The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Join the Supreme Court debate: Would you ban ultra-violent video games?

Antonin_scalia I'm not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. But I know great dialogue when I hear it, and after reading the transcripts (courtesy of the Feed) of Tuesday's Supreme Court debate over whether to uphold a California law that would ban the sale of ultra-violent video games to minors, all I can say is -- Aaron Sorkin, eat your heart out.

I've always heard that it was tough for lawyers to go before the great minds of the highest court in the land, but my heart really went out to Zackery P. Morazzini, a deputy state attorney general for California who got stuck trying to make the state's case before a room full of skeptical, often smart-aleck Supreme Court justices.

You get the feeling that being a lawyer before the Supreme Court is a lot like being a guest on David Letterman -- you're often just a fat target for barbed questions and sly humor. Morazzini had just gotten warmed up, trying to explain why he wanted the court to restrict kids from buying these "deviant, violent" video games when Justice Antonin Scalia jumped in, archly wondering "What's a deviant -- a deviant, violent video game? As opposed to what? A normal violent video game?" Morazzini struggled but he couldn't escape Scalia's trap:

Mr. Morazzini: Yes, your honor. Deviant would be departing from established norms.

Justice Scalia: There are established norms of violence?

Mr. Morazzini: Well, I think if you look back --

Justice Scalia: Some of the Grimm's fairy tales are quite grim, to tell you the truth.

Mr. Morazinni: Agreed, your honor. But the level of violence --

Justice Scalia: Are they OK? Are you going to ban them too?

As soon as Scalia finished pummeling him, Justice Elena Kagan joined in, asking if the state planned to rely on scientific studies as a basis for regulating video games, would it do the same for films if a new study found that movies were just as violent? Morazzini argued that there was already a wealth of scientific literature available speaking to the issue of violence in film. This prompted Justice Sonia Sotomayor to stick the needle in:

Justice Sotomayor: I don't think; is that answering Justice Kagan's question? One of the studies, the Anderson study, says that the effect of violence is the same for a Bugs Bunny episode as it is for a violent video. So can the legislation now, because it has that study, say we can outlaw Bugs Bunny?

Mr. Morazzini: No.

Morazzini did get some friendly questioning, especially from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as well as Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr., signaling that it might be a close vote in any eventual court decision. I found myself in agreement with Breyer, who asked why, if stores are forbidden from selling pictures of naked women (or worse) to minors, then why wasn't it simply common sense to ban the sale of gratuitously violent video games as well? But I have to admit that some of the other judges' skepticism seemed warranted.

Still, everything else being equal, I don't see why Scalia shouldn't have his own Comedy Central show. At one point, when Morazzini was asked if California had some kind of office that could establish standards for violence in video games, Scalia told him, sarcastically, that the state should create one.

Justice Scalia: You might call it the California office of censorship. It would judge each of these videos one by one. That would be very nice.

Mr. Morazzini: Your honor, we -- we ask juries to judge sexual material and its appropriateness for minors as well. I believe that if -- if we can view the --

Justice Scalia: Do we let the government do that? Juries are not controllable. That's the wonderful thing about juries. Also the worst thing about juries. (Laughter)

I guess I should spend more time reading Supreme Court transcripts. Who knew an argument over free speech could be so much fun? 

Photo: Justice Antonin Scalia  Credit: Tim Sloan / AFP Photo


Comments () | Archives (17)

The comments to this entry are closed.

How fast before this is comically re-enacted on Funny or Die?

I would most certainly not ban any video game. Video games are an amazing new art form, a new way of delivering a story to their audience. They deserve the freedom to spread their individual messages, to express themselves without fear of reprisal, and to entertain their audience as they are expected to do so.

Violence is violence. Ultraviolence is vilence on steriods. When these videos (will these be rated NR?)become available in arcades, the impressionable young will come to accept them as norm.
Their perception of violence most probably will numb them to the realities of the horrors people do to one another and won't think twice of seeing someone getting killed; instead they'll whip out their visro cameras rather than help. Perhaps the limiting of these items as Adult entertainment such as porn may be the next best thing to condoning it as a right to anyone. I think the Supremes should side on the side of caution on this one.
Is this what we want when we get to be in our 50s? When does the notion of "rights" overcome that of individual and mutual responsibility and reconciling the nation's greater good?
The Supremes have a hard decision to make. I trust they will do what's best for the nation.

