Twelve years ago, a man and a woman sat down to play a video game.
These people were neither teenagers nor game champions. They were Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Stephen Breyer.
The confrontation took place in Breyer’s office, according to the Washington Post, and it was not for fun.
The two justices, along with the other justices, were ruling on a California law banning the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18 and requiring clear labeling beyond the existing Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) system. .
A lower court ruled the law unconstitutional, and then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the case to the nation’s highest court.
Kagan and Breyer were most likely playing “Postal 2”, a 2003 first-person shooter known for its bloody and controversial gameplay, which was mentioned prominently in the records. The game has been banned in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Germany and Sweden.
The two justices were also opposed at the time of the ruling, with the court voting 7 to 2 on June 27, 2011 to strike down the California law. Kagan sided with the majority, while Breyer dissented.
Breyer wrote that the First Amendment does not prevent the government from helping parents make “the choice not to have their children purchase extremely violent interactive video games, which they more than reasonably fear poses only the risk to harm these children.
Roblox Bans Creator’s Game
Some video games have shocked and appalled this or that group since their inception, complaining of extreme violence, sexism or cruelty.
Roblox (RBLX) a popular online platform and game creation system, was recently halted when it removed two games that allowed players to fight and kill each other as Russians or Ukrainians, the BBC.
A game, “War on Larkiv: Ukraine”, was introduced to users in the discovery section of Roblox and recorded up to 90,000 plays in less than two weeks.
The game was based in a fictional town that resembled the real city of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian officials said at least 1,019 civilians, including 52 children, had been killed since the Russian invasion in February.
“War on Larkiv: Ukraine” encouraged players to upgrade their weapons in exchange for Roblox’s in-game currency, Robux.
The other game, “Battle for Ukraine,” had been on the Roblox website for months, according to the BBC, and it allowed players to watch the bombardment of cities such as Mariupol, which was besieged by Russian forces and largely destroyed.
Roblox did not respond to a request for comment, but the company told the BBC, “we have strict community standards that govern the depiction of real-world events. The two experiences in question have been removed for breaching our standards following an assessment by our moderation team.”
Roblox essentially works like a virtual Lego world, where users can create their own space, alone or with others, in just about any creative way they can imagine.
The company makes money by selling “Robux”, an in-game currency that allows users to purchase virtual construction tools with real money.
There are 9.5 million developers on the Roblox platform and it has over 40 million games. The company has 43.2 million daily active users, up from 14 million in 2016, and 67% of its users are children.
When video games are controversial
Matthew Payne, associate professor of media studies at the University of Notre Dame, said the majority of the Roblox gaming community are children, a group of vulnerable users; and, “any controversy where children might be harmed, would be terrible for the bottom line of Roblox Corporation.”
“Game companies will sometimes intentionally court controversy to create buzz and drive sales,” he said. “However, it’s still a tricky proposition given that it can backfire dramatically.”
As for historical precedents, Payne said there were relatively few games that were pulled from the market.
“Usually retailers and digital distribution sites like Steam, PlayStation and Xbox marketplaces just don’t carry them,” he said.
“Roblox is a business that relies on user-generated content and unfortunately that means you’re going to see bad actors go through the casting process from time to time,” said Chris Morris, a journalist who covered the video game industry for over 25 years. “While this is, of course, a horrifying example of this, given Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, it appears Roblox acted quickly.”
Morris, freelance writer for Fortune and Fast Company, noted that video games are creative endeavors, so what is offensive or controversial to one person may not be to another.
“That doesn’t mean there haven’t been controversial titles in the past,” he said, quoting the “Postal 2.” Supreme Court case.
“But there are franchises like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ that a lot of people historically opposed but are now some of the biggest earners in the industry,” he said.