Video games have become a prominent pastime for both children and adults in the United States (U.S.) and across the European Union (EU). [1] Today, individuals are spending more time and money on electronic entertainment than ever before. [2] Studies conducted by the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) highlight the significant amount of time that U.S. youth spend with video games. [3] In its 2005 Video Game Report Card, NIMF found that eighty-seven percent of all eight to seventeen year old children in the United States played video games. [4] The following year, in the Eleventh Annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card, NIMF reported that forty-two percent of U.S. children play video games for at least one hour per day, with twenty-two percent playing for two or more hours per day. [5] Although the average age of U.S. video game players has risen to the late twenties, almost half of the most avid players are between six and seventeen years old. [6] A similar study in the EU reported that European gamers dedicate a significant portion of their free time to video games, although less than their U.S. cohorts. [7] A study in Germany, the nation with the most time dedicated to video game playing within the EU, showed that a typical German video game player spends an average of forty-one minutes per day on video games. [8]

 

In addition to similar video game consumption habits, violent, pre-meditated murders by video game players have stunned both the United States and Germany.   [9] As a result, legislators in both countries have taken action in attempts to restrict minors’ access to violent video games. [10] The results have widely differed between the two countries, with the United States electing to treat video games as protected speech under the First Amendment, while Germany has focused on content censorship. [11] Germany’s video game restrictions, which are much more burdensome than U.S. regulations, are seen as strict even when compared to the standards of other European nations. [12] This is of special importance since Germany took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU in early January 2007. [13] Germany is using its position to lead a clampdown on violent video games across the EU. [14] Germany’s initiative bolsters previous calls for more control of video game violence by the European Commission. [15] The potential censorship presents a problem as many video games are created in the United States and then released internationally. [16] Censorship in Germany, and more importantly across the EU, could create a chilling effect on video game expression in the United States. [17]

 

This Note provides a summary of the U.S. approach on regulating minors’ access to violent video games, and the Constitutional barriers to such restrictions. Part I provides a description of the current U.S. system of video game ratings and content control, and focuses on the modern video game rulings that have afforded full First Amendment protection to their violent content. Part II discusses aspects of Germany’s video game regulations, highlighting its emphasis on content censorship as compared to regulations in the United States. Finally, Part III analyzes Germany’s over-protective video game regulations and censorship, and argues against the propagation of such restrictions throughout the EU. As a potential resolution, this Note suggests that the EU harmonize its current content ratings system throughout its member States in order to prevent drastic regulatory differences with the United States….

 

Kyle Robertson