Gamers around the United States should consider June 28, 2011 a mini holiday of sorts. The Supreme Court decided 7-2, that a California law banning the sales of violent video games to minors was unconstitutional and that video games were protected under the First Amendment for free speech. Great news for both gamers under the age of 18 and video game retailers.
The California law was authored by Senator Leland Yee, and signed into law by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. So in a sense a kid can go into a California electronic retailer that sells both video games and movies (among other things), he saves his allowance, lunch money, and/or earnings, and while he can’t buy a game like Grand Theft Auto IV, he can go in and buy Terminator 2 on Blu-Ray, and watch it on his Playstation 3.
So had the law passed, gamers over the age of 18 wouldn’t really think anything of it until the after effects of the law start trickling in. First it’s illegal to sell a violent video game for minors, does it then become illegal to buy violent games for minors as a gift? Then there’s the problem of violent video games themselves. Do retailers stop selling them for fear of getting involved in a sale gone wrong? Do developers stop making games because of the loss of money in a title that has violence?
The problem here was the law only targeted violent video games. According to Dr. Simon Goodson and Sarah Pearson of Huddersfield University in England, who believe conceding a goal during a game of video game soccer causes a greater emotional surge in players because more gamers have a frame of reference with sporting activity as opposed to wielding a deadly projectile weapon. Potentially it means a gamer playing a game of Madden will feel more emotion than a gamer playing Call Of Duty.
The study also found that driving games can translate to road rage. Basically the study finds that real life scenarios such as playing a sport or driving, effect a person more than killing someone because a gamer finds the prior scenarios more realistic. (Personally I have a rule where I try not to drive at least a half hour after playing a driving game, just to adjust between laws from video game world, and the real world.)
Core gamers, at least the sane ones, will be quick to point out that crime hasn’t dramatically risen when a new violent video game is released. Those same core gamers will also be quick to defend the point that they, themselves haven’t killed anyone outside of a video game. So maybe it’s not the violent games that are the problem but the gamer playing the game. After all, a Jacksonville, Florida woman killed her own child over a game of Farmville last October.
Still, if some gamers over the age of 18 wouldn’t think the law wouldn’t have effected them had the law passed. If it had the Entertainment Software Rating Board (E.S.R.B) wouldn’t be in charge of deeming what games would be illegal to sell to minors. The State of California would’ve commissioned a separate body to judge what was too violent to sell to minors.
In 2005, a similar law in Illinois was thrown out in District Court because the Judge felt that video games fell under free speech. As a resident of the state of Illinois, and a gamer who is over the age of 18, anytime I go into a local video game (exclusive) retailer I always get carded, even if the clerk working knows me. The industry of retailers for the most part do a pretty good job of policing themselves when it comes to minors and violent and explicit games.
More laws restraining sales of video games only put a hindrance on an industry that is really rather young. There are still people, very talented people out there, who work on these games and tap into that little dark sick side of themselves to figure out what decapitating a gorgon should look like, or figuring out how the human body should react in their game to the very violent things that happen to it. However it’s not only that, it’s these same people who try to put together a world that you want to save and explore, and sometimes destroy.
These restrictive laws could have had a serious effect on not just the retailers, but the industry as a whole. If it was going after retailers, then do they go after people over the age of 18 that buy these games as a present? Does a developer risk the violent content knowing they might lose money because of the situation? More importantly, since those are all hypothetical questions, where do we go from here?
Well gamers under the age of 18 still have that limited access to the violent game, yet like always they’ll find a way. Retailers will continue to police themselves, developers and publishers will still bank on us buying “latest installment of fighting franchise 89”. Gamers over 18 years old can now celebrate knowing their favorite game is protected from government laws, under the glorious category of “Free Speech”.