Odysseus and Snow White had a hand in striking down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors on Monday.
In a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to strike the California law, finding that the law violates minors’ first-amendment rights as the state can't prove violent games directly harm children and are no different from other media such as literature or comic books.
The law banned minors from purchasing games “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted.” Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto were singled out as examples of games that met this criteria. And, the state argued, games such as these are different from other media because they are more “interactive.” Basically, the ability to act — by proxy — as the one punching, kicking or killing in a video game distinguishes it from other media, the state argued.
In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said that there is no precedent to shield children from violence, citing more graphic passages from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Dante’s Inferno as examples of violent books that are even taught in schools.
The government has the right to protect children from harm, Scalia said, but California did not prove these games show “a direct causal link between violent video games and harm to minors” any more than the gruesome eye-plucking scene with the cyclops from Homer’s Odyssey.
I, for one, agree with the court, knowing that I get shivers from imagining the torture in George Orwell’s 1984, but am somehow relatively unfazed by the spine-ripping, heart-tearing final moves in Mortal Kombat.
Whether those kinds of games are in poor taste or not is a different matter. I certainly think parents should learn about the games their kids want to buy — and understand the industry’s own rating system — to make their own decisions about what’s appropriate for their children. But I’d say that parents should make their own judgements about any other medium, be it a book, movie, play or art exhibit.
As savvy media consumers, I’m interested to hear what you have to say about the differences — or lack thereof — between video games and other forms of media.
Do you think a video game is ultimately more interactive than other media?