When pixels speak: why video games deserve free speech protection; why video games will not receive free speech protection



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Texas A&M University


This dissertation examines how games have been construed legally and publicly and compares the nature of games to the de facto legal criteria: in order for games to receive free speech protection, games must inform and communicate. In Chapter I, I review the literature surrounding the effects of violent video games. This literature review serves as a foundation for the rhetorical nature of the legal controversy since the controversy has no clear-cut answer to the effects of video games. Instead of a clear "Yes"???????? or "????????No"???????? answer, game effects researchers can only posit "Maybe"???????? and "No"???????? findings. Game antagonists employed long-shot and shoddy research to argue their case that violent games produce violent people. The next two chapters lay a foundation for justifying why games have become increasingly controversial to date. In Chapter II, I outline a history of games and argue that games became communicative in the early 1990s. As a response to graphically communicative games and congressional bullying, the video game industry created a self regulatory rating board which should have quelled the public controversy. It did not. In Chapter III, I argue that Columbine changed the face of the game industry in the eyes of the public, as a matter of public morality. Before 1999, the public viewed games in a positive light, embodying one of America'????????s pastimes and helping the disabled with their motor skills. After the events at Columbine, the public saw the video game industry as an unruly and rogue force. In Chapter IV, I explain the legal hurtles the game industry faces in becoming protected speech. While video games have become communicative and informative, they likely will not receive free speech protection because of the public scapegoating of the industry during the last two and a half decades. I conclude by discussing the latest Grand Theft Auto "????????Hot Coffee"???????? controversy and how game developers remain gun-shy about the free speech issue.