Is Violence in Video Games Obscene?

Posted: July 1, 2011 in Current Events, Entertainment, Integral Studies, Pedagogy & Education, politics

A California law attempted to slap a “restricted” label on violent video games in order to protect children from them.  The way they tried to pass this by America’s First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech, was by arguing that violence in these games was “obscene”.  Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this was not a valid argument and overthrew the law.

While many people would like to equate violence and obscenity, the legal definition only refers to material which is related to sex.  I see it as a question of semantics.  The California law attempted to equate violence with obscenity because it would provide a legal loop hole.  However, does violence need to be “obscene” in order for it to be as bad as obscenity?  The American paranoia about anything which might compromise their Constitutional Rights, made this slight of hand necessary in order to try to pass this bill.  (Oddly, though, in other areas, where it is convenient for the Right, seriously mangling individual constitutional rights does not seem to be a serious problem.)  In Canada, we wouldn’t have the same problem.  If we judged that violence was as bad as obscenity, a bill involving its restriction would not be a constitutional problem.

That’s not to say that I think it should be restricted.  The fact that this Californian law of regulation has not been approved means that parents will have to actually take an interest in what their children are doing in order to exercise parental judgment and control.  And while that doesn’t always work, I feel it is better than some random, blanket regulation which is applied with no regard for individual circumstances or conditions.  Canada has moved away from that kind of regulation, where books, movies and other media were regulated by a censorship board staffed by bureaucrats whose values did not reflect those held by a majority of Canadians.  I still remember, as a youth of 17, being turned away from seeing “The Graduate” because of its supposedly mature content.  It’s laughable now, but it demonstrates the danger of regulating and legislating values.

Maybe it is very liberal of me, but I prefer education to legislation, for several reasons.

First of all, legislation just doesn’t work.  Especially in the current world of easy-access media, trying to keep anything out of the hands of youth is futile, whether it be of a violent or a sexual nature.  Whether it be at a friend’s house or simply being savy enough to fool parents, if a youth wants to play violent games (or check out porn), they’ll find a way to do it.

Secondly, universal standards tend to be unsatisfactory.  Let the government paint everything with the same brush and you’re asking for unnecessary censorship and valid debate about where you draw the values line.

Thirdly, regulation does nothing to advance individual responsibility and cultural development.  Education can instill values, individual decision making and social responsibility, all of which will do far more to avoid the negative consequences that the regulators are so afraid of .

And yet the U.S. Supreme Court ruling only passed by a one vote margin, suggesting that the story is not over.

And the original questions still stand.  Is violence a form of obscenity?  Or, perhaps, is it different but just as bad?  How much protection of children from violent media is justified?  What form should that protection take?

  1. Patch says:

    “And yet the U.S. Supreme Court ruling only passed by a one vote margin, suggesting that the story is not over.”

    That’s the same threadbare excuse Leland Yee and his mentally atrophied drones have used to try justifying the attempt to “try again”. When a clear majority (five or more) votes on a ruling, it’s binding precedent. That means it’s legally set in stone, whether the number of justices was five or nine. Doesn’t matter. It’s extremely rare for the Court to overrule its own binding precedent, least of all within five or ten years. By which time video games will only become more and more accepted as a medium.

    Video games have won. Get over it.

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