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Schwarzenegger vs. EMA

The Battle for Video Games as an Aritstic Medium

By Ivan Favelevic
On October 26, 2010

I have been a gamer all my life. While some people choose to delve into the world of film or literature for their narrative fix, I see potential in video games, and have rejoiced in watching the industry evolve and mature over time. Video games have reached the point in time where they can provide a captivating story to their audience while adding a layer of interactivity missing from most other mediums. They can have the player's actions define the world around them and allow them to craft their own story. However, recent legal action might strip the video game industry from their most basic right, the freedom of expression.

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear the case Schwarzenegger vs. EMA on Nov 2. In it, the State of California is attempting to ban the sale of violent video games to minors, stating that any person caught selling a game with a rating of "Mature" or above to a child should be fined. The State of California is claming they have evidence that proves violent games have negative effects on children. There have been prior cases that attempted to ban violent video games, however, all of them tried to declare that games were obscene and were therefore deemed unconstitutional. This case apparently has proof that games are a danger to minors.

While I agree that there are certain games that children should not be exposed to (since they are clearly made for adults) the idea of forcing a law onto video game retailers could have a profoundly negative impact on the video game industry. For one, making it punishable by law to sell a violent game to a minor would be placing said games in the same category as alcohol and pornography. Were the State of California to win, this law would be claming games are no better than a controlled substance. By subjecting games to this classification, they will be restricted some of their First Amendment rights. Game manufacturers will not be allowed to publish content that the government deems offensive. It completely destroys any artistic freedom.

There is no law preventing minors from attending "R" rated movies or buying explicit music. It is the theatre's policy to card minors when they attempt to buy these products. Video games have a rating system in place, and 80 percent of retailers already prevent the sale of violent games to minors. The only way for children to get their hands on these games is if a parent buys it for them. Unfortunately, there are still parents out there who are completely oblivious to the content in the games they buy for their children. Some are unaware that a video games ratings board (the ESRB) even exists, and places an easy to read rating the box of every video game. The gaming industry is not at fault here, it is society's characterization of games as "kid's things" that has allowed such ludicrous cases to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, the plaintiff in this case claims to have evidence that proves that violent games are harming our youth. While the specifics of what the studies being presented as evidence are still kept under wraps, to think that every child who plays violent games is prone to violent behavior is an unlikely. If that were true, the amount of children committing crimes in the world would rise exponentially with the rapid growth of the video game industry. The fact is, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has shown a decrease in violent crime since the early 90s, when arcade machines began to disappear and home consoles placed video games in American homes. Furthermore, ultra-violent games only became popular with the release of "Mortal Kombat" in 1993, and since then the violent-crime rates in the U.S. have not risen. Not to mention, violence is a part of human culture, with movies and TV featuring some level of violence. To simply mark video games as the scapegoat of whatever damage children in these studies have faced is narrowing oneself from the reality of society.

However, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the State of California, the content in games will suffer greater scrutiny by the government. First off, by declaring that product is harmful to children, many mega-retailers will stop selling violent games. This will directly harm the gaming industry sales. Not only that but the status of games in society will completely change. If they become illegal for children, they will be viewed as taboo by the rest of us. Suddenly, owning violent games will be akin to owning pornography. They will be viewed as something that lacks any artistic merit. The industry will be halted where it stands and the past 30 years of progress will be thrown out the window. Yet, most importantly, they will be taking the right away from the parent. If you feel that your sixteen year old son can play a certain violent game, neither you nor he will be able to purchase it under penalty of law. You will not be the person to decide how mature your children must be to play a certain game. If you feel your children are mature enough to watch "The Godfather" or "Saving Private Ryan," then why can't you decide if they are mature enough to play "Bioshock" or "Mass Effect?"

Unfortunately, this is what we gamers are faced with today. Just like any revolutionary medium, we have to pass through the censors, fighting to prove ourselves as artistic expression. Rock and roll had to do it, movies had to do it and now it is our turn. So please, whether you have played video games all your life or have never picked them up, know that this is not a fight to protect our children, this is a stab at preventing video games from ever maturing as a respectable artistic medium.


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