Recently, The US Supreme Court said video games qualify as free speech. Personally, I didn’t think this was ever an issue that should have been even debated: video games are, of course, just another form of art, yet another form of expression.
And it’s pretty crazy to see that Finnish laws were already more sane than the US laws, which are supposed to be, like, the gold standard of how a democratic, freedom-loving society is built.
The best indication of how this got weird, right from the start, was how this decision got the fundamentalists raging. Legally enforced video game ratings are suddenly unconstitutional in US. Fundamentalists realise that the filth can’t be regulated, and this further means that somewhere, someone is having fun. Boo!
And this, of course, lead to some fairly extensive analysis based on the flimsy understanding of law. You see, the fundamentalists have this strange notion that it doesn’t actually matter what the Constitution says. What matters more is what the quasi-mythical Founding Fathers intended. They were all upstanding puritan Christians, after all, beyond all possible alternate interpretations and criticism.
Of course, this ignores a rather big point. The letter of the law is fairly important. And as everyone knows, the First Amendment has, if anything, been interpreted in more broader and definitely less restrictive terms than just its wording. Nobody really cares if it says “Congress shall make no law…”; it might as well say “Everyone has the freedom of expression”.
(Sidetracking: The Mac laptop I’m writing this has this strange tendency to continuously flip to the US keyboard layout. Poor widdle OS X is going all “America! Fuck yeah!” and putting the flag in the menu bar. I really should stop talking about the US law and babble about the Finnish law. Maybe that’ll stop this.)
Incidentally, the broader and generic wording exactly what the Constitution of Finland says.
Everyone has the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression entails the right to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention by anyone. More detailed provisions on the exercise of the freedom of expression are laid down by an Act. Provisions on restrictions relating to pictorial programmes that are necessary for the protection of children may be laid down by an Act.
Wait - what was that?
Provisions on restrictions relating to pictorial programmes that are necessary for the protection of children may be laid down by an Act.
Yes. Finland has a legally enforced film rating system, which was later expanded to include video games (which is why it says “pictorial programmes” rather than just “films”). You can sell unrated films and video games, but you still need to get the certification for them, usually by submitting them for a review. Unrated films get an automatic 18+ rating. Video games are not reviewed by the board, so they depend on the distributor’s notification. And yes, PEGI ratings are honoured, and they’re legally enforceable.
And I agree with the necessity and legality of these ratings.
Yes, this may come as a surprising comment from someone who deeply cares about freedom of speech.
Why do I agree with these age limits? They’re clearly defined in the law. I could also say that they allow for leniency and dialogue, but the biggest reason is that they’re clearly defined. There are legal limits to what you can do with the ratings. The fact that you need to pay for the rating kind of sucks, but still, it’s good that the option to just say “sod it” and get a 18+ rating exists. And yes, you can actually get 18+ films and games everywhere. Reasonably adult-looking people don’t need to show IDs.
In my mind, if you’re going to mess with a very fundamental right like freedom of expression, that sort of things have to be clearly defined in the laws. When I first saw the age limits stuff in the Constitution, I thought it was needless micromanagement, but then I realised that it’s important that an exception to the rule is clearly defined.
And this is, incidentally, why I thought it was important, and appropriate, that the constitutionality of video game age ratings laws was evaluated in the United States. Age limits are a form of censorship; it could be easily argued that they’re a necessary form of censorship. (Whether they’re always necessary is another matter. Some children have stronger wills than the others, obviously. Willing to take a risk?) Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that all countries should honour. All forms of censorship that are determined to be necessary by the society have to be codified as specific exceptions to this fundamental right. This all goes back to the idea that citizens should be aware of their rights.
How can citizens remain forever in the dark about their fundamental rights? That’s easy. Just ignore the letter of the law. Offer continuously changing interpretations on the “intents” of Founding Fathers. And contradicting that idea, just treat the Constitution as an inviolable, unchanging document. Just like the Bible.
It’s pretty crazy that people who demand obedience to law and divine will never really get to be too clear what the law and divine will actually means.