Violent Video Games on Trial

Matt Lonsdale is a JD candidate at Dalhousie University

The average teenager may not pay much attention to the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, but they might want to make an exception for Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association today. The case is a challenge to a 2005 California law which prohibits the sale of violent video games to minors.  Lower courts have prevented the law from going into effect, finding there was insufficient evidence on the effects of playing violent video games to justify the impairment of minors’ First Amendment rights. The case is being widely watched and 11 other states have already expressed interest in enacting a similar law in the event California’s is upheld.

The video game industry sees this as a free speech issue and feels that the voluntary rating system already in place for video games is sufficient to protect minors. Ted Price, the President of Insomniac Games Inc. referred to the “chilling effect” this law could have and noted: “we will self-restrict for fear of our games falling under the language in this law”. The Entertainment Merchants Association called the law “unnecessary, unwarranted and unconstitutional”.

Proponents of the law argue that the threat to free speech is overrated, and that this is primarily an issue of protecting children. “The First Amendment rights of minors are not coextensive with the rights of adults,” argues the state, as youngsters lack the capacity to make informed decisions regarding video games. Democrat State Senator Leland Yee, the law’s author, says, “I’m a supporter of the First Amendment. This is about not making ultra violent video games available to children.” Common Sense  Media founder James Steyer is similarly unfazed, “I wouldn’t compare videogames to Shakespeare”.

  1. This is an interesting idea, although not one that I necessarily agree with as the same principle could be extended to other forms of violent media such as comic books, music, television shows, movies etc. It’ll be hard to draw a line.

  2. Are you kidding? that’s already happened from Rock and Roll is the devil’s music.. to Comic books will destroy your children to the stigma against Television it’s all happened before and violent video games is the next scape goat.

    Would you Ban the Beatles Lucy in the sky? because it is pretty much a drug referene? how about Schindler’s ( spelling?) List? that has a lot of killing and death, How about The Watchmen? the comic book it’s rife with murders and combat… yet each of these things is beautiful in it’s own right.

    Violent video games already have a rating system that is ignored by parents. is that the industry’s fault that mommy bought Timmy if first Shooter? Grand theft Auto San Andreas told the story about gang life and that once your in a gang it’s VERY hard to leave. GTA4 did much of the same of someone with a dark past coming to the new world for a chance at a better life… only to get dragged back into his past. I can honestly not think of FIVe game titles that were just pointless violence.

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