JOYSTICK: SCOTUS decision a constitutional win

Published 11:52 am Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The recent Supreme Court decision to strike down California’s controversial video game sale law is a historic moment. Our highest court ruled against government censoring and for First Amendment rights, and we should be thankful an unconstitutional law wasn’t enacted in one of our states.

California’s law was destined to be struck down from the start. It simply wasn’t constitutional. In our nation’s history, there are very few court decisions (or laws) that tamper with our rights by making the government cultural judges. The California video game law, which would prevent graphically violent video games from being sold to minors, would have been one of them. California didn’t exactly have a solid definition of what graphic violence is.

The whole thing is similar to the constant struggle over obscenity laws. Legal gurus love to point out that, in more than 200 years of our nation’s history, we still haven’t figured out a clear definition of obscenity, nor can we consistently apply obscenity laws. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once stated that he could not define obscenity but he “knows it when (he) sees it.”

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It was that sort of logic that prompted California to craft the video game sale law in 2005. Games like “Manhunt 2,” “Postal,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty” were cited by California lawyers as detrimental to children’s development because it could desensitize them to violence, thus making them bad for kids. Therefore, California legislators felt it was necessary to add more punitive damages to selling games to underage children.

The debate on how video games affect children is another column for another time. The problem with this law is that it never adequately defined what graphic violence is. Sure, the defense made great points about keeping violent video games out of childrens’ hands. That’s a no-brainer and any parent worth their salt has already figured out what games they want their kids to play.

The fact remains there’s a ratings system on these games which let parents know how explicit a game is. Stores already get in trouble if they’re caught selling mature games to underage gamers. This law wasn’t necessary for anything other than sending a message and its too broad definitions of what is and is not graphic violence meant it was doomed from the start.