Violent video games have often served as a scapegoat for criminal behavior in minors; therefore, California argues that minors ought not be able to buy such games. The validity of this reasoning will soon be decided by the ultimate authority: the Supreme Court.
On November 2, the Supreme Court will hear Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants, which will review a California law that would render it illegal to sell violent video games to minors. California’s law has already been struck down twice by courts, on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment.
Nonetheless, California remains persistent in limiting the sale of “violent video games.” The law states that a violent video game is one that depicts, “killing, maiming [or] dismemberment,…appeals to a deviant or morbid interest in minors,” and is “patently offensive…to the community.” California states that such games encourage violent behavior in children.
The proposed Californian law includes a host of messy complications and should not be passed.
There are numerous problems with California’s proposed law, starting with the its definition of “violent video games.” How would the state deem whether a game was offensive enough to be classified as “violent?” The state’s decisions would probably be made by an elder generation of politicians who have never even touched a video game. Giving politicians such arbitrary power is quite dangerous. Perhaps in the beginning the law would only focus on excessively violent games like Manhunt; however, as time passed, California may begin to ban the sales of more moderate games, like Prince of Persia. After all, the PoP games do include killing…
California’s assertion that gory video games make children violent is completely unfounded. Henry Jenkins, a former MIT professor, stated that “no research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.” A large portion of young gamers do indeed play violent video games without exhibiting destructive behavior.
Perhaps most importantly, prohibiting retailers from selling minors violent video games would violate the First Amendment. By restricting the amount of people who could buy certain video games, the law would inhibit the people’s access to certain ideas, thus endangering freedom of speech. The decision to sell violent video games ought to lie with private enterprises, not the government. Retailers already do a fine job of following ESRB guidelines when selling games to minors. Let’s keep it that way.