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Opinion: Supreme Court should decide video games are protected speech

Sections: Features, Gaming News, Law-Politics, Opinions

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united state supreme courtIn the light of the fact that the United States Supreme Court has decided that, later this year, they’re going to be considering Sen. Leland Yee’s law that was blocked by a US District Court..

The law was blocked when the video game industry sued the state of California, citing concerns about whether or not the law was against the constitution.

The law banned the sale of violent games to minors. It holds the punishment of a $1,000 fine for each offense. The law, although passed, was never successfully enacted. Still, Adam Sessler, in an episode of G4′s Sessler’s Soapbox laid out part of the question perfectly: Are video games protected speech? The Supreme Court is going to consider this question soon.

If they say no, video games are not protected forms of speech, there will be quite a bit of hypocrisy in their decision especially when you consider they did overturn a federal law banning videos of animal cruelty. If videos of actual animal cruelty is a protected form of speech, something that contains fictional violence would have something going for it. The playing of fictional violence, even if done in cruel ways, would be less morally problematic than the filming of actual violence, especially if done out of cruelty. The reason why it would be less morally problematic is the fact that even though violence and cruelty might be portrayed in video games, it isn’t real. That is what games have going for it.

Yes, video games allow you to control your part in the violence but it’s still fictional. If the distinction between fantasy and reality isn’t being taught, it isn’t the fault of the gaming industry or the film, music, literary or art industries. That’s a problem with the education system and parenting.

Yes, there are instances of mental instability or handicaps that might make it increasingly hard to get the message across. Then again that just means family and friends (maybe even coworkers or classmates) would have to be extra-vigilant in trying to guide that person away from doing something that is social unacceptable, especially horrifying things like gunning someone down, stabbing people or beating someone.

It doesn’t mean entertainment caused it. Even if entertainment inspired it, quite often it’s because someone screwed up in guiding the person. So, again, problem with the education system and parenting.

For example, take Columbine. The kids did game and played stuff (like Doom) that they were too young for. Then again, they were getting bullied at school and teachers did nothing to stop it. There were also issues with the parents. Most parents care at least a little, however, there could’ve been more attention.

Other media – considered art forms – that are protected forms of speech include books, movies, music, paintings, sculptures and plays. Yes, levels of protection might differ but we aren’t talking level of protection. We’re just talking the fact that they are protected.

Now, if you consider video games an art and it is decided that the games aren’t protected speech, there lies a bit of a problem. How can several different art forms be protected when one specific one isn’t? It doesn’t make sense. A lot of games use aspects of all of the other art forms. The thing that makes it stand out is that the games are interactive. A lot of games have a cinematic look, have a story behind it (not necessarily a good one but that’s a story for another time), a soundtrack, use sketches or digital “painting” programs for ideas on character and setting design, have a voice cast, etc. Even if video games themselves aren’t specifically art, they are the combination of multiple forms of art, all of which have been decided to be protected to some level. So, if you restrict the games, you’d have grounds to restrict all others forms of art.

Come on, elected officials. Realize that all you’d do with anti-gaming legislature would be opening up grounds to restrict film, music, art and literature. Also realize that anti-gaming laws, even if it just restricts certain games from being sold to certain age groups, are endorsing lazy parenting when the problem could be fixed by using a little common sense.

To the Supreme Court, just accept that games are protected forms of speech. After all, saying they aren’t might lead us down some pretty ugly and controversial roads. Also saying that they aren’t and approving a law like the one that is coming up for debate right now leads to another problem. You’ll be endorsing politicians faking their jobs by coming up with redundant laws. Yes, a law like California’s law barring the sale of M-rated video games to minors is redundant since most, if not, all game stores card when the purchase of an M-rated game comes up. If a consumer isn’t of the proper age to buy an M-rated game, they wait for a parent to show up or offer a more age appropriate decision to the customer.

Lastly, parents. The legal system needing to consider whether or not certain laws like these are constitutional is ridiculous. If there weren’t so many lazy parents out there, there would fewer and fewer attempts to make such laws. Now, I’m not saying all parents are lazy. I’m talking more along the lines of the parents who would buy their 17-or-under (at least in terms of the posted standard) an M-rated game and complain after the fact that it’s too violent or too full of sexuality for kids their age.

It’s like the parents that take their toddlers to a R-rated slasher film or an R-rated war film and complain about it being too violent. It does happen. I’ve seen it happen. A lot.

Listen because this is serious. Do your jobs as parents and use some common sense. If it doesn’t sound like or, when you look at the information on the box, look like something you’d want played in the house, just don’t get it. Sure, it is hard. Sure, the kid(s) might not like the decision. In the long run though, they will love you and know you only meant well.

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