Violent Video Games

[NOTE: I am not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar. What follows is merely my opinion as a player of video games.]

Our beloved Republic stands at a crossroads. Tomorrow is a momentous occasion in the history of America.

I am speaking, of course, of the case before the Supreme Court, challenging a California law that would ban the sale of violent video games to minors.

One problem with the coverage of this issue is that they’re talking primarily about the question of violence in games. The real issue is not just “violence”. This is mistake people often make. The real question raised by the case involves its definition of violence, which deems a game violent if, among other things, it doesn’t have: “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors”.

This seems to me to require an answer to the question: which violent games have artistic merit and which do not?

Consider: The most violent video games are rated “M” for “ages 17+” by the ESRB. But not all “M” games are alike. Most of them fall into the category of being mindless shooters, like Doom, Call of Duty, Gears of War and so on. These are the games that usually grab people’s attention for excessive violence.

But then there are those other games, which are not merely endless levels of cannon fodder enemies, but instead present real, gritty fighting, disturbing scenes of violence, and most of all, show the consequences of that violence and its impact on the characters. Games like Black Isle’s Fallout series and Planescape: Torment and Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series. These attempt to deal with violence in a realistic and adult manner–not merely a cartoon-ish  shoot-’em-up.

The question is, which is worse for a kid to see: a game where wave after wave of nameless enemies are gunned down without consequence, or a game which depicts violent acts, but also the physical and psychological after-effects of violence on the victims and the perpetrators?

There are two classes of “M” games: those which use violence because they think it’s awesome when the guy’s head explodes and those who are using it to serve some artistic purpose. The former kind kids will enjoy, the latter kind they may learn something from.

The trouble here is that the law concerns whether or not the games have artistic value to minors. “Minors” is a big range. For example, Sniper Wolf’s death scene in Metal Gear Solid is poignant if you have the maturity to grasp it, which many people have by the age of fifteen, but which few people have by the age of nine.

Of course, we face the same issue with movies. There are seven Saw films, there is only one Natural Born Killers. (And even its artistic merit is disputable.) It must be understood that violence is not the real–or at least, the only–issue; there is also a question of artistic value. I believe that video games, as an art form, deserve exactly the same treatment as movies, books, and all other art forms in this area.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?