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Law Professors on the California Violent Video Game Bill 44

Rydia writes "In light of the California Legislature's amendment and consideration of AB 1792, regarding violent video games, Findlaw's Vikram Amar (UC-Hastings) and Alan Brownstein (UC-Davis) have written an editorial on a child's vs. an adult's protections under the first amendment, and the right of the state to introduce legislation in this vein. It is welcome to see the topic discussed on its own legal merits, in lieu of actual law, and not the moralistic turf both sides of the debate have attempted to claim as their own."
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Law Professors on the California Violent Video Game Bill

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  • morality (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fateswarm ( 590255 ) on Saturday May 01, 2004 @01:16PM (#9028651) Homepage
    We humans have most of the times a distorted idea of morality. How come a violent picture produces violence? How come a 'bad' show up produces evil? The greatest people of this world were the ones that were able to see violence, to see the 'bad' things and still stay calm in front of them.

    We should try to make ourselves better and our environment will become better eventually.
    • The Passion of the Christ is considered by many to be the most violent movie they have ever seen. [suntimes.com]

      I'll just let you turn that one over in your head.
    • What does this have to do with morality?

      As for violence producing violence, there have been psychological studies on children that show that children are likely to produce actions that they see in TV programs and other media.

      As for making ourselves "better" (whatever is meant by that), I don't see how playing violent games is going make someone "better".

      I'm assuming your point is that something (like, say, American History X) can be violent but help people to learn. The reality is that the violence in a
  • Video Games? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Meneudo ( 661337 ) on Saturday May 01, 2004 @01:53PM (#9028938)
    As far as I see it, there are other problems in the world that need more attention than deciding whether or not kids should play violent video games.

    As far as I see it, let kids play violent video games all their life. But don't try to take it out on the video game industry because you screwed up. Otherwise, make a squeaky clean society in which nothing that encourages a crime can be aired/made into a video game.
  • My take (Score:4, Interesting)

    by black mariah ( 654971 ) on Saturday May 01, 2004 @01:57PM (#9028967)
    The gaming industry should, as a whole, start regulating itself. Start forbidding retailers from sellings M rated games to minors. I like my Vice City as much as the next guy, but if a 13 year old is going to be playing it, their parents should be aware of the content and it should be up to them whether it's allowed in their house or not (for the record, I'd let my kids play it). By restricting the sale to minors, you don't bring up any more issues than not allowing kids into R rated movies does. This is something every gamer should get behind, just as most everyone did with the ratings system a few years back. The more the industry and its customers regulate themselves, the less the goverment gets involved.
    • Re:My take (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Babbster ( 107076 )
      Self-regulation is super in concept but impossible to implement effectively. The fact is that video games are sold in too many disparate types of outlets for there to be a cohesive policy that will be implemented for every retailer. All it takes is one store owner who feels that there are enhanced profits to be obtained by selling to anyone who walks in the door, and any regulatory efforts by the industry moot - "Darn, Wal-Mart won't sell me Manhunt. I guess I'll have to go to WackyGames (fake store name
      • Re:My take (Score:3, Insightful)

        You're missing the point. If game companies forbid retailers from selling their M rated games to minors, and the store does it anyway, they can revoke their rights to sell their games. Which is going to be a bigger hit on your business? A $1,000 fine which you probably covered three times over just on sales to 10 year olds, or the complete loss of half your stock? It's doubtful they'd ever do that, but how often are movie theatres fined for letting minors into R rate movies?
        • Re:My take (Score:3, Informative)

          by Ayaress ( 662020 )
          Actually, they can't under most conditions. Publishers deal with distributors who then deal with retailers. Those pulishers (be the of music, movies, books, or games) that deal directly with the retailers are like that one magazine that they only sell at that one Kessel's store and nobody else has ever heard of it.
      • How about legislating it then ? I know I know, laws are taboo on /., but it's illegal for youngsters to purchase alcohol, maybe it should be illegal for them to purchase mature games as well.

        Of course there is no IF or MAYBE about booze, whereas a game's rating is, well, a rating. It is a moral judgement of the content and it's potential negative effect on the audience.
    • Re:My take (Score:4, Interesting)

      by GTarrant ( 726871 ) on Saturday May 01, 2004 @02:37PM (#9029236)
      But note that it is not the motion picture industry itself that forbids those under 17 access to R-rated films, it is the theaters themselves that have made the agreement to do so. The ratings are just that, ratings.

      I think the video game industry goes *farther* than the motion picture industry does - not only giving a rating, but explaining what in the game caused the rating (you'll see things that say "T - Some violence, light profanity" and such).

      If *stores* decide, as theaters do, to get together and restrict the sales of M-rated games to minors (which I have no problems with), then that's fine.

