On the same day the state’s lawmakers hunkered down and tried to
figure out how to pare billions of dollars from the budget, Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who earned millions of dollars starring in violent
action movies aimed at teenagers, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to
reinstate a California law that would fine retailers up to $1,000 for
selling violent video games to children.

Regardless of whether
you think the law, sponsored by former Assemblyman Leland Yee of San
Francisco, is the best way to go about keeping adult content out of
children’s hands, the bill’s prospects don’t look good. While
California’s law will be the first appealed to the highest court in the
land, eight other states have tried to pass similar laws, only to have
them struck down by appeals courts.

According to GamePolitics.com
(a great resource for any politically minded gamer, by the way), the
state will ask the court to consider two issues, whether the first
amendment bars states from restricting the sale of games to minors and,
if the answer to the first question is yes, whether the state can
restrict games’ sales by showing a direct causal link between the
playing of violent games and physical or psychological harm coming to
children.

In general, I would expect the court to pass on the
case, but it might be possible that the recent rash of similar abortive
attempts to regulate violent games compels them to take up the issue
for the sake of settling it once and for all.

I find the focus on
“violent games” to be somewhat misguided. In a lot of ways, violent
video games are regarded the same way as explicit lyrics and Dungeons
& Dragons were back when I was a kid: an unfamiliar other that
frightens those who don’t understand it. Too many recent news stories
regarding violent incidents have asked the question whether the shooter
played violent video games. But do yourself a favor: Find a handful of
respectful, smart teenagers or adults in their early 20s and ask them
if they’ve ever played violent games. You’ll be surprised by the
results.

Another issue that vexes in all this is whether the aged
court, whose youngest member is 54 and whose oldest is 89, understands
violent video games enough to make an informed decision on whether to
regulate them. Attorney General Jerry Brown’s statement on the decision
to appeal doesn’t exactly make it sounds like the career politician has
any idea what he’s talking about:

“California’s children are exposed everyday to video games that glamorize killing sprees, torture and sexual assault.”

While
the killing spree part may be true, I can count on one hand the games
I’ve played that even depicted torture or sexual assault, and I
certainly can’t think of any titles that have glamorized either.

To
be sure, there are video games I wouldn’t recommend for kids. But is
the best way to keep children from getting these games to fine
retailers the same way we do for booze and cigarettes? If the answer is
yes, why stop at video games? It’s pretty though to argue that “Halo
3,” which is about as violent as “Star Wars,” is going to damage a
child more than reading “American Psycho,” watching the movie “Hostel”
or sniffing markers.

It’s these gray areas that are going to make selling Yee’s law
to the Supreme Court a monumental task. And at a time we’re struggling
with huge deficits, 10 percent of the state is unemployed and public
confidence in government is lower than ever, it seems like there must
be better uses for the state’s resources. Entertainment Software
Association CEO Michael Gallagher estimated the state has already paid
$400,000 in legal fees and court costs fighting for this law. How much
more is yet to come?