Tuesday, June 24, 2008

WHAT’S IN A VIDEO GAME? REGULATION OF VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT

On March 29, 2006 the United States Senate, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary met to discuss possible regulations and the constitutionality of prohibiting video game sales to minors. The Chairman for this proceeding is Senator Brownback from Kansas. The goal of this meeting is to discuss the recent developments in state efforts to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors and, as put by Chairman Brownback, “to try to get and to build a factual basis of why there as a legitimate state interest in legislating on violence in video games and their targeting and marketing toward children” (3). This whole proceeding is mostly centered around a group of two panels. In the first panel the discussion is mostly related to effects of video games on children and in the second it concerns the constitutionality of regulating video games.

The first witness is Reverend Strickland whose brother was shot by a teen that is reported to be an avid player of video games. He talks about how his brother was a police officer and the teen age boy took his gun and shot him as well as two other officers. To this the boy replied, “life is a video game everyone has to die sometime” (6). He talks more in depth about how simulators relative to cop killing games create such behavior.

The next witness is Ms Carll is far more concerned with the way violence is portrayed in video games as well as sexual and racial themes. The sort of aggression against women especially in violent games is “depicted as humorous and glamorous and is rewarded” (9). Her recommendations for helping to alleviate worries is: 1) teach children about media literacy and 2) link violent behaviors with negative social consequences. However, Dmitri Williams from U of I believes that we should take more skeptically to the video game violence epidemic. The studies so far have been way too short and inconclusive to decide whether or not regulations apply.

Now, the constitutionality issue around violent video games arises because of the first amendment. One comment that I think puts the issue best is this, “our Constitution mandates that the Government regulate behavior, not speech that is perceived as likely to cause undesirable behavior among listeners or recipients” (27). Since the science is lacking quite a bit in these issues it may be too soon to impose government regulations on video games. Kevin Saunders, Professor of Law at MSU, believes that the first amendment issue can be resolved by: 1) argue sufficiently that violent material, when presented to children, is obscene or 2) is that video game activity is not an activity protected by the first amendment. Whether or not these to strategies will work I believe that more long term studies should be conducted first and the focus should be on the parents obligation to filter and teach their kids about inappropriate forms of media.

7 comments:

Adrian said...

I was finding myself REALLY pleased with our Senator, Russ Feingold. He handled himself amazingly well. Compare this to the (disgraceful) performance of Brownback trying to score points against Ms. Vance from the Ratings Board. I was really impressed by the way Vance handled herself, and sad for the people of Kansas.

Overall, the whole exercise seemed incredibly frustrating. I wonder how often policy is made based on committee hearings such as these. I hope not much, but I imagine quite a bit...

Eric M said...

While the committee's recommendations sound all grand and all on paper, their solutions just don't seem like they're feasible to me. Being a gamer myself and not feeling that I am affected by video game violence, I agree with Dmitri Williams in that we need to see long term effects, not just what happens in 15 minute lab experiments. After finding that out, then I think it would be appropriate to seek regulation. But when you get to that point, having a regulation on video games be constitutional is going to be very tricky. Having a background in legal studies, I believe that the states and the federal government have a huge mountain to climb if they try to ban violent video games. The First Amendment is very tricky and without a very compelling state interest, the laws passed won't be constitutional. How the states will prove what they have been unsuccessful at doing so far, will be very difficult and I just don't see it happening anytime soon.

Sarah. R. said...

Hey, the comment I wanted to make about this article was also about Russ Feingold. I thought his approach was as open-minded as he claimed he was going to attempt to be (and he has fairly young-ish kids, too, I think, so he probably has some personal vested interest in this topic). His question to Dr. Williams about how to separate different types of media influence from each other - or, whether this is even possible or worthwhile at all - struck me as really sophisticated.

Brownback's a bit of a blowhard. I thought he was actually reserved in this, compared to my expectations at the outset.

Nick S said...

Something that I found myself thinking when reading this was a question about the ESRB. Are the members of the board made public? It says in the article that they are adult raters that have no connection with the video game industry, but nothing else. I know the members of the ratings from movies are kept anonymous and this has cause a lot of controversy.


This may be a little off topic but...

I highly recommend watching "This film is not yet rated" which is documentary about a guy making a movie where he is trying to find the identities of the raters. maybe they should make a documentary about the video game raters...

Jasun said...

Policy does not spring from these hearings. Policy is born in the backrooms and meetings with lobbyists. All these hearings do is promote the view of the commitee members and provide them the opportunity to brag to their "concerned constituents" that they are representing their best interests. (Wow, I sound way too dissaffected, don't I?)

Marlon Heimerl said...

As a journalism major, I am always particularly excited to read an article that relates to the First Amendment. Are the minds of children that malleable actually, and should the limitations on freedom of speech be limited more strictly in the case of minors? The whole Columbine debate comes to mind as well: are video games convenient scapegoats or are they corrupting the youth? Throughout reading this article, all I could seem to think about was the role that parents must play as watchdogs over media content that reaches their children. Because freedom means freedom, even if someone’s creative vision may be gratuitously violent—at that point it is up to the parents, in my opinion.

Jon72585 said...

It was amazing to me reading the senate hearing just how biased a lot of the senators seemed. I know it came up in class, but when the head of the ESRB was giving her statement and she kept being interrupted--not to mention somewhat insulted--I just felt as though a lot of the people there already had their minds made up.

I feel that violent videogames, much like violent movies, will forever be something that certain members of society feel it is their quest to protect others from. On the other hand, I wouldn't ever want my kid playing Postal. The trickiness never ends...