Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Supreme Court considers violent video game law

It’s taken a while, but video games finally had their day in court yesterday. The U.S. Supreme Court, to be exact.

California, represented by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, took on the Entertainment Merchants Association concerning a law that would make it a crime to sell “obscenely violent” video games to a minor.

Despite the fact video games are already voluntarily rated by the ESRB, which also provides information for why said game is receiving said rating right there on the box, and despite the fact parents already have a slew of control options for their televisions and gaming systems, and despite the fact most respectable establishments already refuse to sell such games to minors, the Govornator wanted more.

The truth is, yes, most teens can figure out their way around parental controls. And yes, even though mature rated games are not supposed to be sold to minors, some are getting out. It’s my understanding that some minors also sneak into R rated movies and the like from time to time, but California opted to focus solely on video games, something the Justices quickly pointed out during yesterday’s hearing.

I’ll be honest: As the court date drew near, my feeling of dread grew. I assumed a bunch of powdered wig wearing seniors would stroll into court and drop the ax on these demonic computer games that have been destroying our youth over the past 25 years. My journalistic background means I spend more time exposed to politics than the average Joe, but that fact did not squash the ignorant preconceptions I had circling through my brain. I should know better, and now I do.

The rulers of the high court, in fact, played hard ball with both sides, asking tough questions and offering little slack along the way. I, for one, was quite impressed.

Rather than try to sum everything up, the fine folks over at Joystiq have already put together a nice feature on the hearing and even embedded the full transcript from the event, something I’d encourage any gamer to give a gander.

If you read the opening half outlining the questioning of California’s Zack Morazzini, you might assume the Justices were “on the side” of the EMA, picking the proposed law apart at every turn.

Once Paul Smith starts speaking for the EMA, though, it quickly became his turn to face the firing squad, leaving him to defend games like Postal II and Madworld for having a right to be sold like any other form of entertainment.

At one point, the Court offers that some parents work and are unable to be home all the time to monitor their children, and since kids can get access to these games currently, why shouldn’t there be a law making it theoretically impossible for that to happen.

The fact of the matter is that such a law would not have any real effect. As everyone seems to agree, if the kid wants it, they’re going to find a way to get it. And with no proof the apparent rampant selling of violent video games to children has spawned a society of psychopaths, where exactly is the real problem in need of a law to fix it?

Call me crazy, but I hate having decisions made for me and I especially hate said choices being made in place of parenting.

No, maybe parents can’t be home all the time. But if they’re doing their job, the kid will know the difference between right and wrong. If you’re worried about what your kids are playing, check their video game collection and do a little research, just like you would with anything else they are consuming. Make it known what is and is not allowed in the home and, if those rules are broken, take away their damn system for a month.

Other ideas would be to keep the gaming systems in the family room, so there’s no opportunity for Junior to sneak an M rated game in behind your back. There are loads of options, none of which require a law that basically steps all over the First Amendment, even if it is “all for the kids.”

Just like movies, comics and television before it, video games are simply taking their licks for being the hip new thing. It’s surprisingly late in the game for a law like that proposed by California, but hopefully the ruling will be fair and, in the end, everyone will understand that video games aren’t a scapegoat. They are a viable form of entertainment and, just because you can’t find worth or artistic value in a certain title, doesn’t mean a couple million people out there don’t disagree with you.

If a certain game isn’t appropriate for a minor, let’s have a little more faith in our nation’s parents and their ability to guide their children through life. After all, if this has been going on for so long and taking such a toll on the fragile minds of our youth, shouldn’t we all be living in a crime-infested cesspool, surrounded by burning buildings, exploding cars and heavy machinegun fire?

Oh, my bad. We live in the real world, not one of Schwarzenegger’s many feats of cinematic art.

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