Stan Lee speaks out against video game censorship laws

Posted by | September 22, 2010

Recently California has passed a general ban on selling video games of particular caliber to children. This newly minted law is soon-to-be sent along to a higher court and—as has been seen with other similar laws—will probably not survive. The debate over violent video games and minor children seems to hearken back to other moral hysterias that have blanketed the United States.

Stan Lee has written a radiant open letter to the community about the inanity of the position that spawned this law,

Comic books, it was said, contributed to "juvenile delinquency." A Senate subcommittee investigated and decided the U.S. could not "afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror and violence." Comic books were burned. The State of Washington made it a crime to sell comic books without a license. And Los Angeles passed a law that said it was a crime to sell "crime comic books." Looking back, the outcry was — forgive the expression — comical.

The more things change, as they say, the more they stay the same. Substitute video games for comic books and you’ve got a 21st century replay of the craziness of the 1950s. States have passed laws restricting the sale of video games and later this year, the Supreme Court will hear a case about one of those laws, this one passed in California. Why does this matter? Because if you restrict sales of video games, you’re chipping away at our First Amendment rights to free speech and opening the door to restrictions on books and movies.

Among other things that created moral panics and buttstompingly stupid outrages: Movies, radio shows, rock & roll music and novels (yes, the type of book!) All of them faced claims that they would “corrupt the youth” or otherwise change society and all of them failed to make good arguments as to exactly why this mattered. Each of them gave rise to a censorship regime in an attempt to contain and control the speech behind them.

Censorship has many guises and for a long time people in power have asserted their desire to wield cultural control.

The great SciFi author Robert Heinlein has an excellent quote on the matter of censorship: “The whole principle is wrong. It’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t have steak.”

People will, of course, argue that children need to be protected from bad things, from certain types of information that might be contained in video games. And, of course, parents still have all of the ability to coddle and control how their children interact with the rest of the world without this sort of violent video game restriction. People will often point out how movie theaters will reject minor children, disallowing them from watching rated ‘R’ movies.

To this I bid people to take a moment and ask exactly what parent releases their minor children into the world with the $50-$60 necessary to buy a violent video game not knowing what they’re coming back home with. Further, we should add—much unlike a movie theater—video games in this era require a system to play on. A movie theater is a self-contained environment where the movie gets watched; a video game has to come home and get played on an extremely expensive gaming system. If the parents of this child choose not to control their gaming system and let their kids select and hide games willy-nilly they’re really setting up a totally different pattern of problems that restricting the sale of games isn’t going to solve.

Right now the gaming industry puts actual, real markers on games attempting to demonstrate their appropriateness for various ages of children according to our culture. A multitude of gaming systems contain “parental controls” that are prominent and easy to use. Furthermore, gaming systems are not magical! Parents can turn them off, take them away, or otherwise ensconce them from their children whenever they choose.

Placing unnecessary, silly and ultimately useless restrictions on the sale of games doesn’t do much to provide a better culture for any of us.

It just pads the reputation of would-be politicians who want a talking point so that they can pen their name next to feel-good legislation riding on the “think of the children” ticket. However, this doesn’t come without a price to the rest of us. These bills and laws will inevitably be discovered to be unconstitutional or just plain unethical. In that time they will have wasted countless hours and dollars of government time proving this in the courts. Money that no doubt could have been spent on something that would be put to much better use.

Don’t vote for these measures. Speak out against them.

We will protect our children from evil speech by educating them; not hiding them in the dark.


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