It’s Worse to Punch a Virtual Face

It looks like video games are on their way to court again.  In particular, a 2005 law in California prohibiting selling of violent video games to minors.  It has been struck down once already by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, (on grounds that it violated free speech rights) but is on its way to be heard by the Supreme Court.

All of that is interesting, fascinating and tremendously important for the future of the industry, etc.  As a programmer, the “is programming free/protected speech” issue is naturally somewhat important to me.  I would be saddened to see a law that made it illegal for budding programmers (who are minors) to make crappy remakes of Double Dragon and show them to their (also minor) friends.

But that’s not the part I want to talk about right now.  All of this got me curious enough to look at the law in question, and one part in particular seems really really odd to me.  I realize that reading through legal texts isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but bear with me for a moment, and check out this part:

It would include within the definition of harmful matter prohibit a person from knowingly distributing or exhibiting to a minor any video game that appeals to minors’ morbid interest in violence, that enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, as defined, and that lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

So far pretty much as expected.  Don’t give violent games to minors where the get to pretend to do horrible things to people or things that look like people.  But then it throws out this curve-ball:

The bill would exclude from this  prohibition any game in which the visual depiction of violence occurs as the result of simultaneous competition between 2 or more players, as specified.

So let me get this straight.  I’m no legal expert, but this seems to read that shooting dudes in the head in GTA = bad, while shooting dudes in the head when they are controlled by real people, like say, Modern Warfare II = A-Ok?  Is this really the message we want to be sending?  Virtual violence is only permissible when it is inflicted upon real people?

Also, it seems to cause some funny situations where things like Street Fighter become illegal to play (as a minor) against the computer, but are fine if you can lure a friend over to play vs. with.

How did this provision get put in, and what is it trying to accomplish?  I’m really kind of at a loss.  Maybe this is just a sign that Goombas have one heck of a good lobbyist on their side?

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