You've most likely heard of the Schwarzenegger vs EMA court case by now, in which the state is attempting to convince the Supreme Court to make it illegal to sell violent video games to minors.
This may sound like a wise and well-intentioned principle, but intelligent folk know we already have a rating system which also encourages parents to, you know, parent, and not put the power of judgment as to what is or isn't harmful in the state.
Even more importantly, this law would likely see major retailers refusing to stock what we now call "mature" content so as to avoid potential penalties, and in turn, far fewer "mature" games would be made.
The first hearing for the case was yesterday, and as gamers, you'll be happy and amused to know the judges are a logical bunch, and with a wry sense of humor to boot. Rock, Paper, Shotgun have highlighted several sharp and at times funny retorts from the judges ("a little improvised comedy"), of which we've included a few below.
Justice Sotomayor: One of the studies, the Anderson study, says that the effect of violence is the same for a Bugs Bunny episode as it is for a violent video. So can the legislature now, because it has that study, outlaw Bugs Bunny?
Justice Scalia: That same argument could have been made when movies first came out. They could have said, oh, we’ve had violence in Grimm’s fairy tales, but we’ve never had it live on the screen. I mean, every time there’s a new technology, you can make that argument.
Justice Scalia: I’m concerned about the producer of the games who has to know what he has to do in order to comply with the law. And you’re telling me a jury can — of course, a jury can make up its mind, I’m sure. But a law that has criminal penalties has to be clear. And how is the manufacturer to know whether a particular violent game is covered or not? Does he convene his own jury and try it before — you know I really wouldn’t know what to do as a manufacturer.
Morazzini: I am convinced that the video game industry will know what to do. They rate their video games every day on the basis of violence. They rate them for the intensity of the violence.
Justice Scalia: I am concerned with the First Amendment, which says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. And it was always understood that the freedom of speech did not include obscenity. It has never been understood that the freedom of speech did not include portrayals of violence. You are asking us to create a whole new prohibition which the American people never ratified when they ratified the First Amendment. …What’s next after violence? Drinking? Movies that show drinking? Smoking?
Justice Kagan: Would a video game that portrayed a Vulcan as opposed to a human being, being maimed and tortured, would that be covered by the act?
Morazzini: No, it wouldn’t, because the act is only directed towards the range of options that are able to be inflicted on a human being.
Justice Sotomayer: So if the video producer says this is not a human being, it’s an android computer simulated person, then all they have to do is put a little artificial feature on the creature and they could sell the video game?
Morazzini: Under the act, yes, because California’s concern, I think this is one of the reasons that sex and violence are so similar, these are base physical acts we are talking about, Justice Sotomayor. So limiting, narrowing our law here in California, there in California to violence = violent depictions against human beings.
Justice Sotomayer: So what happens when the character gets maimed, head chopped off and immediately after it happens they spring back to life and they continue their battle. Is that covered by your act? Because they haven’t been maimed and killed forever. Just temporarily.
And a personal favourite:
Justice Scalia: You should consider creating such a one (advisory office). You might call it the California Office of Censorship. It would judge each of these video games one by one. That would be very nice.
Morazzini: Your honor, we ask juries to judge sexual material and its appropriateness for minors as well. … California is not acting as a censor. It is telling manufacturers and distributors to look at your material and to judge for yourself.
It's noted Chief Justice Roberts does have a major hangup for the infamous Postal 2, but overall the outcome looks like it will be good for gamers at this early stage. The decision will be made as late as June 2011, but could be long before then.