Massachusetts residents! Jack Thompson is drafting video game sales legislation at Mayor Menino’s request. This would be pretty much identical to the law that was just blocked in a Louisiana court for unconstitutionality. The general legal approach taken by the bill has already failed in other states, and each state has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees to the Entertainment Software Association. It is time to write to your local representatives and tell them that you don’t want the state wasting your tax dollars on legislation that simply will not pass.
Here’s some more info if that’s not enough for you:
Who’s this Jack Thompson fellow? Thompson is an attorney who has styled himself as the enemy of video game players who haven’t killed people and the would-be defense attorney of video game players who have killed people, claiming that video games made the kids do it. (Update: He didn’t get to be the defense attorney in such a case when he tried, according to his Wikipedia entry. I guess he tries to sue video game companies too.) This is the same fellow who promised to donate $10,000 to the charity of ESA President Douglas Lowenstein’s choice if developers made a game according to Thompson’s specifications (about a father who loses a son to video games and then goes on a killing rampage against gamers and the games industry). When several amateur developers went on and made the game within a matter of days, Thompson said it was a satire and he had no intention to donate the money, so Penny Arcade went ahead and made the donation. I believe this shirt may have even preceded that event. Also, Jack Thompson is just a big meanie when intelligent supporters of video games attempt to engage him in polite conversation or debate. He also wrote a bill for Utah, which has yet to pass both the house and the senate. (Updated from my previously mistaken claim that it was passed and challenged in court. I should be checking my spreadsheet before I mouth off on this kind of thing…)
What would this bill do, if passed? Basically, it would include video games under an existing “obscenity” law—and if that were all, it would pass unchallenged. Courts have long held that sexual content may be held to different standards from other types of media content, and thus restricted from minors. This bill, however, would explicitly include games with violent content, which no judge has ever accepted as “obscene.” Sexual content in media is often meant to titillate, whereas violent content has a history of literary value and certainly no intent to encourage real-life violence.
I haven’t looked at the Louisiana bill in awhile, but my guess is that it also includes wording that suggests that the state has a vested interest in protecting children, social scientific research demonstrates that violent games cause kids to be violent, and restricting minors’ ability to buy violent games would directly affect the problem. That won’t hold up in court for three major reasons:
- The defense will get credible people to testify that the video game violence research does not convincingly prove that games cause real-life violence any more than any other media or emotionally arousing situation. Even if the research produced more recently does seem persuasive than in previous years, though….
- The definition of violence will be ruled unconstitutionally vague, as it always has been. Video games contain fantasy situations, and it’s hard to define what “violence” or “humans” are in such situations. Not to mention that the amount and degree of violence changes depending on who’s playing. And finally….
- The defense will cite FTC reports demonstrating that over 80% of M-rated games are purchased by adults or with an adult present, meaning that kids will probably still have access to these games anyway, so the law won’t really be doing its job.
If signed to law, the bill would definitely be blocked or overturned in court. Not only has that been the only result we’ve seen for such bills so far, we’re talking about the same state court here that said it’s okay for same-sex couples to get married; I do not expect a conservative 180 from them. If somehow the law actually managed to stand, however, it would have an adverse effect on adults’ access to many games, not necessarily even the goriest ones. It would cause retailers to fear that certain games won’t sell because they are now effectively “rated X,” and so some retailers (e.g., Walmart, a huge game seller) won’t buy those games at all. Publishers will not develop games that won’t sell, and there will be major questions about what would even be seemingly benign games about whether the content could be considered “violent.” This is known as “a chilling effect on free speech.”
The bill won’t be signed to law, though, because to get that far, it has to be passed by the state house and senate first. And it won’t be passed by the state house and senate because you and all your free-speech-loving friends are going to call and complain to your elected representatives that you don’t want your money wasted on frivolous crap meant to secure votes from conservatives.