Monday, November 1, 2010

Ted Price, California, Supreme Court, and a case of First Amendment

On USA TODAY, October 28, 2010, there is an article featuring Insomniac Games Ted Price holding a chimera mask on front page. Unfortunately, he wasn't announcing a new game. He was battling a Supreme Court case on First Amendment. "Can states keep kids from violent video games? Supreme Court case tests limits on art and speech."

This is going to be a somewhat long post, and I don't like it. Too much work for what amounts to just opinions. But I think that this is important, and it is my habits to support my statements with facts. Research is going to be light, though.

According to the article, Ted Price claims that "Many games today have deep stories and draw heavily from our literary heritage." That is, games are works of arts and should be protected under First Amendment. I agree. California Democratic Sen. Leland Yee, who sponsored a state ban on the sale of violent video games to minors that now is before the Supreme Court says that the interactive aspect of video games makes it more dangerous than a movie or book that provides passive experience. I agree with that, too.

So, the question is: Should we ban violent video games sales to minor or not? I think we should not only ban violent video games sales to minor, but also that of sexually explicit materials, be it video games, books, movies, or whatever. There are age restrictions for materials in place and it is for good reason.

My problem here is that Senator Yee, and to an extent, Zackery Morazzini of the California attorney general's office, are using what I perceive as half-truth lies in their argument. For example, "Video games are uniquely harmful," says Zackery Morazzini. Wow. I never thought Nintendogs can be so dangerous!

In looking at the California law, I am struck at its similarity with another law: Miller vs. California. I'm surprised that no news media mentioned this before. I think that this is an important element in Senator Yee's argument is pushing this case.

To be honest, I expect video game sales to mirror that of movies and books. That is, most will be sold normally, but Mature and Adult-Only materials will not be sold to minors. They'll probably be located on the restricted access back shelf, along with other adults-only merchandise, like they do on magazine. The books are normally sold open, but those with sexual content are wrapped in plastic. Video games should be like that, too.

The ESRB rating system works, and works well. Unfortunately, it is not cheap, costing several thousand dollars to acquire. Maybe the industry should allow self-proclaimed rating guidelines, in place of ESRB rating as to allow casual, independent, and hobbyist game developer a chance to publish their products without committing thousands of dollars in expenses. Something like a checklist of elements of items would work well, I think.

Senator Yee claims that it is impossible for parents to fully investigate a video game due to extensive branching of the program. That is true. However, it is also true that there are game reviewer websites out there. At YouTube, they even show game play! Although you cannot analyze the game exhaustively, you can read reviews of the game and see, easily, that Postal video game has been banned in several countries due to violent content. That should be your clue that the game is inappropriate for children.

If the game is incorrectly rated, well, that's what review board is all about. Games have been re-classified, either to higher rating or lower, depending on the situation. Waiting 30 days before purchasing a game for reviews to come in is a good policy.

To say that a certain video game is harmful, and therefore all video games are harmful, is obviously wrong. When I replace the words "video game" with avian-flu borne chicken, cows with mad cow disease, black, white, lawyer, and democrats, well, I'm not getting a pretty picture. For an attorney to use a statement that is so easily refuted bodes ill to California. It is like saying that YouTube users are full of hatred and posted explicit comments. Sure, a lot of them are juvenile, but not all. You can't blame everybody for the crime of a select few.

As much as I want to see Barney the purple dinosaur be banned on moral grounds, I understand that the same right that allows Hello Kitty to exist, also allows Barney to exist. I think Neil Gaiman said it best: “The Law is a blunt instrument. It’s not a scalpel. It’s a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible.”

I find it distressing that people don't seem to care about this issue at all. "Banning video games? Didn't they try that on comic books, rock-and-roll, playing cards, and dice? That didn't go anywhere, did it?" Well, no. Not those elements, anyway. However, no one mentioned the Prohibition of Alcohol, which did get somewhere. Remember that? How can a nation enforce something that is so obviously (in hindsight) unenforceable? How stupid is that? If alcohol is outlawed, only outlaws have alcohols. Let's not pass a stupid law concerning video games, or First Amendment.

