The Thursday Blog: Keep Your Laws Off My Video Game Edition

California vs. the Entertainment Merchants Association and Entertainment Software Association. This case concerns the law, passed in 2005, that got the ball rolling that stopped last week in Washington DC, at the steps of the Supreme Court. Boiled down, the law institutes a $1000.00 penalty per infraction for the sale of violent video games to minors. What constituted a “violent video game” was to be determined by the State using a variation of the Miller Test, slanted towards violence instead of titties. Currently games are rated by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) as anywhere from “Early Childhood” to “Adults Only”. These ratings are suggestions only and are not legally enforceable.

At first blush, this doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Since parents effectively own their children until 18 years of age, it makes sense that they should have the ability to censor that child’s experience of the world in any way that aligns with their own narrow, self-interested point of view. And if you’re gonna make it illegal to sell crap to kids, there has to be a penalty, right? Right.

But that’s not the problem here.

The problem is with the yardstick. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say I were asking you to approve content for your four year old. Would it be okay if I showed her a stabbing? How about someone getting blown up? Run down by a car? It sounds horrible, but if you add falling off a cliff and struck on the head by a plummeting anvil (ACME brand, of course) it starts to make a bit more sense. Utilizing this test doesn’t just cover your Grand Theft Autos and your Postal IIs, even Super Mario Bros. was deemed violent enough to keep out of the hands of the kiddies.

The law (and the test) makes no distinction between cartoonish violence and realistic violence, because if it did the whole thing would immediately fall apart. Video games, no matter how realistic, are all depicting fake violence. And our tolerance for fake violence is so much greater than it is for real violence, you might begin to suspect that they’re not even the same thing.

Human children have always been raised on images of violence. Antonin Scalia (of all people) asked how this law might eventually affect Grimm’s Fairie Tales, a classic set of horrifying and deeply violent tales that pretty much any kid in the literate world knows by heart in one form or another. I can’t think of a single Disney movie that wouldn’t fall into this category.

The State of California maintains that video games create their own special category, owing to the increased involvement of the user. (Compared to books or video entertainment.) To be fair, there are studies that support this. To be subversive, many of those studies have been discredited by more legitimate statisticians, and there are an even greater number of studies that show no causal link between violent video games and violent gamers. (There has been a proven inclination for violent people to be attracted to violent games, but duh.) Overall, while the sales of video games to minors has risen dramatically in the past decade, violent offenses among the same groups has fallen to an all time low.

Thus far the Governator and his posse of censors have been defeated in court twice, as has every other state that has tried this. California is the first to appeal even once, much less all the way to the Supreme Court. Watchers of the Supremes say that while it is not necessarily an open and shut case, it would be both unusual and out of character for the court to rule against the First Amendment, protecting freedom of speech and beating up fake hookers. The court did indicate that they might be more willing to look at a narrower law to “protect” the kiddies, possibly indicating that they are less willing to let this one fly.

One way or another, a decision is expected in June.

74 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Keep Your Laws Off My Video Game Edition

  1. Let’s see: Disney movies that don’t fall into any kind of violence standard problems…

    The Parent Trap
    The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
    The Absent-Minded Professor
    The Shaggy Dog

      • four that I came up with on the spur of the moment in just about 60 seconds…you just said you couldn’t think of a single one, so I figured I’d help you out. There are plenty more, The Boatniks and the Barefoot Executive for example, that haven’t got violence in them.

        • Yes, there are Disney movies without violence in them, even if some of the ones you named are some of the more obscure ones. But come on, let us be honest, Disney movies are riddled with violence and adult themes. The only reason they get away with it is because Disney has managed to weasel its way into everyone’s homes and establish itself as part of American culture. Questioning anything Disney is like insulting baseball and apple pie in the eyes of the masses.

          I have no idea what The Boatniks and the Barefoot Executive are, but everyone knows Beauty and the Beast. You know, the story about the emotionally abusive “beast” who holds a young woman and her father hostage until Stockholm Syndrome kicks in. How about The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Pocahontas, Pirates of the Caribbean, Nightmare Before Christmas? You know, all the big more resent movies?

          All I’m saying is that what California is doing is incredibly hypocritical. All these “concerned parents” out there are happy to sit their kids in front of the TV and a Disney movie about an abusive relationship like Beauty and the Beast but god forbid their kids play a “violent” game.

      • I remember “the computer wore tennis shoes, though it has been a while, So I used int internet.

