Gambling / Gaming, SCOTUS, Video games

The Hacking and Slashing of Free Speech: To Protect Children of Course

Some people thought Contra was too violent.

The Supreme Court is on record as being a grand protector of the people’s right to free speech — so long as by “speech” we mean money and by “people” we mean corporations. But when it comes to the right of artists (in this case, video game producers) to do their thing, the Court wants to take a closer look.

And so tomorrow (Tuesday) the Court will hear oral argument in the case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association. If you’ve been too busy riding roughshod over zombie ranchers to follow along, the key issue is the constitutionality of a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors. The Ninth Circuit already threw the law out, and other Circuits have dispensed with similar state laws on free speech grounds. But SCOTUS apparently wants to take a look at the restrictions…

To be clear, SCOTUS is not looking at the movie industry. The people who brought Psychotic Torture Snuff Film Seven in 3-D are secure in their speech rights. No, SCOTUS is singling out video games because lawmakers are singling out video games because old people have a reflexive need to ruin everything. From the Wall Street Journal:

The California law’s author, state Sen. Leland Yee, 61 years old, is a child psychologist 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, the Democrat says.

Dear State Senator Dumb-Ass: you cannot literally hurt or kill another human being in the virtual space. That’s impossible. Maybe you’ve been watching too many movies like the Matrix where if you kill someone virtually, they die in real life. Maybe Leo DiCaprio planted this idiotic idea in your brain while you were sleeping. But if you actually played a video game (violent or otherwise) you’d learn that no real person literally dies in these titles. There is no spoon. Unless you are playing some totally off-the-hook version of Assassin’s Creed, you’re a goddamn idiot.

Even though we’re still a long way away from having a Supreme Court justice who even played Pitfall (think about that for a second, the people deciding whether or not video games are too violent for kids never played Pitfall as a child, never had their minds blown by Super Mario — and yet these are the people who are in charge for the rest of their lives) I’d normally have confidence that the Nine would see the obvious overriding concerns of free speech. But the Court’s recent history is frightening:

[I]n recent years the Supreme Court has been taking a more paternalistic view toward youth. In 2007, the high court approved punishing a high school student for hoisting a banner that allegedly made light of smoking marijuana, finding antidrug policies outweighed student free-speech rights.

In other rulings, the court has reduced maximum penalties for juvenile offenders, reasoning they are less culpable than adults because their characters are not yet fully developed.

This why Nanny-State policies are bad: they insert the federal government into roles that are best left to parents and their own strategies for raising their children. My mother didn’t like me playing with guns, so I never had fake guns, all my G.I. Joe’s were stripped of their weapons before they got to me, and I mostly played sports video games growing up — I had to beg and get straight A’s forever to get a copy of Contra (and you wonder why I used to get my ass kicked). That was my mom’s choice, other parents thought differently.

If parents are paying even minimal attention to their children, then games that are inappropriate for their kids are really obvious. But maybe you’re the parent that is able and willing to take the time to put these games “in context” for your kids? That’s what my parents did for me with violent movies:

Little Elie: Mommy, why are they beating that man and calling him Toby?
Mom: Well that’s what they used to do during slavery times.
Little Elie: I don’t want to be slave.
Dad: Sshh… they’re about to cut off his foot.

If the Court is willing to ignore the rights of video game publishers, let’s hope they’ll not easily ignore the rights of parents. Parents, not virtually challenged tight-asses like Leland Yee, should be deciding what kinds of video games their kids should be playing.

Videogames as Free-Speech Issue [Wall Street Journal]
Video Games are Free Speech? [Constitutional Confab]

Earlier: Money’s Assault on American Politics Is Well Underway — Thanks to the Psychological Effects of Citizens United

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