Let's face it, the ESRB rates video games similar to the MPAA does for movies. If a video game is rated a certain way, it sets the limitations on which age groups can buy the game. I think it's safe to assume that these "ulta-violent" video games get a "Mature" rating which requires the buyer to be above the age of 17. Now here's where it takes some simple logic: are the kids we worry about gaining access to these games under or over the age of 17? Judging by the way the SCt. judges have been directing their questions, the target class is probably those under 17. Simple logic states that the only way those kids under 17 can get access to the violent games is having a) an older friend/sibling or b) their parents buying the game for them. No need to put a ban on these types of games, just have game stores be more vigilant. If you see an adult with a small kid begging them to buy a game with a Mature rating on it, DONT SELL IT TO THEM or at least ask some questions as to who the game is for. Don't punish the majority of people who are legally allowed to buy games for the errors of a few.

This is and always will be the most absurd conversation. If you don't like it; don't play it. We've been going over this same topic forever; we've just replaced the material. Music, movies, video games, books, porn, religion, etc. We are all free to do as we please! Yet, we continue to try and stop one another from enjoying the same freedom that we expect to have for ourselves; CHOICE.
If I were on the supreme court, I would throw this out!! Lawyers that continually try to resurrect these issues should be forbidden from practicing law. What a waste of time and taxes.

i dont agree with this because the childrenss parent will just go and buy it for them you should just ban kids under 18 from playing violent video games le halo or coll of duty and then people would be more mature and behave beter because i am a kid and i do not play any og those games and i am very well behaves.

It's ridiculous why not let a child play a violent video game does this really make them more violent? Maybe if they can't determine reality from a digital world but if that's the case they can't function in are reality. I've played every violent video game there is out there from killing, assassinating, shooting people, shooting fire from my hands, people committing suicide, and so on. Yet i have never had the sudden urge to preform these act's in real life! It's rather dumb to believe im going to become a crazed manic because of a violent video game. Why do we believe kid's are so impressionable? If they were are society would have already collapsed people would think they can run off cliffs and jump in to fire and not get hurt. Kid's abuse this belife in adults so they don't have to answer for what they did wrong. Like blaming your older sister for breaking a vase. Recently i just turned 18 and have not yet killed anyone nor done any crimes or taken any illegal drugs, even tho i killed, saved, and destroyed countless digital people on a video game!
It's not like the parents don't already have control over their child. Most games you can't buy unless you have an adult so why do we need to ban them? why shouldn't i have the choice to allow my child to play a violent video game? Or an Ultra Violent video game, ha ha.

I've been a frequent player of violent video games for a long while and am still disturbed by real violence and even some movies (it's still pretty tough to watch saving private ryan, still a great movie). The theory that it permanently desensitizes people to real violence is total BS. If someone were to be executed in front of a frequent player of violent video games, chances are that they would be as disturbed by it as anyone else, regardless of how many hookers they've killed in GTA, to use the most cliche example possible. Also, just about every person who's ever commited a heinous act of violence and blamed it on video games was either mentally unstable or looking for a scapegoat. I'm not sayin we should start handing out copies of Gears Of War to 6 year olds, but I am saying that the government doesn't need to babysit us. Besides, most stores already have policies in place that restrict the sale of M rated games to people under 17, so the law is completely unnecessary.

I hate censorship...I don't want violent games banned, i don't want pornography banned, etc...

People can choose what they view (or video games they play) without the help from the govt....

I think we've got much bigger issues today to contend with than video games, pornography, and anything else trival...

Yes, ultra violent games should be banned because playing a video game is an active, not passive activity. It creates agitation and excitement just as pornography does on a primal level, because of the nature of emotional involvement when you are playing. You are completely missing the point of passive like watching TV and active like participating in a game.

It is shocking to think that you would think that anyone, let alone child actively pushing controls to rape a defeated victim of the game is not obscene, is the correlation of full prisons and violent society escaping you?...

This contributes directly to our crime numbers and the de-evolution of our society. What about older kids with younger siblings that can get a hold of them? Contact Dr. Jeffrey Johnson at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NY for data of violence and crime.

1 2 | ยป


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Stay Connected:

About the Bloggers



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: