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Top News of 2011: Supreme Court protects games

Our final selection for "top story of 2011" is the Supreme Court's ruling of video games as free speech.


If we measure the events of this year in pure potential fallout, the case of Schwarzenegger vs. EMA was by far the biggest. Borne from a California law drafted by Senator Leeland Yee, the case granted the state the power to levy large fines for failing to put special warning labels on games. More so, it would have made selling objectionable video games to minors a criminal offense. Games would be singled out in this regard; retailers of movies, books, and music are discouraged from selling mature content to minors, but it’s not against the law. In effect, games would be considered a greater threat than any other media type.

The law, and ones like it, had been struck down by state courts plenty of times, but now it had made it to the Supreme Court of the United States. Approval of the law would put strains on the industry and invite other states to pass similar legislation, and change the definition of obscenity law to include violent content. The SCOTUS stood by the appellate courts and struck down the law in a 7-2 decision. The Court gave specific attention to the first amendment rights of games, and rejected the notion that violent content counts as obscene.

Whatever the future holds for games legislation, precedent is on the books protecting video games as a form of free speech. This makes any new restrictive legislation that much harder to draft, which may just be enough to protect our industry until people who grew up with and understand the medium are the ones making the laws. The implications of how this decision affects the future, and how it all could have gone so wrong had the chips fallen the other way, easily makes it one of the biggest events of 2011.

2011 was chock full of game releases and announcements, along with the highs and lows you'd expect from any 365-day period. Since we follow the news closely here -- it's right in the name -- now seemed like a good time to reminisce about some of the biggest happenings of the past year. These are the events that thrilled, frustrated, shook up, and baffled players in 2011.

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