The Supreme Court recently struck down California’s law banning minors from purchasing violent video games. They were right to do so, because the law is inherently flawed.
It is true that there are some games that parents don’t, and shouldn’t, want their kids exposed to. But preventing that exposure is a job for the parents themselves, not the state.
Yes, the law was created for a good purpose – to protect young children from potential psychological harm. However, the law is vague and moreover unnecessary if one considers the ESRB, or Entertainment Software Rating Board.
For a game to be sold in stores, it must be rated by the ESRB, similar to a film rating. Games rated EC (early childhood) through T (teen) can be sold to anybody. But major retail stores will not sell games rated M (mature) to anyone under age 17, and won’t stock games rated AO (adults only). This isn’t because of legalities.
It’s store policy – large gaming retailers don’t want to deal with lawsuits from angry parents because their children purchased games they see as inappropriate.
The law states that a store may not sell “violent” video games to minors. In light of the currently accepted ratings system and general store policy, the law seems rather pointless.
But this isn’t the only problem with the law – it is also painfully vague. According to MSNBC, the law defines a violent video game as one that depicts “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”
Ban all games with death in them, and we’re protecting our children from the sort of ultra-violence that started this panic in the first place. This law would only affect those games that are widely inappropriate – “Halo,” “Call of Duty,” “Assassin’s Creed” and so on.
Wrong. Ban all games with player-caused death in them, and you’ve wiped out a massive section of the gaming market – including games that parents find no problems with.
Take “Kingdom Hearts” as an example. This is a series co-produced by Disney, where two of the main characters are Donald Duck and Goofy. This is a series with all of the Disney Princesses and the cast of “Winnie the Pooh.” It is a series considered appropriate for ten year olds. It is also a series where the player violates the California law twenty times over as a conservative estimate.
But that’s not the point of the law, you say. The deaths are bloodless and relatively tame, so it shouldn’t and won’t be counted among the games to be banned.
Well, that’s exactly the problem. The state would have to pick and choose games to be affected and those to be ignored.
The law also defines a violent game as one that lacks “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” How exactly did the government plan on defining artistic value?
The merit of a work is entirely subjective, and subjective conditions do not make for effective laws. That is where this law crashes headlong into the First Amendment.