suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm, and inferences to that effect would not be reasonable. In fact, some of the studies caution against inferring causation."
Group Alleges Violent Media Present Health Risk
The American Academy of Pediatrics's Council on Communications and Media writes in policy statement titled "Media Violence": "Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed…"
Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Constitutionality of Video Game Statute
The Supreme Court of the United States granted the state of California’s petition to review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision finding the state’s video game law unconstitutional. The California law limited distribution of video games with certain violent content and barred the sale or rental of video games with violent content. The Supreme Court heard oral argument on Nov. 2.
Supreme Court Declares California Law Unconstitutional
In June of 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 opinion in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that the California law restricting the sale and distribution of violent video games to minors was unconstitutional. The majority opinion established video games as protected under the First Amendment, saying that "speech about violence is not obscene" and that they are "as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature.
Mass shootings stir debate over media violence
The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, CT, in December of 2012, reopened the debate over the effects of media violence and especially the playing of violent video games. Community groups organized drives to remove video games and a number of libraries curtailed the playing of video games in their branches. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation pulled arcade games with plastic guns from rest areas along the Massachusetts turn-pike, replacing them with more "appropriate" games. Debate had already been stirred earlier in the year after a mass shooting in July in Aurora, CO.