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Dissenting Voices: Thomas, Breyer and Yee

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Though the California violent video game ban was ruled unconstitutional today, it was not a unanimous decision. Of the nine justices, two dissented - Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Stephen Breyer - and California State Senator Leland Yee (D - San Francisco) expressed his displeasure as well, with the three of them forming a harmonic chorus of "Think of the CHILDREN!!!"

Thomas:

'The freedom of speech,' as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors' parents or guardians. Therefore, I cannot agree that the statute at issue is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Breyer:

...Nor is the statute, if upheld, likely to create a precedent that would adversely affect other media, say films, or videos, or books. A typical video game involves a significant amount of physical activity. ... And pushing buttons that achieve an interactive, virtual form of target practice, while containing an expressive component, is not just like watching a typical movie.

Yee:

Unfortunately, the majority of the Supreme Court once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children. As a result of their decision, Wal-Mart and the video game industry will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids' mental health and the safety of our community. It is simply wrong that the video game industry can be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.

No. Just....no, no, no.

Had Thomas not explicitly stated that he disagreed with the ruling, I wouldn't have been entirely sure he was a dissenter. A great many of his statements seemed to reinforce the idea that the responsibility for the welfare of The Childrunz lies in the hands of their parents, that ultimate authority is theirs. So if this is the case, then why is a law needed to prevent sales to minors in the first place? Little munchkins tend to have no source of income and thus would only acquire an inappropriate game through their parents, parents whom Thomas is saying have the authority to provide their child with such a game. Older squirts who can earn a paycheck will likely understand what they're getting themselves into when they walk into a store and pick something up off the shelves. In either case, if a child brings home a game like Bulletstorm that the parents find objectionable (and really, everyone should find Bulletstorm objectionable), then the parents should be exercising their ultimate authority in their own home and confiscate the game, no laws needed.

Breyer is clearer in his dissent, comparing the California law to obscenity laws, but like Thomas he manages to undermine his argument with his own words. Specifically, he claims that the violent game ban is no different than obscenity laws...except for one: "there are 'certain generally accepted norms concerning expression related to sex,' whereas there are no similarly 'accepted standards regarding the suitability of violent entertainment.'" That's kind of an important distinction, I would think, but he goes on to say that there is no evidence that this is so. Except that he's wrong, there IS evidence that there are not accepted standards regarding the suitability of violent entertainment. The entire court case is evidence. Part of the reason this made it all the way to the US Supreme Court is because there is wide disagreement on what these generally accepted norms are!

Yee, to his credit, manages to not directly contradict his own position. He just manages to sound like a hyperbolic fool. As in the past, he goes all Helen Lovejoy with dramatic rants about the evil corporations corrupting our little ones and WHY WON'T ANYONE THINK OF THEM?! Look, striking down this law doesn't mean that parents will be required upon reading Alice in Wonderland to their little girl to follow up with Alice: Madness Returns, it just means that retailers get to decide on their own if they want to deal with the social fallout of selling an M-rated title to a ten year old when the angry parent stomps in to return the title (and can't because pirates, etc).

Oh, by the way, the psychological studies that Yee and the others quote as proof that video games will warp children's fragile little minds? The Court ruling, after examining all evidence presented to 'em:

Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.

So, yeah.

As always, these things are about parental responsibility. Know your child. Know what your child's interests are. Pay attention to what media, both in content and type, your child is consuming. And lastly, be a parent, take responsibility, and approve or restrict your child's media consumption until they're old enough to make judgments for themselves. Simple as that, no legislation necessary.

Via [Gamasutra] and [Game Politics]
Full 92-page SCOTUS ruling [PDF]

4 Comments

gogoedward said:

The root of the problem is indeed in the hands of parents, and to a lesser degree retail employees, to keep excessively violent games out of youngins' hands. Retailers should have to check IDs for M rated games, and IMO at least let an obvlivious parents know what it is their child is pestering them to purchase.

More importantly Parents need to know their children and their hobbies well enough to make an informed decision on what is and isn't okay for them to take in, just like with any form of media. It's why we have the damn ESRB in the first place.

Banning game sales to minors wouldn't have solved the *real* issue at hand here, so I'm happy to see this decision come about.

So let's all just take some personal responsibility upon ourselves so that silly laws like this don't need to darken our doorstep ever again.

Rob Yee said:

No relation

Mimalito said:

@gogoedward

Checking ID and informing parents is exactly what I do at work everyday. I work for (Large game retailer here) at it is policy. I can only attest to it's thoroughness at my own location however.

Also HOORAH! for this news. This whole thing was silly. Not the first time Yee has tried. Won't be the last I'm sure.

JTSpender said:

I maaaaay have booed Yee during the Pride parade on Sunday.

Yeah, uh, I guess we know where my true loyalties lie lalala.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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