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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)

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The teaser for this column perpetuates ignorance about th role of courts. Th justices are not deciding whether or not they personally would ban violent videogsmes. They are determining whether the Firsr Amendment prohibits California's Legislature from doing so.

The role of a newspaper is to inform and educate. Do not destroy your credibility with ignorant tease lines.

I see it this way- if the "community" can ban sales of Mature games to those under 17, then why can't the state move the restriction to some of the harder stuff to 18? What's the difference in the reality of the "self restricting" and state restriction, if the reality is only ONE YEAR and SLIGHT CONTENT DEFINITIONS? People, get real here, it's not the end of all free speech, nor the end of video game playing. The Supreme Court has already ruled that obscenity is not protected free speech, and in the Erie PA case about the strip club, that the city (community) can have compelling interests in limiting activity that occurs within it's jurisdiction. I believe most of the M rated stuff will stay at 17, but the harder stuff, it just will move to 18. Simple- just another rating system like the ones we see in the movies- R versus NC17. Either way, no one is stopping an adult from seeing and playing with their trash, but the society can have a compelling interest in protecting children from sex, violence, obscenity and porn some of these games depict. We already limit the sales of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes to minors. This law would act the same as other existing laws protecting minors. I'm all for it, and thinks the Supreme Court can rule for the state in this case based on what I've read of previous Supreme Court rulings.

The focus of the discussion is "should violent video games be banned/restricted" when the discussion is more harming than it seems. Many games are violent, yes, but the truth of the matter is that most of those games had a leason to teach, or a story to tell. It brought reedeming value. And the ban of games with reedeming value is harmful to even adults becuase then there will be no moral to playing any video game.

The focus of the discussion should be "Should games with absolutley NO moral, story, lesson, or even situational satire, be banned/restricted"

When playing a game called Fallout 3, there is a little girl immune to a disease thats plauging the area. So the person playing is given a choice to take the girl to the survivors in order to find a cure. Or stop the survivors efforts to keep her from seperating from her family. There is no clear answer. It is up to the player to decide what is right "Good of many or the rights of the few". Yes the game is violent but it made the player think.

Now would you really classify this game as similar to other violent games where the point is to kill others? no reedeming value?
No, these games are very much different in how they should be classified. That alone is the problem of the law.

Good for the Supreme Court judges. The censorship of any form of media should always be up the parents of said children, else our country fails to deliver upon the supposed "freedom" that everyone gets so worked up about. Of course, this isn't a matter of whether or not violence in video games effects the likelihood of violence in children at all (even though it's certainly arguable that the effects are nearly nothing; for example, what is the comparison of aggression gained from playing a violent video game compared to, say, playing tackle football, and which of these is more likely to end in juvenile crime; indeed, if we were to ban video games for being active violence, we should then ban every sport of contact from children under the age of 18, including the ever-present Football), but rather the censorship and removal of specific freedoms, including the so-important Freedom of Speech.

This issue, brought up every now and then by those under the delusion of helping the youth, is terribly subjective, and thus should be left to the opinion of the parent, not to lie under the power of any other person's opinion.

I think "ban" is the wrong word to use here. They're not being totally outlawed; it's just that minors won't be able to purchase them.

And frankly, I'm not sure that that's not a good idea.

Oh boy, true there is no leeway and flexibility in the Supreme court, but on the principle of fairness should the justices not refrain from restraining a lawyer's argumentative possibilities by smittening him in ridicule? After all, they themselves advocate that one in such position should not only be just he should also appear to be just. With due respect.

screw u guys violent video games rock!!!!

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