Atari and the 1st Amendment: What do they have in common?

Posted on 11-25-2015 by
Tags: Legal Industry , Latest Headlines & Stories , Constitution

Photo Credit: Stefano Tinti /

In a time long, long ago came a game; a game so simple it consisted of only two rectangles and a square…

Now I know what some of you “techies” may be thinking- How can a game so simple stand the test of time?

I have only one word for you –Pong.

After saying that I bet I lost a good portion of my audience as their minds have been blown by the awesomeness that is the game or they don’t know what it is. (If it’s the latter of the two, I’m sorry for your loss)

Alas, November 29, 1972, marks Atari Pong’s Birthday when Atari first released Pong nation-wide. The point of the game was similar to soccer, but digitally. Each player would control their rectangle and guide it up and down in hopes of hitting the square at the right time and angle to get it past the opponent on the other side of the screen. (see video below).

The video game industry has proven to be like fine wine- it gets better with time and now 43 years later not only are video game graphics eerily realistic, but there are some people who make a living off playing video games – professionally.

The issue with the rise in the popularity of gaming has been the rise of concerns regarding the rise of questionable language appearing in the gaming industry. In fact, the gaming world was rocked by a recent controversy known as “Gamergate”.

This controversy led to online harassment of independent game developer Zoë Quinn after her game, Depression Quest, received what some believed to be excessive attention. Quinn received threats such as:

"Next time she shows up at a conference we... give her a crippling injury that's never going to fully heal... a good solid injury to the knees. I'd say a brain damage, but we don't want to make it so she ends up too retarded to fear us."

Situations like these beg the question:

Are people who make comments like those made above protected by the 1st Amendment?

This has been a highly-contested question that has yielded some discouraging results for some. It was ruled in Elonis v. United States that:

harassing messages sent online are not necessarily true threats that would be prosecutable under criminal law

While the previous ruling would dismiss the type of actions that occurred in the Gamergate, there still has been some steps taken toward preventing things like this from happening again. Earlier this year on June 2nd, U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (Mass.) introduced H.R. 2602, or the “Prioritizing Online Threat Enforcement Act of 2015” to Congress. This bill would assign more funding to the FBI to employ additional agents to enforce laws against cyberstalking and online criminal harassment.

This can be seen as a huge step in the right direction, but the reality is there remains no statute that states that online language can be prosecutable.

So what do you think? Should online language be protected by 1st Amendment? Leave us your thoughts below.

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