Thursday, April 29, 2010

The First Amendment and Video Games

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging California’s proposed law to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has previously held that this law violates minors’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and as such cannot be enforced.

Although the law was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, it was immediately challenged by the video game industry on constitutional grounds. Representatives for the video game industry point to the fact that all video games are now required to be labeled with ratings; it is their contention that this rating system is sufficient for parents to properly deem what is appropriate for their children. Also, representatives claim that video games are protected forms of expression under the First Amendment.

Adding support for the industry’s claim is the Supreme Court’s decision last week which struck down a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Representatives for the industry claim that if such videos are protected by the First Amendment, then video games should be as well.

Supporters of the law point to studies suggesting a correlation between violent video games and aggression, anti-social behavior and desensitization to violence in children. However, the court found no proof of a causal connection between video games and this behavior, and dismissed the research.

Supporters also liken the ban on the sale of violent video games to the sale of pornography. And although the representatives for the industry point to the already established rating system, supporters of the law state that this rating system did nothing to prevent M-rated (mature) video game sales to minors.

With the improvements in technology, video games have greatly progressed from the days of Pong and the Atari 2600. Graphics are much more life-like, and as such the violence is much more realistic. As such, the concern about what minors are viewing is understandable. However, the outright ban of sales or rentals of these video games to minors seems a bit extreme.

Many of these video games have graphics comparable to live action movies; while movies are not interactive such as these games, viewing this type of violence in any form would seem to cause concern. Yet, the ratings system implemented by the MPAA does not receive the same type of scrutiny these video games are.

The ratings systems for both types of media do not seem to be the underlying problem. Children are able to view these movies and play these games because the ratings don’t work if parents ignore them. The video game industry is fulfilling their duty by warning parents about potential content issues; it’s up to parents, not the government, to decide whether they want their children to play these games.

For the full article, click here.