NCAC Files Brief in Supreme Court

Video Game Case;

“Violent Video Games Are Protected Speech” Says National Free Speech Organization


November 1, 2010



Teresa Koberstein, National Coalition Against Censorship, (212) 807-6222 ext. 19 or [email protected]

NEW YORK -Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will decide whether the state of California can impose criminal penalties for selling or renting violent video games to minors, in a case that will determine whether representations of violence will continue to be protected by the First Amendment.


“To grow into thinking adults, children need to explore the world, be exposed to a variety of ideas, and learn from experience,” said Joan E. Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, which filed a brief saying that the Court should not create a new exception to the First Amendment for speech with violent content for video games or any other media. “Pity the children who are so protected from ‘negative influences’ that they can’t even read about being bad, or play a game that allows them to imagine what it’s like to do something they’d never do in real life.”


Every lower federal court to consider state or local laws restricting minors’ access to violent content has found them unconstitutional, according to NCAC, an alliance of over 50 national non-profit organizations united in defense of free expression. For a brief overview of these cases, visit


The case, Schwarzenegger v. EMA (No. 08-1448), concerns a challenge to a 2005 California law that prohibits the sale or rental to minors of any video game containing certain violent content. The law – blocked by a federal judge in 2006 before it took effect – also requires manufacturers to include an “18 and older” warning label on the front of the package, and provides civil penalties of up to $1,000 for violations. 


Scores of appellate judges and the 82 scientists and media scholars who filed a brief in this case say there’s no evidence that children are actually at risk of harm from playing video games. The brief notes that the Federal Communications Commission found that 85 percent of parents are involved in the decision to purchase a video game, and that video game hardware includes controls that are 100 percent effective in blocking access to rated material.


Over the past decade, NCAC has filed several court briefs, informed state legislators, and written numerous letters in opposition to efforts to restrict access to video games, noting that video games are a form of expression that is protected by the First Amendment and that violent content in art, film, literature, and video games has always been deemed fully protected.


Several esteemed reviewers have given praise to videos games for their artistry and intellectual stimulation. Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz praised Grand Theft Auto III in the Wall Street Journal saying it “was whatever game you wanted it to be and each and everyone one of those games was … intuitive and gripping….GTA IV doesn’t have to be ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘Beloved’ to be the Greatest Game of a Lifetime or even to be worthy of discussion.” (6/28/08)


John Lanchester’s review in the London Review of Books applauds Call of Duty, saying it “is faster and more thrilling than its Hollywood competitors…. [G]ames might converge on art … through the beauty and detail of their imagined worlds, combined with the freedom they give the player to wander around in them.” (1/29/09)


Nicholson Baker recounted his personal investigation of violent video games in an audio interview for the New Yorker, proclaiming that video games “arrest the eye and they occupy the mind…They are more consuming and intellectually interesting than a lot of novels I’ve read. There’s no question they’re art. The way they pay homage to the real world thrills me. It’s very similar to my own desire to describe something in words.” (8/2/10)


Brief filed by NCAC, the ACLU and The National Youth Rights Association.


About the National Coalition Against Censorship

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, is an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. United by a conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression is a fundamental human right and essential to a healthy democracy, we work to educate our own members and the public at large about the dangers of censorship and how to oppose them. For more information, visit