Violent video games could be criminalized

The Supreme Court decided on April 26 to hear a case on a California bill that would make selling violent video games to minors illegal. While this topic has been a hotbed of controversy and debate, the Supreme Court’s decision has escalated the discussion and brought the topic to the foreground.

Many people believe that the bill is a blatant violation of the First Amendment and should be dismissed immediately. In fact, the bill was never put into use, as it was challenged as soon as is was signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Others believe that the violence that is depicted in video games can have a serious psychological affects on children whose brains are still developing.

This has caused many to wonder how violent some video games are. Let us look at Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. According to the summary on Yahoo Games, in this game, players work with gangs to earn respect. They go on missions that include theft, murder and property destruction. Most disturbing is the fact that a player can recover their health by visiting prostitutes and then recover funds by beating the prostitute to death and stealing her money.

Video games such as these are now labeled with a AO for adults only or M for mature.  The official Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) description for adults only says that “titles in this category may contain prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.” These ratings are just suggestions, and are only used to notify parents and gamers of the violence level of the game.

The bill in question would place a 4-square-inch label which says “18” onto a video game that was deemed violent by the bill’s standards by the games manufacturers. The bill’s definition of a violent video game is a “game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” Anyone who is found to have sold a video game with such a label to a minor could be fined up to $1,000.

Those who argue against this bill assert that the art and culture that is found in video games can only thrive through the protection provided by the First Amendment. The First Amendment does protect material that would be seen as offensive, but does that include offensive material that is made available to minors? Do children as young as 12 or 13 have the Constitutional right to not only watch rape and murder but to virtually carry it out?

At the moment, the answer is yes, but this bill could prevent or decrease this from happening. However, the Supreme Court has a long track record of deciding cases in favor of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court recently decided that a federal law that banned videos showing animal cruelty was unconstitutional.

In the end, it really is at the parents and/or child’s discretion. The bill could cause the sale of such video games to minors to become illegal, but a parent or elder sibling could always go and buy it for them. “It always depends on the parents,” senior Francisco Cornejo said, “Certain parents don’t mind, mine are really strict about it.”

Many parents know about the level of violence in these games and allow their children to play them anyway. So, how effective would the bill be even if it were deemed Constitutional? Obviously, people would still buy video games with a high level of violence. But there are many cases of parents not knowing what their children are playing or not understanding the amount of brutality that the game can contain that this bill would put a stop to. “People are still going to find ways to get [violent video games]” said Cornejo.

Those who support this bill are only concerned on how much the exposure to senseless violence will affect children. Their question is, does the playing of video games actually cause a child to believe that such acts are acceptable and entertaining to carry out? Most children find it easy to separate the gaming world and what it is possible to do there from the real world and what is admissible here.

Violence in video games has escalated over time, just as violence in any other media has. And as the violence escalates, so does the    controversy. Bill’s such as the one drafted in California have been introduced in twelve different states, and not one of them has been passed due to appeals and challenges from the video game industry.  The Supreme Court’s decision will place a more conclusive thought on the debate. Is it really appropriate for children to play games such as Killer 7 where they murder then collect the blood of their victims to heal themselves and slit their own wrists to spray blood and find hidden passages?