Monday, November 1, 2010

From your cold, dead (and presumably violent) hands

Posted on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Alright, nerds. The day of reckoning is here. They've finally come to take your violent videogames away from you, wrenching the controller from your sausage-like, sticky fingers. Now, you must go out and …

Actually, there's nothing you can really do. Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments for Schwarzeneggar v. EMA*, a case filed over California's quasi-controversial law limiting the sale or rental of "violent" videogames to minors. It's not the first case of its kind — several states have had laws banning the sale of violent videogames to chidlren struck down at the federal court level; this is merely the first that reaches SCOTUS.

Basically, the problem comes down to those age stickers they slap on videogames — E for everyone, T for teens, M for mature, etc. The law banned the sale of violent videogames to anyone under 18, and required labeling above and beyond the current system. Basically, if a “reasonable person” would find the game appealing to “a deviant or morbid interest of minors,” violated "community standards" on what a minor should see, lacks serious value and allowed the player to inflict injury through "torture or serious physical abuse" of a human-like figure, it fell under the law.**

Videogame companies, unsurprisingly, aren't too fond of what they deem government censorship. They argue that for a state to restrict speech in such a manner, it must have a "clear and compelling interest." California says violent video games cause violent children, but most*** studies have shown that's simply not the case.

The EMA has had groups varying from associations of videogame publishers to journalists to booksellers to movie studios to the RIAA weighing in its side, as well as collection of nine state attorneys general, including Washington's Rob McKenna. In the brief filed by the AGs, they say California's law would restrict free speech and lead to an "expensive new enforcement regime, in which law enforcement personnel would become culture critics … [depleting] resources and distract from law enforcement's task of policing actual violence."

Tomorrow's only the oral argument, so the Supremes won't have a judgment for a while. Here's an excellent rundown of background and what's expected to be argued.

* Don't worry, plenty of people have already jumped on the obvious "Hey, wasn't Schwarznegger in a bunch of horribly gory, violent movies?" bandwagon. Though it really doesn't make the law any less hypocritical. The MPAA system, which covers movies (G, PG, R, etc.) is a voluntary system, not enforceable by police. Exactly like the current system for videogames.
** Again, "prevailing community standards" could easily include Schwarzenegger movies.
*** Actually, all reputable studies that have been conducted show no correlation between violent media and violent children, though some make a case for "aggressive" or "risky" behaviors.

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