Opinion – The Supreme Court ruling that overturned a controversial California law was, in a word, inevitable.
It’s not the first law of its kind to go before the Supreme Court. There have been a handful of other states that passed similar bills, 100% of which were eventually presented to the Supreme Court and then thrown out as unconstitutional.
In the California measure, it would have been illegal to sell a “violent video game” to a minor. We’re not talking about an M-rated game, or an AO-rated game, but a “violent” game.
That’s right; the law doesn’t even mention the fact that there is already a perfectly functioning, independent body that informs consumers about how severe a video game’s content is.
Instead, it leaves the whole process up to…well…actually, who does it leave the process up to? That’s one of the biggest holes in the law.
Here’s the way the law was structured. Let’s say I make a game called Shoot Your Teacher for the PS3. I get Best Buy to stock the game, and then 15-year-old Billy buys the game.
Billy’s mom sees it and thinks it’s horrific, so she files a lawsuit against Best Buy for selling it to him.
When we actually get to court, Billy’s mom first has to prove that Shoot Your Teacher fits the law’s definition of a violent video game, which is as subjective as hell.
But let’s just say for a moment that she’s able to convince an entire jury that it falls into the law’s definition. Who’s at the defendant’s table? The cashier who rang up the transaction?
But he was just doing his job. He didn’t know the game was “violent.” How could he? So perhaps the focus goes to me, the maker of the game. See how ridiculous this all sounds?
Over the last week, in response to the news, I’ve seen anti-video-game critics blast the decision and say such blanket statements as “we know these games make children more aggressive.”
This whole subject is as much of a gray area as you’ll ever find. The psychological studies have been all over the board with this topic, and in the end there’s nothing definitive.
Also, the one thing almost no violent video game opponent ever gets questioned on is the way they portray games in the first place. Even in the California law, there’s so much talk about players being able to torture and rape innocent people, with no ramifications.
Wait a minute. What games have these lawmakers been playing, because whatever they are, they didn’t buy them from any store I’ve ever seen. There is not a single game that anyone will find at Target, Best Buy, Walmart, etc, that lets players rape someone in the game. And yet there’s all this dialogue about it as though the Xbox 360 has a “rape” button or something.
Almost all of the violent content in video games is “productive” violence – that is, you’re shooting down the enemy force or rescuing someone from an opponent. Yes, you have the Grand Theft Autos and the Street Fighters that have violence just for the sake of violence. But those games are the exception, and really, when was the last time you were able to rape or torture someone in those games?
That depends on your definition of torture, I guess, but in GTA, most of the time you just kill someone and move on. The game doesn’t afford you the time to strap someone down in a chair and slowly inflict pain on them over the course of several hours.
In short, the California violent video game law is one of the most stupid pieces of legislation ever to see the light of day and it’s a complete shame that it even had to reach the Supreme Court, but thankfully the system does work and this law is as dead as the millions of soldiers in Call of Duty’s online servers.