      The only way this whole "politicians pass laws on video games that they would never pass for movies" will pass is when they start realizing that video games and movies are, in essence, equivalent forms of entertainment. If you asked the same people trying to pass these laws if it's a good idea to require, say, Blockbuster (for rentals) or Best Buy (for sales) to take *all* R rated movies and put them in a separate section, they'd probably laugh and say "Of course not, that wouldn't be legal." Neither will this be.

      T.

      • "when they start realizing that video games and movies are, in essence, equivalent forms of entertainment."

        I disagree. I think anyone who has ever been bored to death by an FMV has to agree. One medium is passive, the other is interactive. Because of this, equivalent events will have different impact in either medium. For example, when a child sees a guy get his head blown off by a sniper in Saving Private Ryan or some other war duty, a child would be at least surprised if not shocked and disgusted at
    • Since games are software, instead of a fixed product like movie, why are the games themselves given ratings instead of just having a global 'parental control' setting on game equipment? Lots of games have a content-level control already, and setting a limit at the OS/console hardware level would let retailers not worry about who they're selling to--and let game companies not worry about toning down their games to make a T rating.
      • Are you saying that the console should be able to analyze a game and determine what in it counts as "excessive violence" so it can regulate it based on human instruction? You're living in a fantasy land. There's no way a console would be able to do that until a human-level AI is developed.

        Rob
        • No, it's like parental controls on a DVD player. If one could want, they can say "No one can play anything with a rating higher than PG-13 unless they have this magic code." and I know the PS2 does this for movies, so what's so hard about reading the game and when the game says "Hey! I'm rated M!" PS2 goes: "Yeah, magic code or no dice."
          • Re:My take (Score:3, Insightful)

            by incubusnb ( 621572 )
            any smart kid knows the Default code, and if they don't, they know where to find it. Parents are too lazy to change the code usually so Parental Controls never work.

            besides, if the parent did change the code, a Patient kid could probably figure a way in (ie. unplug the console for 15 minutes, thus, resetting the code)

          • The xbox has two settings for content -- one slider for movies, one slider for games. You simply set a button-combo, and if you want to play a game that is rated higher than the allowed setting, it forces you to enter your set code.

            simple. easy. fantastic.
          • No, it's like parental controls on a DVD player.

            That would be the sensible approach to take, but the grandparent is referring to the abolition of video game ratings altogether.

            Rob
        • Um, you could do it that way, or the human-level intelligences that programmed the game in the first place could develop it to output varying levels of violence/language/etc. as dictated by the setting of the parental-control thingy.
          • So basically you're saying that they should do the exact same thing that they do already, except with the addition of a method that would make parental control more convenient for the consumer. I don't see how this would keep developers from "worrying about toning their games down to make a T rating" at all.

            Rob
    • I like my Vice City as much as the next guy, but if a 13 year old is going to be playing it, their parents should be aware of the content and it should be up to them whether it's allowed in their house or not (for the record, I'd let my kids play it).

      And that's why the ratings exist. Refusing to sell an M-rated game to a minor is unnecessary.

      By restricting the sale to minors, you don't bring up any more issues than not allowing kids into R rated movies does.

      The obvious difference is that you watch a
      • In the interest of keeping legislators out of the ass of gamers, your points are moot. How many laws accomplish nothing, but are on the books to make people feel better?
        • Many. The "assault weapons" ban (which will hopefully sunset in September), for instance.

          I think "feel-good" legistlation is the worst kind. It accomplishes nothing positive; it has only negative effects--taking away rights.
      • If your parents are attentive at all, they'll know that you're playing GTA3 in your bedroom.

        If parents don't know how to use computers as effectivly as their children, than no amount of attentiveness can detect video game playing.

        The parents could install parental control software on the children's computer - however that can be bypassed by proper research. As far as I know, most such software available on the market was bypassable, some of which has no problem disabling. (I did so myself to one such

    • The gaming industry should, as a whole, start regulating itself. Start forbidding retailers from sellings M rated games to minors.

      And they do that as far as they can. Sure the CEO of EBGames may send out a memo to all the store employees saying "if you sell a M rated game to a minor, you're fired, we will blacklist you, and then make you a scapegoat." But you know what? Employees would STILL do it. The industry regulates itself as far as it can (and yes I have seenen employees ask to see ID before selling

    • You can't forbid retailers to sell your games, or they won't sell your games, they will get their back up. It's not the game developers who are going to get in trouble anyway, it's the retailers. The retailers should voluntarily refuse to sell M-rated games to minors - some of them do.

      Of course, parents worried about what their kids are buying shouldn't give them money, but go shopping with them instead, which will allow them to provide their children with guidance.

    • When self-regulation happens out of fear of government action, it's little different than actual government action. Imagine, for example, that Cuba were to 'lean' on Internet Cafes, telling them that unless they self-regulate out all possible anti-Castro sentiment from the internet effectively, they'll come in and establish strong laws. Is this really any better? Is this really any less censorship? When the industry acts to avoid a not-so-veiled threat of government intervention, the resulting acts are stil
    • The gaming industry should, as a whole, start regulating itself. Start forbidding retailers from sellings M rated games to minors.

