Restricting Entertainment Won't Stop With Video Games
Go to the multiplex and watch Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan. Visit the bookstore and buy Lord of the Flies or Dead In the Family. Popular entertainment forms from books to movies to music are filled with violent images and words.
Just the Facts
of games purchased by adults.
This is not a new phenomenon. For decades – and, some historians can argue, for centuries –acclaimed art forms have contained graphic depictions of violence. Books like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; movies such as The Godfather, and many genres of music feature lyrics filled with violent language and allusions. The examples are endless and virtually timeless.
For now, no booksellers are being threatened with fines for selling such books; no movie theatre operators are faced with penalties for showing such movies; no record label sanctioned for producing such CDs. Only the video game industry is before the Supreme Court, asking the nation’s highest court to declare unconstitutional the California law that would regulate the sale of its products.
But logic leads to the conclusion that today’s legal battle over video game regulation will lead to tomorrow’s conflict over other art forms if the Supreme Court rejects the unanimous thinking of a dozen lower courts and upholds California’s restrictions on video game sales.
What is the logical justification for singling out video game violence – which by definition happens to virtual “people” not real ones – and ignoring the horrific acts simulated against real individuals on movie screens? Additionally, there is the quandary caused by inconsistent treatment of identical titles created for different media. Consider the very real possibility that someone could be prohibited from buying or renting a video game, but not from seeing a movie or reading a book of the same title.
Video Games Based on Movies
Video Games Based on Books
Once the government is given the authority to distinguish between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” levels of violence in any entertainment media or art form, it is hardly beyond imagining that legislators will attempt to apply those vague standards on other entertainment media. The legal precedent set by acceptance of the California law would make such efforts harder to resist.
What Others Are Saying
I don't know why anyone would want or encourage our government to be the arbiter of whether something is appropriate or inappropriate from a content perspective.
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences President
IGN, April 28, 2010
In over fifty years of obscenity jurisprudence the Supreme Court has never applied the obscenity doctrine outside the context of sexual speech. Finding the California law constitutional would create a sea change in the permissible regulation of all media -- including books and movies -- that contain violent content and are accessible to minors.
Some justify singling out video games for exceptional legal treatment because of their interactive features. The suggestion was dismissed by Federal Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner wrote in a 2001 ruling overturning an Indianapolis video game ordinance and asserting that children have First Amendment rights:
“All literature (here broadly defined to include movies, television and other photographic media, and popular as well as highbrow literature) is interactive; the better it is, the more interactive. Literature, when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.”
It is illogical to restrict violence in one genre, but not in others. It is illogical to say a video game is worthy of restriction but a movie or book of the exact same title should be exempt. It is illogical to single out video games for special restrictions. The answer is not to carve out a special place in the law for video games or, for the first time, to make violence a reason for curtailing our 1st Amendment freedoms.
The answer, as Federal Courts to date have unanimously found, is to place video games where they belong: alongside other protected forms of free speech. This is a position supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people. In a recent poll conducted by KRC Research, 78 percent said that video games should have the same constitutional protections as books, movies and music.
As 1st Amendment scholar Julie Hinden has written, upholding the California statute could have a “chilling effect” on free speech. She wrote recently that “only genre snobbery – not any valid logical distinction – could mark the dividing line” that separates video games from classics like “A Separate Peace”:
“When we make exceptions to the First Amendment, we should be acting from certainty, not conjecture. Free speech should not be held hostage to speculation about its possible results, or we may someday lose the right to it altogether.”