        From wikipedia:” Riley single-handedly leads Medfield’s team in victories against other colleges. During the tournament, a trigger word causes Riley to unknowingly recite on television details of Arno’s gambling ring. Arno’s henchmen kidnap Riley and plan to kill him, but his friends help him escape. During the escape Dexter suffers a concussion ”

        Um, kidnapping, attempted murder and assult?

        Shaggydog, a story also about kidnapping, attempted murder, with a little bit of the bad guy trying to “get rid of” his own daughter….

        Original parent trap the kids lured bears to the tent of the “bad woman” with a trail of honey… and while the bear did not eat her, IRL it COULD be a bad influence… if you believe in this kind of censorship…

        Even the absent minded professor cheated amateur sports using them in a basketball game.

        So at best, half of your choices would be banned. Point goes to Keven IMO. Even your “non-violent” examples are violent… Neener neener neener 😀

  2. “Overall, while the sales of video games to minors has risen dramatically in the past decade, violent offenses among the same groups has fallen to an all time low.”
    That’s because, according to a study, it actually helps calm people, letting them “act out” their violent impulses and thus less likely to feel a need to kill people for real. Sort of like masturbating, I suppose*.
    Like, say, smashing a sign with a shovel helps some people in venting pent up rage so they don’t kill their bitch of a boss(though it does not help them keep their jobs for some reason, go figure).
    Also, shovels are deceptively sharp. Or so I’ve heard.

    Personally I quite agree with this view. I also wouldn’t be surprised if films and books were actually worse than games in that regard, as they fill your head with potentially “bad” notions but don’t let you vent it. Basically you’re soaking up bloodlust while sitting idly(and sitting idly also makes you concentrate even more on the film/book).

    *So a game that makes you kill people while masturbating is actually a highly effective therapeutic activity that psychologists should recommend to everyone?

    • Regarding games that let you kill people while masturbating: I read an article once about female gamers who use the force-feedback controllers to get themselves off while playing violent video games.

      • You are begging the question, Orald, as to whether or not ANYONE actually “soaks up bloodlust” on any level while consuming any type of media.

        @Ron: How did you not think to forward that to me?

        • Sorry. It was something I read years ago – possibly even before we met. I know that’s no excuse, and I will try to do better.

        • You do soak up “bloodlust”, but I guess it’s to various degrees with different people and there are all kinds of “bloodlust”. Ever watched some steering, epic battle scene that caused you to want to fight, even by just playing a game? Violence isn’t just wanting to go on a murder spree, it’s also wanting to bash some orc heads(which is technically still a murder spree, only you racist humans and demi-humans think it’s OK because they’re not human, always chaotic-evil and might have some loot) after watching, say, the Helm’s Deep scene in LoTR: TTT(or, alternatively, after watching that battle you really want to murder Orlando Bloom, if you haven’t wanted to do so already).

          It’s like getting hungry reading all the damn rich dishes GRRM lovingly describes in ASoIaF, or getting horny from watching porn. What you see makes you think about it, it’s just a question of how much you do so and where those thoughts lead you, if at all.

            • Well, you’re no fun then. How can you play RPG’s without imagining yourself as part of the action sometimes? Or are you taking my words to mean the “inspired to run amok in a kindergarten” level of bloodlust, which, again, I wasn’t referring to, even though it’s all connected.
              That, of course, only happens when I see children screaming and crying in stores or the street, which is why I propose to ban kids. Or at least tie their mouths shut whenever they’re not being fed and until they grow up.
              I think a total ban would work better.

              Anyway, there’s a reason why most games out there, even simple ones, are about killing and destroying things. It’s human nature, we’re predators, hunters, and we need to hunt or fight something, even disguised as giant, anthropomorphic mushrooms.

              Next they’ll be telling us kids mustn’t hear about sex or be aware it exists. Oh, damn, too late for that. 😕

  3. Hopefully sanity will win the day in the Court of Supremeness. I am truly not surprised by this law being from california. I lived there for a couple of years in the 90’s and was thanking the gods and powers when I finally got assigned somewhere the frac else. Of course, California too, is one of the states where a legislator has tried to pass a law setting pi as equal to three. (many years ago, but still…) During the time I lived there I found that stupidity was rampant in the CA government.

        • There are parachutes in the bible? Clearly when I tried to read it I started in the wrong place because I got bored silly of a bunch of begat lines.

