The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case challenging a 2005 California statute that bars selling or renting violent video games to minors. California enacted the law based on findings that such games desensitize the players to violence and make them more aggressive. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held the state’s findings on the harmful effects of video games were not unsupported and struck down the law as a violation of the First Amendment. As the WSJournal notes in yesterday’s article on the case, the video game industry argues that its rating system is more stringent than that of the movie or music industries and it should be allowed to regulate itself. The law’s supporters discount worries over its chilling effect: “I wouldn’t compare videogames to Shakespeare.” The Journal quotes the law’s author, child psychologist and Democratic state senator Leland Yee, “who says videogames are worse than other media because they’re interactive. ‘When you push a button, you literally are hurting, killing maiming another human being’ in the virtual space.”
I have a hard time wrapping my head around the “literally” in that sentence: literally hurting, killing, maiming another human in the virtual space. When I play Risk I am literally conquering another country in the board space. One may, I suppose, literally be killing an animated representation of a human being in virtual space, but it’s linguistic sleight-of-hand to conflate* game-based killing with literal battery, homicide, and mayhem. That’s the problem, of course. Proponents of similar laws regulating violence, sexual content, and the two combined argue that their corrosive effects are self-evident, particularly on children. Opponents say “prove it” and point to the lack of conclusive research. It becomes a faith-based conflict, and not in the religious sense. Each side has faith in its view of psychology and human nature.
If the Court upholds this video-game law, can laws regulating depictions of violence and sexual content in movies and television be far behind?
*Sorry, I had to get this word out of my system. I’ve been itching to use conflate since I rejected its use in class discussion today.