The Supreme Court debated sex, violence and free speech Tuesday, as several justices strongly argued for breaking new ground and upholding a California law that would forbid the sale of violent video games to those under age 18.
The following is an outline of the arguments made (by either side) and my personal thoughts on each (and yes, I’m aware that my icon depicts a man in very macabre attire holding up a flaming human heart triumphantly):
1. If the law forbids selling sexually explicit material to minors, it follows that it can forbid selling scenes of gratuitous torture and violence.
Mola says: I agree. I understand that this would require the court to set a precedent specifically regarding violence. But no matter how the court decides, they’re setting a friggin’ precedent!
2. The same argument could be made when movies came out that expose children to violence, or rap music.
Mola says: There ARE restrictions on very violent movies, and rap music. I understand these restrictions are very loose, but that’s not the point… there ARE restrictions.
3. The same argument could be made for books such as Grimm’s collection of fairy tales.
Mola says: Fine, decent argument. But there is obviously more artistic significance in a collection of books that has remained influential for 200 years than in Quentin Tarantino’s gruesome comicflick “Grindhouse.” Right? Not to mention the basic benefits of the act of reading.
4. Scalia insisted that since the nation’s founding, depictions of sex could be banned, but not depictions of violence and torture.
Mola says: I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’ll defer to Justice Alito…
When Scalia pressed the state’s lawyer to explain how the framers of the 1st Amendment would see the issue, Alito interjected: “What Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games.” The remark elicited laughter in the courtroom. Later, Alito said he disagreed with Scalia’s historical approach to deciding this constitutional question. Video games “are a new medium not envisioned at the time of the founding,” he said, and it “is entirely artificial” to decide based on a guess about what the 18th-century framers would have thought.
5. California argued that video games are far more troubling than movies, music or television because children and teens are active participants in the killing and maiming, not just “passive observers.”
Mola says: Eh, I hope they didn’t spend too much time pumping this point. Yeah, I get it; but couldn’t one argue that the glamorization of violence, which is common in the particular mediums sought by youth, is just as “troubling” (I also hope they didn’t really use the word “troubling” but rather used facts and statistics)? A minor might easily identify with the violent protagonist in a movie, or with a popular rapper rapping about murder, and be influenced in the same manner as if he had mashed a joystick and a few buttons.
There are some other things worth commenting on, but I have limited time right now. Some points not mentioned in the article but which I heard on NPR yesterday:
- 90% of violent video games are purchased by adults.
- Statistics show that the rating system accompanied by parental supervision is actually quite effective (obviously I’d want more numbers on this).
In sum, from the very limited research I’ve done on this case, I think the law is constitutional.