“[There is] no conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech. The court finds that video games have more in common with board games and sports than they do with motion pictures.”
So says U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr. in his decision that games weren’t speech at all, and thus deserve no First Amendment protection. And apparently his decision was based on the cursory review of only four games – some up to six years old (eons in computer animation terms). “First of all,” says Henry Jenkins, director of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program, “the decision is remarkably ill-informed. … Imagine if I took a look at four books, all within the same genre, to determine whether literature was worthy of First Amendment protection.
Wagner James Au breaks down the implications of this decision in an article posted to Salon earlier in the week. He states that this “could be a disaster for anyone who wants to see games evolve into a medium every bit as culturally relevant as movies or books. It is, of course, indisputable that the world of gaming is replete with titles that have little redeeming value, just as it is true for every other artistic medium. But as Medal of Honor and other games demonstrate, computer gaming has created a new means of conveying complex, relevant ideas. One more uninformed ruling, and the potential of this medium could be curtailed even further, by legislators with elections to win, and ideologues who’ve pincered it from both sides of the political spectrum.”
While many game storylines lack originality and depth, they are improving and they are increasingly being matched to impressive life-like graphics. Many of these games are gradually becoming interactive movies and will certainly require the same arts rights as today’s motion pictures, including films based on game plots such as Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy and Tomb Raider.