8-Bit Thought Bubbles

Well the Supreme Court of the United States – henceforth SCOTUS – has finally done it. I know I’m a week late but I like to review the reactionary opinions before I comment so I can wonder in amazement at how some people are both happy and sad about the decision.

In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association the California Law banning the sale of video games to minors was officially struck down, and video games were granted the same artistic free speech protections as books, movies, music and other forms of media.

For my random thoughts – and I’m going to avoid heavy legal lingo (EDIT – I half fail here) because if I wanted to talk like that I’d be practicing law right now – please join me after the break for why this was a ridiculous law and an entirely correct decision.

Let me start by saying that I hope this can finally put to rest the unreasonable restrictions on games when compared to other equally repulsive forms of media and save the taxpayers some money when overzealous legislators with a personal axe to grind try to enact silly laws. The amount of money that California – a state suffering from some of the worst debt issues in the country – spent fighting this battle is insane. I’m upset that the new governor’s name went on this decision instead of the Governator himself since this was really something passed under his watch.

The nine member bench ruled 7-2 to strike down the law with Justice Antonin Scalia writing the majority opinion. In essence the beginning of the opinion talks about states’ LONG history of trying to create unprotected forms of speech that they could then restrict, and SCOTUS’ long history of striking those rules down except in the case of things that are harmful to minors – primarily utilized with sexual explicit material.

There are so many informative pieces of information in the decision that I’d encourage all of you to read it in its entirety here (PDF Warning) - even if it takes you a few days to get through it all. The opinion takes you down memory lane of trying to restrict virtually every form of media to date including our own preferred medium here at Omnicomic!

The crusade against comic books was led by a psychiatrist, Frederic Wertham, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that “as long as the crime comic books industry exists in its present forms there are no secure homes.” Juvenile Delinquency (Comic Books): Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, 83d Cong., 2dSess., 84 (1954).

Wertham’s objections extended even to Superman comics, which he described as “particularly injurious to the ethical development of children.” Id., at 86. Wertham’s crusade did convince the New York Legislature to pass a ban on the sale of certain comic books to minors, but it was vetoed by Governor Thomas Dewey on the grounds that it was unconstitutional given our opinion in Winters, supra. See People v. Bookcase, Inc., 14 N. Y. 2d 409, 412–413, 201 N. E. 2d 14, 15–16 (1964).

For all of you “IANAL but it seems like this should be the case…” posters on comment threads around the internet, here is the Free Speech Standard that is applied when a law attempts to restrict content in the way California has attempted to do:

Because the Act imposes a restriction on the content of protected speech, it is invalid unless California can demonstrate that it passes strict scrutiny—that is, unless it is justified by a compelling government interest and is narrowly drawn to serve that interest. R. A. V., 505 U. S., at 395. The State must specifically identify an “actual problem” in need of solving, Playboy, 529 U. S., at 822–823, and the curtailment of free speech must be actually necessary to the solution, see R. A. V., supra, at 395. That is a demanding standard. “It is rare that a regulation restricting speech because of its content will ever be permissible.” Playboy, supra, at 818.

Needless to say, California isn’t even close to proving harm done. They were relying on a lesser of scrutiny that is only applied to cases of content-neutral regulation of speech. The content is the heart of the argument here by California and so they never had a leg to stand on. The psychological studies that were relied on to “prove harm” have been rejected in EVERY SINGLE CASE brought to court surrounding similar laws in the past.

Whoops…I went into the legal framework right after I said I wasn’t going to…my bad. Here is one example of an article that I can’t believe was written in reaction to the case. Is the LA Times funded by the governor’s office in California or something? Is this writer really saying that parents are too overwhelmed to make sure kids aren’t playing Postal, GTA, Condemned or some other scary, violent game?

I feel like California should face some sort of compensatory penalty for wasting EVERYONE’S time with this law. I see no reason why Real Housewives of XYZ County or Toddlers in Tiaras or anything on MTV isn’t far more damaging to youth of America than video games. Suggestive music videos (do they still make those?) and terrible music lyrics have created more violence and anger than anything I’ve ever seen from a video game.

At least the ESRB has MASSIVE warning labels on games in what I feel is one of the most stringent self-enforced ratings policies in all of media. If a parent can’t see that to keep a game out of kid’s hands, then there are bigger issues than the game itself my friends.

Our esteemed Editor-in-Chief even pointed me to this tidbit from a BBC article analyzing potential reasons for a substantial DROP in the most violent crimes out there. And guess what made the list at #9? VIDEO GAMES KEEPING KIDS OFF THE STREETS did. A study with as much validity to it as the ones held by people searching for a means to vilify video games stated that the incapacitating effect more than made up for any direct impact that has ever been “shown” of games to encourage violent behavior.

If I were going to put my money on the BIGGEST single thing encouraging kids to go out and be violent it would be those viral videos you see of people getting into fights and the perceived instant fame kids think they have when they get a million hits on YouTube beating someone up. Isn’t real life always more persuasive than fiction?

I could rant about this forever, but the bottom line is good on you SCOTUS and California. Now go work on your budget instead of spending money on junk like this.