It’s an old adage that has plagued mankind since cavemen first drew figures on their walls: What’s the difference between obscenity and art? The U.S. Supreme Court will also ponder this question when they hear a case focused on repealing a California ban on selling and renting “ultra-violent” video games to minors.
The respondents—the Entertainment Merchants Association and the Entertainment Software Association—have claimed video games are protected under the First Amendment.
The Ultra Violent Video Games Law (A.B. 1792 and 1793) makes it illegal for minors to purchase or rent video games that contain certain kinds of violent content, and any violation by vendors will result in a $1,000 fine.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law in 2005. However, it was put on hold when the U.S. District Court in Northern California ruled it invalid in August 2007. Now Jerry Brown, the current California Attorney General, who’s a candidate for governor, has appealed alongside Schwarzenegger for the high court to review the law.
“It’s time to allow California’s common-sense law to go into effect and help parents protect their children from violent video games,” Brown said in a press release.
The EMA and the ESA believe parents are already well informed when it comes to video games because the Federal Trade Commission has found that 83 percent of parents are involved with video game purchases for minors.
Still, the respondents claimed in a written deposition that “when unaccompanied minors attempt to purchase Mature-rated games, their chances are much less than when minors attempt to purchase R-rated DVDs or CDs with explicit lyrics.”
The respondents then called the video games in question a “modern form of artistic expression. Like motion pictures and television programs, video games tell stories and entertain audiences through the use of complex pictures, sounds, and text.”
As an example, they cited the God of War series, where the player is exposed to Greek mythology; the player battles many gods, including Zeus, Hercules, and Hades. This game would be classified as “ultra-violent” and would require a parent of the minor to purchase the game if the act were enforced, since the main character, Kratos, kills, maims, and utterly destroys his enemies.
Nick Lopez, 23, doesn’t see a problem with these ultra-violent games. “Half of the clips on television are more violent than a lot of video games,” he said while playing the video game Fight Night: Round Four at Best Buy in Santa Maria. The game has a rating of “Teen” due to violence and mild blood.
The bill is meant to protect minors from psychological harm, but Lopez, a veteran of violent video games, said that he’s OK. “I’m a peaceful person,” he said after delivering an uppercut to his computerized boxing opponent, “and I played violent video games. I never wanted to bring a gun to school.”
In the bill’s language, author Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) said the law was written “to combat the psychological impacts research from many social scientists and psychologists have proven through their studies.”
“We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder,” Yee said in a press release. “The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”
Ken Guge, owner of Leisure Time Games in the Town Center mall, has also noticed the psychological impact video games create. However, he said it relates to all of them.
“I think that a lot of video games are making our society agoraphobic,” Guge said. “[People] play by themselves, or online, and they are isolated from the outside world.”
Guge doesn’t believe video games create a violent personality, though, and “sees no correlation between violent video games and [their] players.”
Guge may be a game shop owner, but his other job is that of full-time parent.
“We look at the rating to see if the game is age-appropriate for them, and to see if they will still be interested in the game,” he said.
Despite Guge’s use of the Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings on video games, he still believes restricting minors from ultra violent video games would be a wise move.
“We have ratings on movies, and don’t allow children in under a certain age, so I have no objection to the restriction,” he said.
The high court will begin hearings later in the year, when it will finally decide whether video games can be restricted from minors by its content.
Intern Henry Houston can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.