      As stated by the ESRB [esrb.com], the 'M" rated games is suitable for children 17 years or older. As you can tell, there is an overlap between the categories permitted by this rating and the "minors" category as defined by law. If games are not supposed to be sold to children under any circumstance, then the rating of "AO" should be applied so that the retailers will know that ID is req

  • missing the point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SkunkPussy ( 85271 ) on Saturday May 01, 2004 @02:40PM (#9029258) Journal
    According to the bill, the key requirement of heinousness, atrocity, or cruelty can be established if, in addition to other requirements, the game "depicts exceptional pain or suffering on the part of the victim and is accompanied by a graphic depiction of the victim's injuries," and "the circumstances surrounding the violence indicate that it is committed without conscience, pity, or empathy."

    What if a game depicts no pain or suffering on the part of the victim, but is accompanied by a graphical depiction of the victim's injuries? Surely its worse if the consquences of violence are not made clear? If you are not reminded of the suffering then perhaps you are not going to be aware of the consequences of violence?
    Arguably all the programmes like starwars where there is fighting all the time, but noone gets injured, noone gets hurt could be worse in terms of desensitising people to violence?

    just my two pence.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      there is injury in starwars, but the consequence is you get a really cool robotic hand!
    • Most games don't depict much suffering - mainly because death in most games takes place fairly quickly, and with fairly little visible "intermediate state" between uninjured and dead.
  • by incubusnb ( 621572 ) on Saturday May 01, 2004 @03:45PM (#9029678) Homepage Journal
    Violence existed long Before video games, it existed long before Movies, and TV, it even existed long before books.

    Violence is a part of the Human Subconcious, and Shielding kids from Violence will only make them unprepaired when their put in a violent situation

    • Shielding kids from Violence will only make them unprepaired when their put in a violent situation

      Somehow I don't think video games help anyone deal better with the kind of violence one is likely to encounter in real life. Of course violence and death exist in the real world - but the whole point of shielding kids from fantasy violence is that it is so unlike real life that it gives a false impression of the consequences. It might desensitize people to violence, but that doesn't make them more prepared t
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2004 @04:11PM (#9029824)
    Food for thought:
    Back in the 1950's the government considered a similar situation concerning the comics industry and its influence on minors. It response to a near witch-hunt the comics industry created the Comics Code Authority to regulate itself. The government was satisfied, and supposedly minors would be saved from degenerating society. Today, however, the CCA is viewed as archaic and many comics no longer stick to it (the CCA stamp is no longer need to sell). American youths have continued down the path that the government was so concerned about, and everyone realized that comics were not the cause of the "decline" of American youth culture, but societal causes for the changes. The same thing is beginning today with video games. My opinion is that the causes of the "problems" with youth today are not video games, but the decline of parenting in American households (more parents working longer hours, higher rate of devorce, etc.) Maybe we should address the parenting issue instead of retarding the development of an industry.
  • God save the lawyers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aminorex ( 141494 ) on Saturday May 01, 2004 @06:19PM (#9030602) Homepage Journal
    > It is welcome to see the topic discussed on its
    > own legal merits, in lieu of actual law, and not
    > the moralistic turf both sides of the debate have
    > attempted to claim as their own

    Oh yes, heaven knows how terrible it is when people
    discuss issues on their moral merits. There's no
    money in that.

    Next thing you know, people will be making actual
    decisions on the basis of *right* and *wrong*!
    • Oh please. People bitch all the time when people attempt to bring religion into debate about laws, instead of focusing on the constitution, contemporary law, and the precedents derived thereof. If the article said that the topic should only be be discussed in lieu of the moral systems of the majority, and fuck the law, then there would be an army of Big Brother and The Sky is Falling! posts. Morality is relative, the law is not.
  • What's the point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gary Destruction ( 683101 ) * on Sunday May 02, 2004 @02:52AM (#9032458) Journal
    How is regulating video game sales going to change anything? Sure video games have violence. But so does TV and the Internet. And most of all, the real world has more violence that all of those combined. Look at all the war and poverty and famine and crazy things that go on in the world. I fail to see how violence in a video game could even remotely compare. There are children that grow up in neighborhoods that are overrun with crime. There are children that have witnessed murders.

    You can restrict video games sales and censor and block all you want. But you can't keep children from being curious. And all you have to do to see violence is turn on the evening news. 9/11 footage showed a violent acted that was replayed over and over again. Children were bound to have seen it.
  • This bill would set forth legislative findings and declarations regarding the harmful effects of violent video games on minors. It would prohibit a person from knowingly distributing or exhibiting to a minor any video game that appeals to minors' morbid interest in violence, that enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, as defined, and that lacks serious lite

  • Any law that is going to limit the distribution of violent games to minors will pass because pretty much 99% of people who oppose the law are not old enough to vote.

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