The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, struck down a California law that banned sales of violent videogames to children under the age of 13. The ruling was based on The Time magazine article from the Bill of Rights, which prevents (amongst other things) government from abridging a citizen’s freedom of speech.

    Blood=Good. about this stresses the objection voiced by Justice Stephen Bryer, who pointed out the hypocrisy in current US law, which places much tighter restrictions on sexual material than on violent media. Some quotes:

    The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a California ban on selling or renting violent video games to minors. The ruling was an important win for free speech, as the court said that violent video games, not matter how objectionable, are works of art in their own right. But the ruling also raised an intriguing question: Why does the court treat violent images and sexual images so differently?

    The court’s 7-2 decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association was a firm rejection of the idea that there could be an exception to the First Amendment for extremely violent pictures and graphics. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said it does not matter how “disgusting” video games are because they are still protected speech.

    …Is the court more accepting of limits on sexual images because they are inherently more offensive than violent images? As Breyer asks, do we really believe that a game that allows a child to torture and kill a woman becomes offensive only when she is showing her breasts?

    gratified to see thatCulture and laws in the US have a long-standing and much-discussed bias against sex. Here in the US, games, TV, and movies can flirt and be about sex, or full of constant profanity and crude jokes, and can be wall to wall gruesome violence, but if they include any actual sex, or nudity in a sexual context, even if it’s loving and consensual, that’s considered adult material and will get show banned or tightly restricted. Sexual material shown on free TV in much of Europe would never be allowed on TV in the US, while the amount of violence and gore in much US TV programming would never be allowed on TV (and sometimes even in movies) in most of Europe.

    The Diablo games are typical US entertainment properties, in that light. They contain non-stop violence without even a hint of sexual imagery or content, aside from uselessly-tiny female armor and the breasts on some of the female monsters. (And really, calling that “sexual imagery” is misleading, since there’s nothing sexual or erotic about it.) Furthermore, the violence in the games is fairly cartoonish, and it’s perpetrated chiefly upon demons and other fantasy creatures, and as such, it’s a largely unremarkable aspect of the games. Fans just expect such titles to be violent and gory and full of splatters of demon blood, to the point that many of us were worried that D3 would water down that aspect.( And Kotaku collected comments on this ruling it didn’t.)

    Boobies=Bad!Try to imagine if there were even vaguely-equivalent sexual content in the games? What if Diablo was anatomically correct? And harbored um… urges… for humans (male and female, cause Diablo’s equal opportunity like that) that went beyond killing them and eating their souls? That would be outrageously controversial, and certainly not a game Blizzard would ever make. Even the inclusion of consensual sexual activity is out of the question; imagine if the Mystic’s quest reward involved more than giving you a new pair of boots?

    That seems crazy, but as the article about the court decision asks… why? Why is this the standard of our games and media, especially in the US, where it’s perfectly acceptable for heroes to kill an infinite number of people and/or demons, just so long as they don’t remove any of their clothing during the process?

    The Diablo world would clearly be more realistic if the characters, NPCs, and demons were interested in and occasionally engaging in sex.Would that sort of thing make the games better, in your judgment? Or would the inclusion of realistic impulses like those just be a distraction, and you’re perfectly happy to stick to slaying asexual demons with a character who doesn’t have any human emotions or desires beyond wanting better gear and more dead demons?

    Update: Kotaku collected comments on this ruling from industry people, including Activision/Blizzard head DiabloWikiBobby Kotick. His reply is by far the shortest and sounds like it was almost certainly dashed off by a PR flack, but I’ll quote it all the same:

    We are pleased with the ruling, which is an important affirmation of First Amendment rights and a victory against an unwarranted, selective attack on our industry. Protecting children from age inappropriate content is important and that’s why we have an industry-standard ratings system that is clear and unambiguous.

    You may also like

    More in Controversy