I’ve talked about California’s violent video game law a couple times in this blog and the hearings to begin the debate over the law has finally begun. For those unfamiliar, the law, given the ultra-sexy name of AB1179, was signed into law in 2005 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was appealed before it could be put into practice and it has been bouncing around the court system like a frag grenade in Call of Duty, just waiting to blow up in someone’s face. The first day’s opening arguments have been covered extensively, and the general consensus from the media is that the judges are sympathetic to the defense.
For the prosecutors, they frame the debate as a measure to protect children from buying games that harmful to them. For the defendants they see it as an attack on free speech and the first amendment. If it were to pass, it would make it illegal for retailers to sell games deemed violent to anyone under 18. The games must also be labeled with an +18 sticker on it and retailers will be fined for any infractions. It basically makes violent video games as restricted as porn or cigarettes. The defendants also warn that if the law is upheld, it is only a matter of time before the law goes after movies, books, or TV. The main issue for the justices, is that the prosecutors are being too vague in both their definition of a violent video game and that video games alone will lead to psychological and physical violence.
Ted Price, founder of Insomniac games has a great interview with G4 here
It’s a little long but worth a view if you want to get a sense of why banning the sale of games could be problematic to an industry who’s biggest market is between 18-30.
I’m optimistic becuase I don’t agree with how this law could “protect children” They make it sound like violent video games are hanging around school yards, seducing children and then defiling them when they go home. Because when you think about it, a video game console has probably the strictest parental controls of any form of entertainment. Not only are most game consoles these days much too expensive for kids to buy on their own, they also come with built in parental control options which let you control what games the kid can play and for how long.
What’s more is that the video game industry already has a much more comprehensive and strict rating board, the ESRB. For a game to be sold in North America, it has to be rated, and the ERSB rates game with clear categories (Everyone, Everyone 10 and up, Teens, and Mature) and descriptions of the game’s content (Cartoon violence, mild language, suggestive themes etc.). This law would put a large +18 sticker on a game that already has a rating and they could contradict. It might be a teen rated game that can only be sold to people 18 and over.
Most of all, and I think this is where the case will fall apart, is that they must prove that violent video games cause violence in a significant and unique way from any other form of media. I’d like to take this time to note that I played Duke Nukem 3D as a kid, as game where you could shoot “Pig Cops” (They were actually pigs) and aliens in the face with shotguns then head to the strip bar and press space bar to have the dancers show you their boobs. I’ve also played soldier of fortune as a kid, one of the first games to feature location based dismemberment of your enemies (shoot him in the arm, his arm flies off). I was a big fan of Halo, Coutner Strike, and countless other video games where the point of the game was to murder other people, aliens or zombies.
And my Year to date real life body count? 0.