Monday was a historic day for video games. The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the games industry, shooting down a California law restricting sale of violent games to children. Game developers have celebrated the ruling as a victory for free speech and a coming-of-age for video games as a medium, putting it officially in league with film, music, theater and literature. advertisement advertisement
It warmed my heart to hear the good news that day, that our cause had prevailed. However, reading the arguments put forth by the justices made another impression on me. In the end, four distinct written opinions were submitted: the majority opinion of the Court, finding the law in violation of the First Amendment, which was delivered by Justice Scalia; a concurring opinion which differed in reasoning, delivered by Justice Alito; and two dissenting opinions, offered by Justices Thomas and Breyer, which presented very different reasons for dismissing the appeal to throw away the law. You can read them all here.
The amazing thing about reading these opinions is that I couldn't find a single one that I disagreed with. Sure, I arrived at a different conclusion than some of them, but nearly every point made was a good one, and always reasonable (something one would hope to expect from any judge, let alone a Supreme Court Justice, but I suppose I'm a bit of a cynic). It got me thinking that maybe we should be addressing some of these concerns, with or without a court mandate.
After all, isn't Justice Breyer right in pointing out that we, as advocates of the power of gaming, constantly argue that games' interactive nature possesses a power to motivate and teach players more than any other medium? Do we utilize that power for so many fundamentally good purposes that we are somehow shed of the responsibility that comes with it? Justice Alito and Justice Breyer both mentioned that the industry's enforcement of the ESRB ratings system "left much to be desired" back in 2004, and that the improvements it has seen since then may dwindle now that we don't have the threat of federal regulation looming over our heads. Are they correct, or will we continue to invest money in the systems in place -- educating parents and voluntarily limiting our own sales, for the sake of children's well-being?
Gaming was just acknowledged for its legitimacy as a form of expression, but that shouldn't be enough for us. Now that we're all official, card-carrying purveyors of "culture," let's start making the most of that title by eliminating these concerns or proving them wrong -- after all, you never know when our next moment in the hot seat will be.