Ruling appealed for violence in games

The Supreme Court on Nov. 2 debated the state of California’s controversial 2005 video game law. The law, which bans the sale of violent video games to minors, has never gone into effect. The video game industry sued, citing violation of the First Amendment, and the 9th circuit appellate court overturned the law in 2009.

Now, California is appealing the ruling and the case has made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices voted Nov. 2 to hear the case, and is expected to hear the case in June 2011. The Court’s ruling on this subject could have major effects on violent content in all forms of media. Previous rulings have maintained that sexual content and obscenity should be regulated, but the current regulation does not extend to violent content.

The video game industry has been using a ratings system similar to that employed by the MPAA for years.  Since 1994, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) assigns ratings to video games sold in North for America. “E” for “everyone” games are the rough equivalent of a G-rated motion picture, “T” for “teen” corresponds with a PG-13 rating, and “M” for “mature” with R-rated films.

Games given an “M” rating by the ESRB contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual themes and content, use of alcohol and drugs or frequent use of strong language. Gaming consoles refuse to license video games that have not been rated by the ESRB, and all video game retailers have a policy against selling M-rated games to children under the age of 17.

This is not a perfect system, but then again, no system is. The intent is, combined with parental supervision, should effectively prevents children from being exposed to violence, language or sexual content beyond their capacity. Ultimately, parents should be responsible for what their children see, and I have a serious problem with the government taking over parents’ responsibilities.

Of further concern, however, is what this ruling could mean for the entertainment industry. If the law is not struck down, Americans can expect the close regulation and restriction of violent content to extend to comic books and many other forms of media. Rich Taylor, vice president of communications for Entertainment Software Association, the group representing the industry in the case, has similar concerns: “It begins with the fact (that) computer video games are deserving of same protected constitutional rights as any other medium …One reason a book publisher, the movie and music industry and broadcasters all put in briefs supporting our cause is they see the danger.”

California might have children’s best interests in mind with this law, but the consequences of its passage are ones this country will regret. Losing liberty is seldom a one-step process these days. It is a slow, almost unnoticeable chain of events that begins with the best of intentions and ends in a very dark place. Perhaps it has already begun. Some would certainly argue that it has. Regardless, it would be best not to speed it along.

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