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Roblox Recent Controversy Part of Video Game History

Roblox removes controversial games, but controversy is nothing new in the gaming world.
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Twelve years ago a man and a woman sat down to play a video game.

These people were neither teenagers nor gaming champions. They were Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Stephen Breyer.

The face-off took place in Breyer’s office, according to the Washington Post, and it wasn't for fun.

The pair, along with the other justices, were ruling on a California law banning the sale of violent video games to anyone under age 18 and requiring clear labeling beyond the existing Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) system.

A lower court had found the law unconstitutional and then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took his case to the highest court in the land.

Kagan and Breyer were most likely playing "Postal 2," a 2003 first-person shooter known for its gory and controversial gameplay, which was prominently mentioned in case filings. The game was banned in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Germany, and Sweden.

The two justices were also on opposing sides when it came to the ruling, as the court voted 7-2 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 disable the government from helping parents make "a choice not to have their children buy extremely violent, interactive video games, which they more than reasonably fear pose only the risk of harm to those children."

Roblox Bans a Creator's Game

Certain video games have shocked and appalled one group or another ever since their creation, with complaints about extreme violence, sexism, or cruelty.

Roblox  (RBLX) - Get Free Report, a popular online platform and game creation system, got tripped up recently when it removed two games that allowed players to fight and kill each other as Russians or Ukrainians, the BBC reported.

One game, "War on Larkiv: Ukraine," was showcased to users in the Roblox discovery section and clocked up to 90,000 plays in less than two weeks.

The game was based in a fictional city that resembled the real city of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian officials have said at least 1,019 civilians, including 52 children, have 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 bombing 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 which govern the portrayal of real-world events. Both of the experiences in question have been removed for violating our standards following an assessment by our moderation team."

Roblox essentially works like a virtual Lego world, where users can build their own space, either on their own or with others, in pretty much any creative way they can imagine.

The company makes money by selling "Robux," an in-game currency which allows users to buy virtual building tools with real cash.

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 Court Controversy

Matthew Payne, associate professor of media studies the University of Notre Dame, said the majority of the Roblox player-community are children, a vulnerable user group; and, “any controversy where children might be harmed, would be terrible for the Roblox Corporation's bottom-line.”

"Game companies will occasionally intentionally court controversy to build buzz and drive sales," he said. "However, this is always a tricky proposition given that it can backfire dramatically."

As far as historical precedents, Payne said there are relatively few games that are ever pulled from the market.

"Usually, retailers and digital distribution sites like Steam, PlayStation and Xbox marketplaces will simply not carry them," he said.

"Roblox is a company that relied on user generated content and unfortunately that means you're going to have some bad actors slip through the screening process from time to time," said Chris Morris, a journalist who has covered the video game industry for over 25 years. "While this is, of course, a horrific example of that, given Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, it does appear Roblox acted promptly."

Morris, a freelance writer for Fortune and Fast Company, noted that video games are creative endeavors, so what's 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, citing the "Postal 2" Supreme Court case.

"But then there are franchises like "Grand Theft Auto" that many people have objected to historically but are now among the biggest earners in the industry," he said.