Interview Regarding Video Games
and the First Amendment
The following is a transcript of an recent interview with Mr. Walters regarding the interplay of video games and the First Amendment.
1. What is your occupation and your involvement with the video industry? What is your stand concerning the censorship of video games?
I am an attorney, and a partner with the law firm of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt. We are a First Amendment law firm and we represent media clients worldwide. Some of my work involves representing interactive digital software companies in connection with the design, operation or marketing of video games.
I oppose government censorship in all forms. Recently, there has been a resurgence of efforts to restrict the content of video games in the name of protecting children and curbing teen violence. I am not aware of any reputable study that proves a link between playing video games and increased violence in children. My guess is that children who commit violent crimes would do so regardless of their exposure to any particular type of media. Adventure video games can be a valuable outlet for both children and adults. But most importantly, we live in a free society and the First Amendment cannot tolerate government-imposed, or encouraged, restriction of content for this popular form of entertainment.
2. Children advocacy groups are calling for action by the government against inappropriate video games. How does government involvement go against the First Amendment?
Any time the government attempts to bring about changes in the content of any particular type of media, censorship concerns are present. Even well-intentioned efforts by our lawmakers often result in unconstitutional legislation. Our constitutional principles assume that we are capable of making decisions for ourselves and for our children. When the government attempts to replace the parent by censoring entertainment for all its citizens, the First Amendment suffers. One of the biggest problems with censorship is the insidious nature of minor content restrictions. Many people will agree with some minimal restriction of the worst graphics available in the marketplace. However, it is impossible to begin drawing constitutional lines as to what is permissible in the realm of government censorship. Accordingly, our Constitution proclaims that “Congress shall make no law” abridging free speech. Despite this absolute prohibition, our government has been attempting for over 200 years to try and enforce morality through censorship of violent and sexually oriented media. It is up to the judges and constitutional lawyers to keep these attempts from becoming reality.
3. What are your opinions concerning the current Entertainment Systems Rating Board (ESRB)? Do you believe it\’s a form of censorship? Do you think the current rating system is effective?
The ESRB was the industry\’s answer to threatened censorship efforts by the federal government. When it appeared that some sort of restriction on the content of video games was inevitable, the industry chose to voluntarily rate its video games so that the consumer, or the parents, could make an informed decision for their children. This was a wise move by the industry since failure to do something to placate the Family Values organizations\’ calls for censorship would have resulted in a much more restrictive piece of legislation.
Since the ESRB was created in response to calls for content restriction, it can be seen as a form of censorship. However, it is important to understand that restrictions by private companies do not constitute censorship in the legal sense. In order for censorship to occur, the government must be directly involved.
As far as whether the rating system is effective, it is almost impossible to empirically answer that question. However the rating system provides more information for parents who choose to monitor the content of their children\’s video game consumption. Given the First Amendment values at stake, a rating system is a more appropriate solution than content restrictions.
4. If censorship isn\’t a possible solution to prevent children from viewing inappropriate subject matter, what do you believe is the most appropriate solution? If you have children, would you let your children play video games containing themes of violence and sexuality?
Effective parenting is always the preferred solution for inappropriate behavior by children. Parents should not allow their children to view pornographic movies, and should likewise restrict or monitor the content of video games, Internet surfing, books, magazines and television viewing. There is nothing different nor magical about video games when it comes to good parenting.
I have an 8 year old daughter, and I allow her to watch and/or play some video games, but restrict her viewing of others. Interestingly, my daughter chooses not to view content that is even mildly graphic, and therefore restricts her media intake even more than I would require. Each child is different, and each family is different. Our diversity is what makes this country great. Forcing every parent or child to act in the same way reeks of fascism and totalitarian government rule, and should be opposed at all costs.
5. Any additional comments concerning the video game industry?
More and more children seek entertainment in the form of video games. Often when a particular form of media booms in popularity it becomes a popular political target for lawmakers who are searching for a “quick fix” solution to complicated societal problems such as teen violence or angst. In the First Amendment context, the remedy for bad speech is more speech. Restrictions on free expression will never provide the solution. Violence and sexuality have been around since mammals first appeared on the planet, and restriction of the content of video games or any other form of media will have little impact on these issues. Educating parents and community leaders will.
Mr. Walters. Lawrence G. Walters www.GameAttorneys.com