Thursday, November 11, 2010

America has "compelling interest" to marginalize violence

As a result of outrage over graphic violence depicted in video games sold to children, California made it illegal to sell these games to children. California Civil Code “prohibits the sale of violent video games to minors under 18 where a reasonable person would find that the violent content appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors, is patently offensive to prevailing community standards as to what is suitable for minors, and causes the game as a whole to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

Game manufacturers raised the issue of First Amendment protections prohibiting this censorship. On November 2, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case brought forward by game manufacturers in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association regarding the law. A decision is expected early next year.

The questions presented to the court: “Does the First Amendment bar a state from restricting the sale of violent video games to minors?; If the First Amendment applies to violent video games that are sold to minors, and the standard of review is strict scrutiny … is the state required to demonstrate a direct causal link between violent video games and physical and psychological harm to minors before the state can prohibit the sale of the games to minors?” Oral arguments in the case included the question of how video games are different from books, music, and movies.

If it should be upheld that graphically violent video games are constitutionally protected speech, the California law banning them would have to be judged by the legal standard of "strict scrutiny," a standard that California must demonstrate its "compelling interest," making it necessary to treat violent video games differently than other forms of entertainment.

In America, it’s mind-boggling, very troubling, and hard to understand, that we have any disagreement with the fact that there are harmful effects from playing violent video games. I don’t pretend to be a constitutional scholar or to have any scholarship in psychopathology, but it seems to me that there needs to be an application of common sense as opposed to some academic research or judicial determination concerning the affects of violent video games on children, or society in general. To say that California, any other state, and America doesn’t have a “compelling interest” in marginalizing violence, whether that violence is shown graphically in a video game for children or adults, or whether it’s in books, music, movies, or in any other gratuitous way for the purpose of entertainment as opposed to being necessary to actual context needed for understanding an event, is nonsensical. It’s like asking any one of us, whether or not we have a “compelling interest” in whether our children or grandchildren watch or participate in violent acts: what sane adult or parent would say they don’t care?

It’s clear that the nail was hit the on its head when Chief Justice John Roberts read from the official description in court records, “We do not have a tradition in this country of telling children they should watch people actively hitting schoolgirls over the head with a shovel so they’ll beg for mercy, being merciless and decapitating them, shooting them in the leg so they fall down…. Pour gasoline on them, set them on fire and urinate on them.”

Justice Roberts was correct when he concluded: “We protect children from that. We don’t actively expose them to that.”