Game Theory: A Hollow Victory

Maximum PC Staff

I hate saying "I told you so," but…

No, wait: I love saying I told you so. Last year, in this space, I predicted that not only would the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the California law criminalizing the sale of the violent games to minors, but that it would draw on the United States vs. Stevens decision in doing so. Stevens, you may recall, was a ban on animal snuff films created for sexual fetishists, and the court ruled 8-1 that such films were protected under the First Amendment.

This summer, in their 7-2 decision in Brown vs. the Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly Schwarzenegger vs. The Video Software Developers Association), the majority found that California's ban on sales of violent games to minors was unconstitutional, using Stevens as precedent.

Did you notice the fact buried in the preceding paragraph? Twice as many Supreme Court Justices found that Modern Warfare was less socially acceptable than videos of women crushing baby bunnies to death under their stiletto heels. Congratulations, game industry!

Look, this was the correct decision in this case, not only on First Amendment grounds, but also in light of the ESRB's superb rating and content descriptor system. Parents have more information about game content than about any other form of entertainment, if they decide to act like parents and actually use that information to make sound decisions.

This is no time for high-fives in the halls of EA and Activision, but rather for a little soul searching. First, they need to stop creating advertising campaigns for M-rated games that are clearly aimed at minors who should not be playing these games. Second, the publishers need to pressure more retailers to refuse sale of M-rated games to unaccompanied minors, just as a movie theater would refuse them admittance to an R-rated movie.

Finally, game makers need to decide if they've taken hyper-violent content as far as it needs to go, and maybe try to find some other kind of gameplay. I think I've spent enough of my life staring down an iron sight at a brownish-gray world. Violence is easy. Creativity is hard.

Thomas L. McDonald can be found online at

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