Echoes from D.C. - Adam Sessler on the Video Game Law Case


Posted November 2, 2010 - By Adam Sessler

Adam Sessler - Supreme Court

It’s cold in Washington D.C. Okay it’s cold by L.A. standards, which, to me, is very, very cold. I broke down and bought gloves and a cap that somehow transformed me from cable personality into someone in-between performances of a dinner theater production of Newsies.

But cold does not impede the judicial system and neither does scheduling oral arguments at the Supreme Court the same day as a major election dwarfs coverage of a case that not only has impact for the videogame industry but our understanding of the protections afforded by the first amendment.

In fact the seeming lack of hysteria surrounding this case highlights a curious element of our legal system; it takes a while. The California law under question has its origins in 2004, right after the poorly-handled hot coffee controversy in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas; a gaming generation ago. Since then we have seen another GTA game, one that launched with minimal controversy, a strong indicator that gaming had moved enough into the mainstream that it was failing to attract the same negative attention that used to be so reliable you could set your watch to it.

Which is why, as I sat in the Supreme Court, watching some thoroughly intelligent people engage in a lively discussion about whether videogames were such a unique form of expression that violent content in this one medium could be treated as obscenity, I felt like I was hearing echoes of debates that seemed laid to rest and even, quaint.

The explosion of interest in videogames, following in the wake of Wii-mania has done much to demystify the new medium of videogames to those that are less inclined to play Quake and in doing so, has minimized the anxiety of the new, that language that one generation understands implicitly and another only sees as having undue influence, divorced from comprehension.

That Postal 2, released in 2003, was the focal point of the debate in the videogame case only heightened the sense of anachronism that surrounded the affair. Until reading the briefs submitted to the court I had not given much, if any, thought, to a game that was merely notable for how its juvenile need to shock was well ahead of providing an enjoyable gaming experience. Now a game that poorly lampooned efforts to ban videogames was front-and-center in a real-life, and far more serious effort, to do the same.

Amidst all the arguments around strict scrutiny, prima facie and New York v. Ginsburg, there was an air of the surreal; that the awkward sense that the near-alien paroxysms of concern over videogames that were near ubiquitous when I was at TechTV was erupting right in front of me and threatened to cast a pall over the creativity in an industry that has grown, innovated and expanded into a near-essential component of modern life and leisure.

That’s a chill hard to warm up from.

Echoes from D.C. - Adam Sessler on the Video Game Law Case


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