I wonder if Senator Yee would argue that video games are causing violence. Statistically speaking, it doesn't exist. Violent video games are sold in the millions of unit. If indeed violent video games cause death in children, we probably would be seeing a lot more of death of it. We don't. The top causing fatalities factor is, as I understand it, bicycles, at number 10. If that's true, then I'd argue that the dangerous states of bicycling in the country today (including California) is keeping the children off the streets, and into their homes, where they can do nothing but watch violent TV shows, play violent video games, and surf violent websites all day. Therefore, the real cause of violence is the lack of safe, alternative lifestyle such as bicycling. What has the state of California done to keep bicyclist safe from harm, I wonder?

As a taxpayer, I'm concerned whenever a public servant would pick issues that are down the list, and ignore the top ones. This "cherry picking" issues, and data, is rather rampant, unfortunately. But I certainly do not want to see it in Senatorial nor Judicial concern! Let's take the news item that a certain school kid is targeting the athletic department to be killed. Picked up a gun and kill other students. The news media all focused on the gun availability to minors. I focused on the fact that the athletic department is the target. What have they done so as far to be targeted? It turns out they are bullies and abuse the school, while the administrators look the other way. In that case, then I'd say the problem is that the administrators allows bullying to take place, and need to be replaced. That is the true cause of the shooting, not the gun.

It seems that the law has supports from several parenting groups. I wonder if the same parenting groups would support the notion that today's parent has done an extremely poor parenting job of raising children, as much as to allow TV and video games to be nanny/baby sitter replacement, while not monitoring the content of either. Even Sesame Street needs to be seen by both parent and children. Parents need to provide guidance to children from early age because irresponsible children will not magically turn into responsible adults when they turn 18.

Personally, I think Senator Yee, with all his training, got it wrong. It is not that violence in children is caused by something. It is caused by lack of something, namely proper parental supervision. Rather than spending time looking for something to ban, we should spend our time creating guidelines to raise children properly so that they grow to become productive, responsible adults.

For people to argue that video games "caused" violence, you have to include all factors that could conceivably cause violence, and rank them according to probabilities of affecting. How about violent news media? How about violent movies or comic books or RPG? How about the fact that McDonald used animal extract in their french fries and therefore unwittingly turned the docile vegetarians into violent carnivore? It's easy to blame. Nobody is perfect. If you want to find fault with somebody, you will always find it if you look hard enough, even if the fault needs to be imaginary. That is why we have courts.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the name Jack Thompson of Florida, yet, as he is infamous in regards of violent video games. I wonder if the state of California has hired him, or someone just like him, to present their arguments to the case. Do you think that by selectively choosing evidence and painting worst case scenario as normal, maybe California is engaging the service equivalent to Michael Byron Nifong? The term "exculpatory evidence" is crucial to any lawyer's vocabulary. Has this been ignored?

"It is capital mistake to form a conclusion before one has all the data, for certainly he will shape the data to fit the conclusion." or so says Sherlock Holmes. That is true. Cherry picking data is quite rampant. Cherry picking solution not so rampant, but not unheard of. Remember the Russian scientists who discovered "super water"? Other researchers found out that it has the same characteristic of human sweat. Well, it turns out that in the process of improving the characteristics of water, they've successfully rediscovered anti-freeze. Not that such endeavor isn't worthwhile, but at least be honest about its significance. That is why scientists have peer reviews.

They are trying to ban video games? What are they trying to ban next? Nerf? Dihydrogen monoxide?


Miller v. California

Michael Byron Nifong

John Bruce "Jack" Thompson

Neil Gaiman’s Journal: Why defend freedom of icky speech?

Video games myth

Bike safety/The Dangerous Hamburger

Dihydrogen Monoxide

University of Colorado bans Nerf Guns: Zombies Game
Search for it on the Internet.

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