By Ted AYALA
Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard contrasting arguments regarding the need to limit the availability of certain video games. The issue at hand is whether a 2005 California law that outlaws the sale of video games deemed “violent” or lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” is constitutionally valid. The vague language of this 2005 state law drew the ire of not only the video game industry, but even some unexpected political pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, who has loudly protested what he feels is an unnecessary and dangerous incursion by the government into free speech.
Debates over censoring or restricting sales of video games is, of course, nothing new. While many of us would consider games like Space Invaders, Missile Command, or Galaxian to be inoffensive and tame fare, parents were up in arms in the early 1980s concerning these games’ “violence.” Indeed, these concerned parents and activists unwittingly helped change the course of video game history by pushing for laws that made it difficult or impossible for many arcades to operate. With the arcade industry on the wane in the mid 1980s, the market was left open for Nintendo to usher in the era of console gaming dominance via the iconic Nintendo Entertainment System.
While the ability to express potent ideas and concepts was limited by modest technological capabilities in the early days of gaming, video games are increasingly emerging as an art form on par with the cinema. One such game was 2006’s Mother 3 for the Game Boy Advance. Despite the game’s child-like graphics, it grappled with some serious issues including the dissolution of family, unneeded political correctness, and, most presciently, the dangers of unfettered capitalist and consumerist excess — all with a touch of eccentric humor. The game was wildly successful in Japan and enjoys a potent following in the West.
Still, others argue that any video game, regardless of their level of violence, can be damaging to a child’s psyche. La Cañada/Flintridge psychologist Regine Muradian, Psy.D. in conversation with me earlier this week noted that video games don’t offer “positive stimulation” and can prove to be woefully “addictive.” She also mentioned that children who play video games tend to be “less involved in outdoor activities and sports” and that video games indirectly contribute to the rise in childhood obesity. These children are also prone to “irritability, introversion, and less social contact.” But Dr. Muradian does warn that strong parenting is key here. “Parents need to be more educated about [games],” she said.
No doubt, this case will prove to be one of the more interesting ones to be decided by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will reach a decision on this matter by June 2011.