On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 in a decision to strike down a California law that would have prohibited the sale of what the state considered to be, “violent” video games to minors; citing the decision was based on preserving the 1st Amendment rights of those under the age of 18.
Among those opposing the law was Justice Antonin Scalia, who spoke for five of the members of the court who voted against the measure.
“There is no tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence,” Scalia said.
“Certainly, the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — have no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the two jurists voting in support of the law, stated that, historically, minors had no right to free speech in respect to issues where their parents had a legal right, responsibility and obligation in overseeing the products their children consume or are exposed to. Thomas furthered this assessment by highlighting his personal understanding of the U.S. Constitution.
In this regard, Clarence alluded, the constitution’s historical longevity and veracity provides for parents rights, even today, over the entire spectrum of a minor’s life. “Parents had a right to the child’s labor and services until the child reached maturity,” he said.
Thomas further added his doubt that video games, as a medium, were a true form of “free speech” at all.
The question of violent subject matter in video games has been a hot button issue among parent organizations and politicians for more than two decades, punctuated by episodes involving “gory” fighting games such as “Mortal Kombat” and games that demonstrate urban violence and gratuitous sex in the manner of the controversial “Grand Theft Auto” series.
The overall emphasis of the legislations cited a special exemption that would separate video games from other forms of media due to their accessibility of violent content to a wider (and more emphatically, younger) audience; the level of which, it contended, causes the violent content to reach further, psychologically speaking and more deeply impact consumers who were minors.
The Supreme Court ruled that there was no viable argument in the legislation that substantiates the need for video games to be more closely scrutinized than other forms of media. The court also, in effect, sided with various recent studies performed by a range of institutions and organizations that include The Surgeon General, who in 2001 conducted a study that stated that “mental instability” was by far more responsible for the potential of violence then video games were.
The implication that video games are a direct cause of violence in and of themselves as well as a perpetrator of psychological instability in children and teenagers is a quixotic approach to shielding children from the “ills” of an art form that draws its inspiration directly from the sociological climate that creates it.
There are portions of society, in essence, that wish to shatter the mirror for fear of their own reflection.
Attempts to censor and censure video games on an “individual” basis belie the reality of a culture that hypocritically chooses a variety of direct and indirect methods in rearing children that contain wholesale violence in equal, if not greater amounts – none more ritualistically and ungrudgingly accepted than the pouring over of religious texts of various origins of icons who foretell, promote, and bestow violence upon entire peoples and cultures as a means of indoctrinating the young; all the while pointing the finger at a virtual medium for illustrating similar behavior that is believed to be contradictory to a completely subjective understanding of what the “correct” method of psychological guidance and construction should be – and all because it is seen as a “direct simulation” of reality.
Granted, there are those that would wish that it would not stop at video games alone and that all media, over every spectrum, be regulated for content and sanitized so as not to fashion a generation of supposed ax murders and school shooters – but that in and of itself is exactly what the supreme court voted against, because it denies the rights of the individual – minor or not – the ability to express themselves or confront ideas that they may not otherwise be exposed to.
This is not to understate and devalue the position of the parent however, as they have the right to raise their children in the manner in which they see fit.
While I may find a deep since of abhorrence at any parent who would generalize an entire medium without due process and investigation, it is not the government’s or a neighbor’s place to preside over a parent unless proof can be presented that his or her actions are of a substantial physical, mental, or social detriment to the child or society at large.
This is simply another chapter in a puritanical society’s battle to control the waning power that is wielded by institutionalized morals toward media.
Books being banned for their “questionable” content, motion pictures being denied release due to a subjective and biased ratings system, and lyrical content of music being subjectively scrutinized are all the predecessors to the video game argument, yet none have been proven to negatively impact society in the absence of a multitude of other factors.
The supreme court upheld individual rights this week and it serves as a precedent for future legislation that would attempt to infringe upon the rights of ALL individuals – be they minors, adults, video game creators, or consumers and it is reassuring to see a system, especially one that has so repeatedly left me disillusioned, to finally do something right.