A few days ago, the Supreme Court struck down a controversial California law requiring restriction of violent video games to minors. Without going too deeply into analysis, the court found dubious the claims that violent games were somehow more harmful to minors than other violent media—and since California wasn’t trying to regulate those other media, it was unfair for it to try to regulate video games too.
While the California law would have added an exception to the first amendment to exclude certain content from protection, in essence saying that video games were not speech, the Supreme Court has decided that video games are in fact expression, and are afforded the same rights and protections as every other art form sold to consumers.
While in the here-and-now this applies more to video games than e-books, consider the way that some e-books have been becoming considerably more interactive lately, incorporating various forms of multimedia. It’s not impossible that somewhere down the road some e-books could evolve into something more like a video game. (Granted, many of those who read printed books now probably wouldn’t be interested, but the medium might well build its own new audience from subgroups of both books and video games.)
This case provides some good, solid precedent in case some people should decide that “interactive e-books are corrupting our youth”—not so much because interactive e-books could be similar to video games, but because they’re also just another medium like any other and have to be regulated in the same way. It might seem far-fetched, but history shows that just about every new cultural development has tended to develop an equal and opposite counter-reaction. (Indeed, parents’ groups and religious groups have displayed similar manias against pencil-and-paper role-playing games and Harry Potter, both well within the bounds of traditional books and e-books.)
In the end, I’m quite happy about this decision both as a reader and as a gamer.