Video Games and the Supreme Court

So, the Supreme Court is going to hear some people argue about video games tomorrow. Governor Schwarzeneggar implemented a ban on the sale of violent games to minors in 2005 which was overturned as unconstitutional, and now the question on the floor is whether that decision will be upheld. Should it be against the law to sell a violent video game to a minor?

No, it shouldn’t. But even if it should, this is not the law to do it. This piece of legislation is a covert war on our art form, an attempt to preemptively deny game developers the respect they so richly deserve as serious artists and craftsmen. The Governator and everyone who sides with him think of video games as something less than real art, and while they can’t come right out and proclaim it as such on the books, they can very craftily ensure that future generations will hold that prejudice.

The evil genius of this legislation is that it manages to call video games less than art without actually saying that. No art form would be restricted in this manner, whether they admit it or not; banned from schools perhaps, but never criminalized in a marketplace. By forcing the law to treat it like a nail polish that might give you a rash, they imply a degenerate status to the form in everything but name. This example will continue to hold us back, it will serve as a reminder of what the world thinks of us, for years to come.

I won’t dwell on the irony inherent in the fact that this law originated with a man who built a career on photo-realistic, simulated violence produced for mass consumption. Nor will I point out the utter ridiculousness of the claim that the ESRB is not complex enough for some imaginary new type of violence we’ve apparently invented that is slipping through the ratings system cracks. What I will remark on is this: of all the art forms to take to task, it’s odd that we’re at the front of the line. Last time I checked, printed media has almost no ratings system whatsoever, music has a stupid little sticker and nothing else, and I won’t even get into what’s wrong with the MPAA. It seems to me that of all the ratings boards in existence, the ESRB is one of the most finely tuned, accurate, and sensitive. A parent with even a glancing interest in their child’s psychological well-being can receive a thorough dissertation on the exact contents of the product if they can find it in their hearts to turn the case over in their hands. And unlike the MPAA’s ratings, these descriptions are in readable text on a white background.

And yet here we are, getting the finger shoved in our face, being blamed for the wayward tailspin of our future generations. If this law goes back into effect, it implies that we are actually to blame for violence amongst kids, and that is a lie. Never mind the serious and unaddressed problems in our education system, never mind apathetic parents who let themselves get defeated by mass media, never mind our colossal contempt for family values, or a crumbling economy brought on by fiscal recklessness. No, it’s got to be the video games that are making our kids violent. If I was a kid right now, and I was in line to inherit the unadulterated disaster zone that the Baby Boomers have left for me, I think I’d want to hit something for a variety of reasons. And none of them would be “just because I saw it in a video game.”

I’m so sick of this song and dance. They did it to movies until the Supreme Court’s Burstyn vs. Wilson finally declared cinema an art form. They did it to comics during the 1970s with a bunch of hokum psychological studies until writers started ignoring the Comics Code. And now they’re doing it to video games. Every generation needs a scapegoat, and this time it’s us. Clearly, our persecutors are poor students of history. They’ve gone all the way to the Supreme Court, but they’ve never actually read Burstyn v. Wilson. If they had, they might notice a disturbingly melodious harmony between the insane babble so-called “concerned parents” and “experts” were pitching back then and their own voices now.

Arnold Schwarzeneggar, or whoever pulled his strings to get him behind this thing, does not understand video games. He doesn’t like video games. He’s prejudiced against them because they are a different world than his. It’s basic human nature, but here it is carried to a fiendish end because video games have no champion supporting them. There are no focus groups or media watch dogs humiliating people for slips of the tongue, or lobbying Washington like their lives depend on it. When I meet people who support this crap, the constant theme is a wrinkled-nose reaction to all gamers, everywhere. They have an image in their minds of fat slobs with no table manners and short attention spans, and their ignorance goes uncorrected. I won’t argue here about how wrong they are, both because I’ve done it before, and because it’s so bleeding obvious that it’s almost an insult to have to do it in the first place.

Besides, this is an attack on a personal level, not a logical one. They don’t like us, they want us to be different, to be more like them. It’s fine to rip people to shreds as long as it’s a movie, but as soon as you do it on an Xbox, you’re corrupting a generation. So I don’t think a logical argument is what’s needed here. What’s needed is an emotional response, something more cathartic and in keeping with the level of sophistication demonstrated by our opponents.

Very well, then. I shall fashion a reply, for anyone who thinks video games aren’t an art form, for anyone who wants to blame us for the problems our children face, or for anyone who just wants us to go away because they don’t like us. Dear those people:

Bite me.