A landmark decision direct from the Supreme Court was handed down last week that rejected a California law blocking minors from buying violent video games. This ruling not only puts games in the same regulatory basket as other art forms, it also coincides directly with the most basic of our rights as citizens of the United States, freedom of speech.
The California law was originally signed in 2005 by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose Hollywood affiliations provided a distressing conflict of interest, considering games have been competing with Hollywood for consumer dollars for the past few decades.
The law was signed after “legislative findings” suggested that violent games reduce “activity in the frontal lobes of the brain” and promote “violent antisocial or aggressive behavior.” These findings have been criticized and debunked over the past few years, while at the same time being overshadowed by new, scientific studies pointing in the opposite direction, showing that games have the ability to improve visual and decision making skills.
Even though it is necessary to find out how video games do affect us in a scientific, empirical fashion, this case has much larger implications with regard to its attempt to basically limit our constitutional right of free speech, affecting the developers of the games, all the way down to the consumers buying them.
The Supreme Court judge who proved to be the champion of gamers and speech advocates in this particular case, was Justice Antonin Scalia, whose razor sharp arguments brought the sales ban to its legislative knees with measured, rational points that counter the main tenets of the law in question.
Justice Scalia equated the viewing of violent video games as being essentially the same as reading books.
“Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat. But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones.” He continued to say that, “violent video games, tawdry TV shows, and cheap novels and magazines are not less forms of speech than The Divine Comedy…they are as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature.”
Justice Scalia continued by giving examples of accepted forms of literature that display similar violent imagery, Cinderella’s evil, pointing out that “Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.”
It was also noted by the supreme court that this seemed to be just the newest in a line of state laws looking to blame the latest cultural concern, with movies and comic books being in similar positions in the recent past. Justice Scalia’s overall rationale for his decision was based on his stating that, “even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”
Basically what Justice Scalia is saying is that as a member of the Supreme Court, his reach is only able to grasp constitutional issues, and not moral ones, which could deviate at any time. He also stressed that there is no reason to treat video games any differently than what preceded them.
The train of thought that we cannot, in fact, dictate future precedent on weak studies and gut instinct, is exactly why we have an impartial unbiased judicial branch making important constitutional decisions, and in this particular case, the Supreme Court did exactly what it was created for, in a eloquent, studied and logical fashion.
Video Games are an art form, just like the other established mediums, and it is very satisfying to see the highest court in the land acknowledge this, and hold games to the same standards of free speech that other creative forms of expression are afforded.
All I need now is Justice Scalia’s XBOX Live gamertag so we can get a Call of Duty session in before his next supreme court ruling.