On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from Zackery P. Morazzini for the state of California, and Paul M. Smith for the Entertainment Merchants Association, over the constitutionality of the controversial California ultraviolent video game law.
Those of us who have been following the legislation have watched the courts continuously strike down the law as unconstitutional, from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California.
The question of the impact of violent video games on children has been a hot topic for many years.
The argument is the violent and interactive nature of video games fosters violent and anti-social behavior in impressionable children.
The notion of a society fearing a new media and its influence on children is not new, however.
When a new media comes to the forefront, there are always people who will question not only its validity, but also its impact on suggestible young minds. It happened with television, comic books, radio, motion pictures, photography and all other kinds of new media whenever they first entered the social consciousness.
Some people, however, don’t give the human brain the benefit of the doubt it deserves.
We, as a people, have the most sophisticated computer on Earth sitting between our collective ears. There is no processor, no hard drive, no supercomputer on this planet that can rival the processing power and potential of the human brain.
While each of us has the same organ resting in our skulls, we are all incredibly different from one another in so many ways, both physically and mentally.
The notion that an outside source like a video game, movie, book, magazine or whatever can cause an otherwise sane and logical person to become a violent murderer is downright preposterous.
There are more than 14,000 students at UMKC, and I’d bet if you took a look around, you would be looking at many of people who play what this California law would label a “violent video game” on a daily basis.
The law, if you look at it, takes two broad approaches to defining what a “deviant” and “violent” video game is. You simply apply the vague wording of the statute to a given game then determine if it’s deviant or violent.
According to the law, a game is determined to be “deviant” or “violent” in one of two ways.
The first method has three criteria: Can the game be considered deviant or morbid to minors? Is the game patently offensive to minors? And does the game have any educational merit to minors?
The second method asks if the game itself allows the player to inflict injury on humans or human-like characters in the game.
By simply using the second method, I could label Super Mario Bros. as a violent, deviant video game.
The first method is open to much more interpretation.
What one person considers morbid, deviant or patently offensive can mean something totally different to another person.
It is vague words like this make this law, and other laws like it, inherently dangerous.
What I find offensive isn’t necessarily what someone else finds offensive. I have the freedom to walk away and ignore what offends me. It’s a nice thing about being an American.
Vagueness in a law is an understandable byproduct of how fast society advances. By the time a bill is passed and becomes a law, several years may have passed and the social climate can be entirely different than what it was when the law was first proposed.
Lawmakers know this and do what they can to give law enforcement some leeway in enforcing these laws.
This is a fact of the legal system.
The vagueness in this law, however, is far too general to be of any real use to anyone without some kind of agenda.
When we start legislating things we don’t fully understand, we begin to break down what it means to be an American.
We have the freedom to choose what we want to do, to say what we want to say, and do what we want to do, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people or their property. That freedom is a fundamental part of our country. It defines what America is all about.