Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Terminator of Free Expression

     As we discussed in class on Wednesday, violent video games are a hotly debated topic amongst lawmakers and politicians these days. Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill in 2005 that created a ban on the sale of "violent" video games to minors and imposes fines on retailers that break the law. An appeal on the ban was recently heard by the Supreme Court,  with a ruling expected sometime next year. Although I agree that there are a host of games that young children probably shouldn't play, how can a lawmaker decide what is and what isn't violence and also penalize retailers when they aren't always the reason kids get their hands on these games.
     In the fine print of the bill, a "violent" video game is defined as game that involves "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" with no "serious, literary, artistic, political or scientific value." While the law things it has covered the bases of defining "violence", these are just one group of people's views on violence. Perhaps what they see as a game that would have harmful effects on a child playing it may not be truly harmful to the child after all. In fact, the article by Henry Jenkins debunking video game myths cites a 2001 US Surgeon General report that states that the strongest risk factors for school shooters were mental stability and quality of home life. Although people are often quick to blame the media for society's problems, like youth violence, it is usually the case that there are many more significant factors than just a violent video game.
     Parents are one of the main ways that minors get access to these violent games, yet there are seemingly no repercussions levied against them in this bill. Just the other night, when Jeff and I went to buy the new Call of Duty at Gamestop, we had to produce identification to prove that we were 18 and able to buy the game. This practice is common throughout nearly all retailers when the sell R-rated movies or Mature-rated games. This means it would be very difficult for a minor to buy such a game on their own, so the parents are often the ones who purchase the game or allow the game to be played by the youngster. It is hard to blame or penalize retailers because often times they are not the ones placing these games in the childs hands: the parents are.
     Although this bill was passed with good intentions, I believe it is overly restrictive in terms of completely restricting the sale of violent games. There is already a sufficient ratings system in place and stores already abide by rules with regards to selling to minors, so where is the need for this law? Lawmakers might say the video game makers are driven solely by the money, but I'm sure the Governator pocketed a nice amount of money from his violent video games and movies too.


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