Unlike previous entries in the Revisited entries, this post will be an update to a previous post, not a retraction of previous statements
As my friends know all too well, I am a heavy video-game enthusiast. Those like me might be aware that the Supreme Court will be hearing the California proposed measure criminalizing the sale of violent video games to minors in the near future. Two bills will be but under consideration. The first, and less controversial bill, will have retailers nationwide fined $1,000 for selling M-rated games to minors. The second is considerably more controversial to the gaming community. IGN’s Thomsen writes, “The second bill would require all games deemed as "harmful material" to carry a two-inch black sticker with "18" printed on it in white letters. These games would have to be kept in separate areas in a store where minors would not have access, similar to the way pornography is cordoned off in a video rental store.” While the first bill’s good faith cannot be denied, the second bill holds considerable ramifications that can have industry-wide impacts.
Why “Video Games are Art” is Important
For the last several years, a sometimes futile debate regarding the status of video games as a medium for self-expression has raged on. Several sources like GamesRadar have dismissed this argument as trivial. However, in preventing the censorship of gaming, this argument is critical. While the artistic integrity of games like Metal Gear Solid and Okami is well known, the importance of gaming as an artistic medium is critical for the protection of gaming under the First Amendment.
If the Supreme Court finds that video games are indeed a medium for artistic expression, then the government cannot pass laws restricting the sale of games to minors. Unfortunately, there is consensus among the non-gaming community that video games are merely products from which pleasure is derived from consumers. If this view of gaming is upheld, then the state is allowed to oversee sales in the same way as tobacco and alcohol are restricted.
Video Games Cause Violence? True or False
Pundits like Jack Thompson have ignited flamewars in the last few years for accusing video-game violence for causing real world violence. While research does definitively prove that violent video games arouse visceral emotions and stimulate certain parts of the brain, more research has found an inverse relationship between violent youth crime and the increased availability of video games. A 2008 Department of Justice report found that juvenile arrests have dropped in the past decade. (See also, Grand Theft Childhood, highly recommended reading)
OBJECTION! Ignorant Pundits and Repeated Scare Strategies
Nonetheless, the “video-game violence causes real-world violence” remains a popular bandwagon for pundits to jump on. For example, Jack Thompson, made bold assertions that Seung Hui-Cho’s massacre was caused by playing Counter-Strike in high-school, despite evidence that the massacre was caused by psychiatric/social problems and that legions of violent video-game players have not exhibited the same behavior. A lack of familiarity with the complex and nuanced world of this medium can be attributed to such accusations.
Pundits have an infuriating tendency to oversimplify and misunderstand things (See, GamesRadar). Without a clear understanding of the nuances of gaming, the media makes ignorant and blatantly false claims about gaming. Adhering to archaic views of gaming, or wholly making things up (i.e. Mass Effect sex controversy), asinine and incredible views are put forward, which in turn, influence the views of the populace without familiarity with gaming. By focusing on minute details of single games, they fail to understand the big picture, and thereby lose credibility with those familiar to gaming. For example, certain groups oppositional to violent video-games support the banning of games like Grand Theft Auto and Halo because they want to protect children from accessing such content. One pundit stated that Mass Effect was a “children’s game” that allowed kids to “to engage in graphic sex”. This is untrue on two counts, Mass Effect is not intended for, and not marketed to children, it also exaggerates sex scenes radically using strong language marketable to viewers.
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