          • I feel the urge to show that there are some facinating laws here in Norway too.

            “If you challenge a man to a fist fight to the death, he must accept or pay a penalty of 4 deer.”

            “By law males must go off on expeditions of rape and plunder to nearby countries at least every 5 years.”

            • How soon can I get a Norwegian citizenship and start with the burnin’&lootin’?

              Also, the first law is dumb even by ancient standards, at least the way you told it. If it’s simply like that with no restrictions it’s a legal way for some strong, greedy bandit to pummel people to death or get their money, all under approval of the government. I’m guessing it’s more a thing about “honor” conflicts and such, same as trial by battle.

              • Hmm, i always used to wonder why we had all those damn deer…….

                Oh, and another law..
                “On long winter days, when the sun does not rise, women must make themselves available to satisfy their husbands sexual pleasures.”

                😛

      • Oh, I believe you Kevin. Not that Washington State was any better, either. California just happens to be a place I do have experience with. In the end, I think the problem is that we as a nation are (mostly) a nation of the retarded led by the gibberingly insane. 🙄

        😈 Although, that characterization is probably disingenous, and mean spirited.
        I mean, I shouldn’t necessarily be derisive of retarded persons by saying they act like Americans. That just supports cliches and sterotypes which perpetuate bigotry. After all, with enough socialization and support, the retarded can begin living on their own and fully integrate into society. After a time, you won’t even know they are there. 😈

        I pulled the above out of the American Society of Satire. That’s right, I pulled it out of my ASS. I still think it’s funny though, if sadly true.

  4. my parents let me play any video game I wanted when I was little, (including some very violent ones)

    girls claim to break up with me because im too nice

    these two facts make me think that exposing violence to children turns them into savages is bullshit

    on the other hand maybe years of violent video games has sapped the normal human violent tendency’s so I wound up being extra nice? who knows

  5. Pffft. Luxury.

    In MY country it’s even illegal to sell violent video games to Adults! They won’t include an R rating for video games because it’s pointless. You see only children play Video games and parents are too stupid to be trusted with those sorts of important child raising decisions.

    As a result more and more publishers are not even bothering to try to get their games into Oz

    Oh yeah and the are still spending a fortune trying to work out how to censor the internet…

    • Australia has always had some… cautious… views on how much of the rest of the world to let in. After the cane toads, I guess it’s understandable.

    • Censor the internet..yah…good luck with that particular timewaster…the whole POINT of the internet is to make sure information can get to whomever wants it, even if most of the network were completely destroyed (It started as ARPANET, which was supposed to facilitate communication between universities and the military so that military research could continue during/after a nuclear war)

    • Germany doesn’t allow blood or dismemberments, from what I hear, and some games “replace” humans with “robots” that might even bleed “oil”. The last one I’ve heard was done to various C&C titles.

    • Stop them would you? It should be easy, just dig up all the dead hooker stories the primary politicians involved in that mess are hiding and repeat on their successors until no politician pushes that agenda anymore.

        • Only if you blackmail them first and then reveal the dirty details anyway. Hmm… this is probably the right way to do it so that you can fund the venture with its own activity.

          • But you lose credibility very fast after the first few reveals, so no one would bother paying. You’d better get a whole lot of them to pay for your silence and only then reveal them all at once.

            • Focus! The point is overthrowing Australian political aspirations to institute a great-firewall-of-Australia. The whole point of that exercise is to be able to perform unlimited censorship of anything and everything on the internet and case history has shown that these sorts of dysfunctional developments of government tend to snowball into worse things and inspire copyright crimes against the public good in other countries.

              • I’m tired, I meat to write copycat crimes against the public good by other governments, not copyright crimes against the public good in other countries.

              • I thought we were talking about ways to make easy money from extorting corrupt public figures, and then having fun by exposing them anyway.
                Mmm…money…

  6. You would think that Arnie would not be that into banning violent images considering he gained the severe majority of his American popularity off violent movies…

    • He has many friends in the movie industry. The movie industry is watching multi-billion openings for Halo series games and saying, “They’re too successful, this must stop!” So his friends call him up and….

        • It does but the real reason is that the California rich right-wing is totally insane. The Orange County idiots scare each other with stories of their own silver-spoon kids getting into their prescription drugs and forming gangs which blah, blah, blah. These are the people who launched Ronald Reagan’s career as an empty shirt who is repressive of everything (the war on drugs, the war on pornography) and making nice with the lunatic religious fringe (which has gotten America in so much trouble over recent decades).

