I haven't had a chance to read the full opinion yet, but I want to share some thoughts based on the news articles I've read on Gamespot.
The good news is that the legal precedent that prohibits state governments from restricting the sale of violent video games to minors has been set. I concede I am not convinced this is 100% good news for minors and parents, but I believe it is good news for our society at large. Beyond the central questions of whether restricting the sales of violent video games is a violation of the freedom of expression and whether violent video games cause material harm to children, there is a much thornier question. What constitutes a "violent video game"?
The appeal of the vast majority of video games lies in their violent content. This has been true from the stomping of Goomba in Super Mario Bros to a murderous rampage against police officers in Grand Theft Auto IV. A great majority of people would say there is a difference between the two acts, and I agree. However, there are many great video games whose violent content falls in between. Is it violence for Agent 47 to assassinate a crime boss in Hitman? How does that compare to Sam Fisher killing a soldier in another country? One of the most difficult example I've played (spoiler warning) is the massacre of civilians at Zakhaev International Airport by PFC Joseph Allen who is under deep cover to topple a ultra-nationalist terrorist organization. (spoiler ends) Developing the rules to separate violent from non-violent games, in a way that won't provoke an uproar from the gaming community, is a daunting task.
Perhaps even more important than the actual rules are the people who will formulate them. The same people who are unhappy about the games we play now will no doubt want to be a big part of the process. As a gamer myself, these are the very people whom I do not trust to categorize violent games. I must confess that this topic currently eludes me. Sufficient to say, this is a question that I would not want to touch with a ten-foot clown pole. And I suspect the Supreme Court doesn't want either.
Reading some statements made by Justice Scalia, I also want to say something about sexual content of games and about our legal system in general, but I will do that in another blog.