In 2005, gearing up for her presidential bid by pandering to values voters, Hillary Clinton introduced legislation that would have made the sale of violent video games to minors a federal offense. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled such crackdowns on content violate the the First Amendment rights not only of video game creators, but of young gamers themselves.
Secretary Clinton, the youth of America demand your apology.
In a remarkable 7-2 ruling that saw newbie liberal justices Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor sign on to a decision penned by the arch-conservative Antonin Scalia, the court affirmed, for the first time, that video games have the same constitutional protections as works of cinema, theater and literature. Indeed, the decision pointedly noted that the violence in video games is impossible to distinguish from acts of violence depicted in great works taught in America's schools – notably Lord of the Flies, in which the character Piggy is "savagely murdered by other children."
The ruling struck down a California law that, like Clinton's Family Entertainment Protection Act, used fines to punish retailers who sold "mature" games to Americans under 18. "A State possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm," Scalia wrote, "but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed." Noting that many parents have no objection to their children playing LA Noire, the "entire effect" of government bans on violent video games, Scalia wrote, is not to support parents in their own child-rearing choices but to impose "what the State thinks parents ought to want."
The court further found all claims that the interactive violence of video games creates a special risk to children "unpersuasive," writing that even California "acknowledges that it cannot show a direct causal link between violent video games and harm to minors."
In light of the fact that her proposed law is now plainly unconstitutional, it's worth going back to the tape of the day Clinton introduced (with Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh) her bill to criminalize those who "peddle" violent games to kids. Warning of a "silent epidemic" that is as dangerous to our children's minds as lead poisoning, Clinton sounded every bit like the 1950's scolds who claimed that comic books were creating a generation of juvenile delinquents.
Of course, not long after proclaiming, "we need to treat violent video games the way we treat tobacco, alcohol and pornography," Clinton herself would evoke one of the most violent and disturbing works in our mass media – The Sopranos – in a campaign ad that spoofed of the series' final scene when Tony, America's most beloved crime boss, gets whacked.