The Needles

The Needles: Master Chief Goes to Washington

Andy Chalk | 18 May 2010 21:00
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Yet some gamers don't see what the big deal is. A law regulating the sale of games to minors appears to be a perfectly reasonable approach, the thinking goes, just like there are laws keeping kids from watching R-rated movies or listening to violent, profanity-laden music. Except, as noted above, there are no such laws; there are voluntary rating systems maintained by industry associations, and we've already got that. It is the single most effective entertainment rating system in the country, in fact.

You better believe that this is a big deal. Even if your interest in videogames begins and ends with the latest iteration of Madden, this attempted undermining of the First Amendment should be more than enough to get your attention. "Freedom of speech" is one of the founding principles of the United States and, as Neil Gaiman noted a couple years ago, its guarantees the nation a unique place in the world.

"I loved coming to the U.S. in 1992, mostly because I loved the idea that freedom of speech was paramount. I still do," he wrote in a 2008 blog post. "With all its faults, the U.S. has Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment states that you can't be arrested for saying things the government doesn't like. You can say what you like, write what you like, and know that the remedy to someone saying or writing or showing something that offends you is not to read it, or to speak out against it. I loved that I could read and make my own mind up about something."

I'm appalled by the indifference toward the importance of the First Amendment apparent in so many people today, who now take it so completely for granted that they seem perfectly content to let it slip away in small pieces. And that's what this is really about: Not whether kids should be able to pick up a copy of Liberty City Stories at the local Walmart, but whether videogames are a legitimate form of creative expression - and whether "freedom" is going to apply to new and innovative media, now and in the future.

If you believe the answer should be yes, then it breaks down very simply: You need to support the efforts of those lining up before the Supreme Court to oppose this California law. It's not a waste of time, it's not an empty gesture and it's not optional. This trip to the Supreme Court is a great opportunity, and one that we squander at our peril. Read up on the topic at the ESA, the ECA and the Videogame Voters Network; there's also a pretty good crash-course on ESRB ratings and the First Amendment right here. Sign the petition and send a letter to your elected representative. Make some noise about it and spread the word to others. Do something to ensure that your freedom of speech remains intact.

We're playing for all the marbles now. Don't dick around.

Andy Chalk isn't actually American, but sometimes he thinks he should get an honorary badge or something.


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