          • I think you meant to say that the entire STATE is totally insane. I mean, both Barbie-doll Boxer and Princess Pelosi got re-elected, what further evidence do you need that my entire state should be just sliced off and allowed to fall into the pacific?

            California is Breakfast Cereal country: The land of Fruits, Nuts, and Flakes and no mistake.

            • I’m fairly sure there must be at least a two digit number of sane people in the state so therefore that would be an untrue statement. Besides, the weed-smoker brigade and the San Fran gay-rights (non log-cabin Republican) crowds are not responsible for Arnold’s launch into politics and the staffers who make his decisions (to name just two of the non-Republican subdivisions of California weird). Therefore I limited myself to talking about the relevant subgroup of the mentally infirm in that state.

              • California is not the first state to try this, and the people of California are no different from any of the rest of us. The only difference I personally see is that California has a governor with big time Presidential aspirations who is looking for a high profile cause to attach himself to, to put him in the White House. It is exactly the same strategy he used to become Governor. (Though that cause was a different “child protection” issue.)

                • Unless my memory fails me then Arnie couldn’t become the President of the USA because he isn’t a born US citizen….or words to that effect.

                  • They even made fun of that in a movie…”Oh, he was so popular they passed a new ammendment so he could be president.”

                    • Demolition Man, I believe, with the Arnold Schwarzenegger Presidential Museum. Hell, the entire film is basically a peek into an extreme version what would happen if the entire world were allowed to become censored and wrapped in cotton wool to protect it’s precious, PRECIOUS ”innocence’. Today they censor violent videogames, tomorrow you can’t have sex without a license.

  7. You live in Cali, Elfguy?
    I’m so sorry…
    >picks up phone< "yes we need an extraction team to pick up Elfguy, he's stuck in (dramatic pause) Cali…"

    I always thought it was granola…Oh wait, people actually eat granola for breakfast. I just use the stuff for poisoning pigeons. No additives required!
    Diane Feinstein is the one that always pissed me off. Another “do it for the children” gun-grabber.
    Don’t you just love how a lot of these d.i.f.t.c. types quote some set of figures, and later you find ou that those figures include people 18-24 years of age as children.

    • What are ya, socialist? Let him arrange his own extraction using the resources provided by the free market. 😉

      • Nope. Libertarian Philanthropist, actually. And, I never said it was going to be free of charge. Rescue first, bill afterwards.
        I believe in doing charitable things, I just don’t believe in having the government do them.
        Edit: Originally made a funny joke here about dueling in response to ac’s joking question, and marked it as such. System somehow ate it. No big deal. You should laugh here.

  8. I dug up some more laws….

    In Texas, it’s against the law for anyone to have a pair of pliers in his or her possession.

    In Philadelphia, you can’t put pretzels in bags based on an Act of 1760.

    Alaska law says that you can’t look at a moose from an airplane.

    In Corpus Christie, Texas, it is illegal to raise alligators in your home.

    In Miami, it is forbidden to imitate an animal.

    It is against the law to mispronounce the name of the State of Arkansas in that State.

    In Illinois, the law is that a car must be driven with the steering wheel.

    California law prohibits a woman from driving a car while dressed in a housecoat.

    In Memphis, Tennessee, a woman is not to drive a car unless a man warns approaching motorists or pedestrians by walking in front of the car that is being driven.

    In Tennessee, it is against the law to drive a car while sleeping.

    In New York, it is against the law for a blind person to drive an automobile.

    In West Virginia, only babies can ride in a baby carriage.

    In Georgia, it is against the law to slap a man on the back or front.

    A barber is not to advertise prices in the State of Georgia.

    In Louisiana, a bill was introduced years ago in the State House of Representatives that fixed a ceiling on haircuts for bald men of 25 cents.

    In Oklahoma, no baseball team can hit the ball over the fence or out of a ballpark.

    In Rochester, Michigan, the law is that anyone bathing in public must have the bathing suit inspected by a police officer !

    In Kentucky, it’s the law that a person must take a bath once a year.

    In Utah, birds have the right of way on any public highway.

    In Ohio, one must have a license to keep a bear.

    In Tennessee, a law exists which prohibits the sale of bologna (sandwich meat) on Sunday.

    In Virginia, the Code of 1930 has a statute which prohibits corrupt practices or bribery by any person other than political candidates.

