Are Video Games Free Speech?

“Mortal Kombat” for Super Nintendo (image from ign.com)

A November 2nd Supreme Court hearing on video games attempted to answer the question of whether or not video games are free speech, reports the New York Times. Does the ease of buying a violent video game justify a $1,000 fine on those who sell them to underage children? How do we decide what exactly constitutes violence?

The proposed law would “impose fines on stores that sell violent video games to people under 18.” The law also defines violent games as those “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” in a way that is “patently offensive,” appeals to minors’ “deviant or morbid interests” and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” writes the New York Times.

The impossibility of judging what exactly “violence” is, or what lacks “artistic value” is an issue often faced by art in the face of politics. Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos were deemed offensive, so NEA funding was revoked. The story has repeated itself over and over, and now it seems time for video games to face the question of whether or not violence, shock, and the “deviant” can have artistic value. Are video games yet considered works of art valid enough to have such enduring significance that would keep them from censorship?

Freshman Justice Elana Kagan knows what’s up, however, in noting that Mortal Kombat is a video game that could be considered violent, but probably played a role in many young people’s childhoods. Now there’s an argument for video games as creative expression.


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