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Videogames as Free-Speech Issue

Published on November 1, 2010
by Jess Bravin

Videogame designers at ZeniMax Media Inc.’s Bethesda Softworks destroyed a virtual U.S. Capitol, Jefferson Memorial and other landmarks in the Mature-rated “Fallout 3,” which depicts the ruins of post-apocalyptic Washington.

They didn’t bother to obliterate the U.S. Supreme Court. But in the real world, that’s where the $10.5 billion videogame industry faces its greatest threat. On Tuesday, the court’s nine justices will consider whether to strip First Amendment protection from violent videogames that critics say appeal to the deviant interests of children.

A 2005 California law prohibits selling or renting such games to minors based on legislative findings that they stimulate “feelings of aggression,” reduce “activity in the frontal lobes of the brain” and promote “violent antisocial or aggressive behavior.” The law never took effect because lower courts found it violated free-expression rights.

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