The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” This freedom is subject to certain stipulations such as obscenity, speech that incites violence, libel, slander, etc. Currently, the state of California, led by Governor Schwarzenegger, is embroiled in a case against the Video Software Dealers Association. The state takes issue against the sale of violent video games to minors and is trying to pass a law that would make selling said games illegal and punishable by a $1,000 fine. They want a sticker, two square inches in size, on the front of games they deem as violent.
The bill’s definition of a violent game is described as a game in which, “the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being,” or a creature with “substantially human characteristics.” The proposed law also says a game falls under this ban if “a reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find it appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors…it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors…or it causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.”
The problem with this definition is that no games should fall into this category, as every game is an art form. Each aspect of creating a game is an art form in and of itself. Writing even the simplest computer program to add numbers together takes studying, knowledge and skill, let alone the massive amounts of coding that go into making a triple-A video game.
Designing characters takes place in movies, novels, television and sometimes even music, and the creative forces behind this character development are recognized as artists in their own right. Authors have been respected members of society since the inception of written literature, and the individuals who write the stories for games should be recognized as authors as well. Musicians share the same level of prestige as artists and have been “artists” for even longer than the oldest written words. Why then should the culmination of these great forms of art (in this case, a video game) not be considered art also?
Even more problematic, the phrase “substantially human characteristics” is, perhaps intentionally, ambiguous. Would “Dead Rising 2” be considered violent even though the “substantially human” subjects of violence are already-dead zombies? “Halo: Reach” has you killing clearly alien opponents, but the fact that they sometimes speak English may make them “substantially human.”
There should be no question in the mind of a sane individual that the sale of violent video games to children should be restricted, but this restriction cannot be put in place by the government. This is a parent’s job. Besides parents, many game retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Gamestop, already have policies in place to stop minors from purchasing games rated “M for Mature” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which already does a decent job indicating the content a gamer is likely to encounter by placing a rating and content descriptors on the box of a game.
Whenever a new form of media comes out, people tend to be leery of it, mainly because of their apprehension to adopt the newest addition to the media spectrum. This was the case for movies, television, the Internet and certain aggressive types of music, and today, for the most part, we don’t even consider what’s going on in those fronts, save for the ever-evolving Internet.
This isn’t only a California issue either. Eleven other states, including Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, support this newest regulatory initiative.
This begs the question: If the government steps in and decides what is and isn’t art in the video game universe, what will the future of this entertainment medium entail?
Regen McCracken is a sophomore majoring in journalism. Have questions, comments or just want more information? E-mail [email protected]