What the California video game law could mean to gamers everywhere

Postal-21It all began in 2005 when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that banned the sale or rental of “violent video games” to minors, effectively treating it like pornography. According to the bill, “violent video games” are games “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being”. Retailers that do not comply with this directive would have to pay a fine of $1,000.

The legislation was struck down as unconstitutional more than once before it took effect. The dispute was pushed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last November 2, the oral arguments in the case were heard. If you reside outside the United States, then you probably think this issue doesn’t concern you.

Think again. The approval of this legislation has far-reaching effects that could possibly stretch beyond America’s borders.

What to Ban
When the bill is in effect, selling violent games to children becomes a crime. Shouldn’t we be keeping such games away from children in the first place? Definitely. But how do we determine which games to keep away from children? The California bill has provided the following standards:

(A) Comes within all of the following descriptions:
(i) A reasonable person, considering the game as a whole,     would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors.
(ii) It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors.
(iii) It causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
(B) Enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon images of human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.

The Ripple
We at Console Gamer think games having these characteristics face the possibility of being dropped by major chains like Target or Wal-Mart to avoid violating the directive altogether. This, in turn, would influence other retailers to follow suit. The ripple doesn’t stop there: it’s possible that game companies would considerably reduce the violence in their products to avoid taking any chances.

Do you like first-person shooters or brawlers? These genres could be affected since the very nature of their gameplay revolves around inflicting “serious injury”. Can you imagine Call of Duty or God of War with no combat? Survival horror games like Resident Evil and Dead Space might also be deemed “deviant” or “morbid”. Franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Fable carry the M rating as well, so it’s entirely possible they would be influenced. In fact, games that display and use some form of combat for its gameplay runs the risk of being affected.

Beyond Video Games
Furthermore, an approval by the Supreme Court would set a precedent that could be applied to other media. The Grimm fairy tales, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Rock-a-Bye Baby, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Bible are some examples of horrifyingly violent works; so in theory, they could be banned. It’s preposterous, yes, but legally possible.

But how would this issue affect the average gamer in other parts of the world? A large proportion of the video games that you play, whether you live in Europe, Asia, or any other part of the globe, are made in the United States. This means U.S. developers et al would have to comply with this law, consequently changing the products that we all consume.

Parting Shots
Take note, however, that the possibilities mentioned here are just that—possibilities. With any luck, they might not take place at all. Fortunately, there is a chance that the court would decide that the bill is unconstitutional due to a number of reasons, such as the existence of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and freedom of speech. If you play video games and take your pastime seriously, it’s beneficial to be informed about the issue. It could very well affect you, even if the people deciding your hobby’s fate are thousands of miles away.