Video games go to court

by Zach Walton

Video games are going to the highest law in the land — the Supreme Court.

On Nov. 2, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association and Entertainment Software Association.

For those who may not know, this argument is over a law passed in California in 2005 that would criminalize the sale of violent video games. California Sen. Leland Ye wrote the bill and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed it into law. The bill was immediately called unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment and its freedom of speech clause.

This is nothing new. Many states over the years have tried to pass bills that would let the government regulate the gaming industry over claims that video games increased violent behavior in children.

Every time one of these bills has come up, the courts shoot it down for being unconstitutional. California’s bill was shot down at the state and appellate levels for being unconstitutional.

The law, if enacted, would ban the sale of violent video games to minors. Those caught selling games to minors would be fined a minimum of $1,000.

The law ignores the fact that the U.S. already has the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The ESRB is the best rating system in the world with the most comprehensive ratings for parents. It covers everything from realistic depictions of violence to the smallest amount of suggestive themes.

All major retailers already observe the ESRB ratings and will not sell a rated M game to a minor without the consent of a parent. It’s the same thing that happens with film ratings. Theaters do not have to observe film ratings but do out of moral obligation.

The main problem is that the law does not define what a violent video game is. Is a game like Mario that has bloodless stomping of Goombas too violent for children? The ESRB rates Mario games as “E for everyone” because it uses the cartoon violence that children are exposed to everyday.

This law would put the definition of violence into the hands of the government. Everybody has different definitions of violence, and it’s up to parents to decide what their child can and cannot see.

This law effectively violates gamemakers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of expression. Should games be treated differently compared to film, music, literature or even comic books? All those previous mediums are considered art, but some took years to gain that status.

Video games are a relatively new medium. A lot of people in government do not understand them and are therefore scared of them. Games can be violent just like movies, literature and music. These art forms are not attacked for their content because they have the almighty label of art attached to them.

Video games deserve the same amount of freedom as all other forms of art. Let’s hope the Supreme Court agrees with this sentiment come Nov. 2.