    In Providence, Rhode Island, it is against the law to jump off a bridge.

    In the State of Kansas, you’re not allowed to drive a buffalo through a street.

    In Florida, it is against the law to put livestock on a school bus.

    In New Jersey, cabbage can’t be sold on Sunday.

    In Galveston, Texas, it is illegal to have a camel run loose in the street!

    In North Carolina, it is against the law for dogs and cats to fight.

    In Cleveland, Ohio, it is unlawful to leave chewing gum in public places.

    In Virginia, chickens cannot lay eggs before 8:00 a.m., and must be done before 4:00 p.m.

    In New York, it is against the law for children to pick up or collect cigarette and cigar butts.

    In Massachusetts, it is against the law to put tomatos in clam chowder.

    In Washington State, you can’t carry a concealed weapon that is over 6 feet in length.

    In San Francisco, there is an ordinance, which bans the picking up and throwing of used confetti.

    In Kentucky, it is illegal for a merchant to force a person into his place of business for the purpose of making a sale.

    It is against the law in Connecticut for a man to write love letters to a girl whose mother or father has forbidden the relationship.

    In Michigan, married couples must live together or be imprisoned.

    In Phoenix, Arizona, you can’t walk through a hotel lobby with spurs on.

    In California, a law created in 1925 makes it illegal to wiggle while dancing.

    In Utah, daylight must be visible between dancing couples.

    In Michigan, it is against the law for a lady to lift her skirt more than 6 inches while walking through a mud puddle.

    In North Carolina, it is against the law for a rabbit to race down the street.

    In Georgia, it’s against the law to spread a false rumor.

    In West Virginia, one can’t cook sauerkraut or cabbage due to the odors and the offence is subject to imprisonment.

    In Missouri, a man must have a permit to shave.

    The law states that more than 3000 sheep cannot be herded down Hollywood Blvd. at any one time.

    In Texas, it is still a “hanging offense” to steal cattle.

    And finally my favorite;
    In the state of Colorado, a pet cat, if loose, must have a tail-light !

    • “In Georgia, it’s against the law to spread a false rumor.”
      That is one of the best laws I’ve heard. If only half the people obeyed it the world would be a much better place.

      I’m guessing you copied from one of the many “silly laws” lists out there. Now, I have a little problem with those. Over a third of the laws mentioned are common, sensible laws(if sometimes the wording is a bit specific, like naming a certain animal species as opposed to “wildlife”, probably meaning it’s a specific law made after a precedent occurred for which there was no law against at the time), another third or more is about “public decency”(which are obviously outdated but understandable and not all that silly in the “WTF?” way) and the rest are either silly laws or probably specific, and outdated, laws that have been presented with such wording so they’ll look sillier than they are.
      For example: “In Missouri, a man must have a permit to shave.” Does that mean to shave himself or to be a barber? My money is on the second, more reasonable interpretation.

      I’m not against showing ancient, outdated laws that make no sense in today’s context, it’s just that many seem to be decent laws taken out of context and presented in a bad way. Which brings to mind that nice law from before regarding the spread of false rumors.

      I don’t know, it just pisses me off.

      • Pisses me off too, because when I see lists of silly laws, I get the unconquerable urge to go to those states and deliberately break them. It’s expensive!

    • “In Washington State, you can’t carry a concealed weapon that is over 6 feet in length.”

      Obvously, this law was passed with duelling Immortals in mind. Take this, hammerspace!

      • Or those Indian whip-swords- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urumi and similar weapons.
        Do telescopic weapons or ones that can be taken apart for easier storage/concealment(like you always see in action films involving hitmen) also count? In short, even though it looks silly at first glance there are real, if rare weapons that would actually qualify under the ban.

    • My favorite is the Memphis law. I can just picture myself running in front of my wife’s car, warning oncoming traffic that she’s a-comin down the road…

  9. In the “weird News” today, French judges have determined that a car company can, in fact, name their new car the “Zoe” after several families sued because their kids were named Zoe.

    In related news, Ford Prefect had no comment.

  10. I may be to late to comment on this thread but I believe that in the Absent Minded Professor, Professor Brainard attacks his romantic rival with his car bouncing up and down on it in a (relatively) high speed chase and chuckling away and in the computer wore Tennis shoes the hero is electrocuted (Which is how he gains the computer powers) both violent incidents (Technicaly)