Justice Comes Slowly

(But it did arrive!)

In the United States we often get justice in the end, but sometimes it just takes a little while.

A good example of this is the St. Louis law that prevented violent video games from being sold to minors. It provided fines for any vendor who sold computer games deemed violent to minors, much the same way cigarettes and alcohol are regulated.

It was enacted in 2000 and caused our then-extreme columnist Ken Urben to call the politicians involved Nazis.

I'll stop short of calling anyone names, but surely the politicians who thought this genius of an idea up had to know that it would get shot down based on free speech issues eventually. My guess is that they just did it to score points with the parental demographic and figured they did not really care if the law survived or not.

This week the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit voted unanimously to stop the law from being implemented, stressing that computer games are constitutionally protected forms of free speech much like books or movies.

But then again, most people probably knew that all along. This is along the lines of a similar ruling that stopped an Indianapolis mayor from requiring arcades to set up curtains so minors could not see adults playing violent games.

In the St. Louis case, the court also found that merchants are not responsible for regulating game sales on behalf of parents.

This is an important finding for the game industry because it puts the responsibility for content in parent's hands and not the government. The fact is that some children can handle playing games like Grand Theft Auto 3 or Postal 2. If the parent feels their child is adult enough to play a game like that, then the government should not make it a crime. Especially since there has been no evidence to show that violent computer games cause violence in real life, this is an area that should be the topic of a family discussion and not a Senate committee.

Of course the court wrote about this point better than I.

"We do not mean to denigrate the government's role in supporting parents, or the right of parents to control their children's exposure to graphically violent materials. We merely hold that the government cannot silence protected speech by wrapping itself in the cloak of parental authority"To accept the County's broadly-drawn interest as a compelling one would be to invite legislatures to undermine the first amendment rights of minors willy-nilly under the guise of promoting parental authority."

If parents want to be involved in what their kids watch and play, the computer game industry has given them a pretty amazing tool: The ESRB ratings. A game rated E for Everyone is not going to have offensive content. A game rated M for Mature probably will. And there are plenty of reviews online, such as those written by Game Industry News' editors, that will help explain the sometimes muddy world of the T for Teen rating, which has become a bit of a catchall for most titles.

In the end, parents need to be involved. Minors have legal rights to access information that the government can't really and should not curb. But parental authority in the home is supreme. It just takes the will to do it and the work involved to become informed.

Sadly, even though these laws are being struck down, this is probably not the last we will see of them. When politicians can make a big splash enacting a stupid law even though it is a constitutional violation, they will. In the future, look at these efforts for what they really are: publicity stunts that normally crop up as elections do. Perhaps someone should regulate them.

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