It's a knock-down, drag-out fight over reduced violence.
In 2005 California passed a law banning the sale/rental of extremely violent video games to minors. The law was overturned on appeal. Now the case has been accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Foes of the law deplore the fact that its backers hyped their campaign by spotlighting the most extreme video games. One of those games encourages players to rack up points by gunning down policemen and bashing out the brains of young girls with a shovel.
Opponents of the California law are justifiably concerned that an upholding of the overly broad law could cause a stifling of creativity across all media. Get all squeamish over little girls and we might never see such imaginative masterpieces as "Smashing Little Boys With Shovels Part X" or "Smashing Small Furry Creatures With Shovels: The GPS Voice."
Video game supporters point out that Great Literature sometimes contains disturbing violence. ("Great Literature: It's great because you don't have to read it if you spend enough hours playing video games.") Even the Bible contains "atrocities" committed against pagan tribes. Of course in the Bible, the violence is authorized by the Supreme Being carrying out his plan of salvation, not by your baggy-pants buddy groaning, "If you don't cut her head clean off, you're the biggest loser on the block!"
An industry insider assures us, "Ultra-violent video games are just the high-tech descendant of harmless backyard 'cops and robbers.' In fact the only thing wrong with cops and robbers was that it didn't put money in OUR pockets."
The issue is not necessarily whether video game playing leads directly to psychotic behavior, but whether the games produce a general coarsening and desensitization of society. Future generations may be more tolerant of animal cruelty or less likely to act as Good Samaritans. "Au contraire," counters one enthusiast. "Kids today still have loads of empathy. I was just telling my friend, 'Sorry you had to stop and do chores before you could feed the 10,000 nuns and orphans to the rats, dude. I feel your pain.'"
It is argued that the games provide a catharsis for youngsters -- a way to work out their stress and inner turmoil in a socially acceptable setting. Of course if violent videos are really the only antidote to potential powder kegs roaming the streets, perhaps society should be more proactive. We need secret police FORCING people to play video games. ("Ve haff vays of making you decapitate!")
A sizeable number of citizens sincerely believe that the video game question should be left entirely to parents. But parents cannot review the twists and turns of a modern video game as easily as they flip through a Playboy. I know: Let's try "Hello, single mom. After you work two shifts, cook supper, and do laundry, why not reach the 13th level of 'Pillage Village' so you can confidently buy yet another piece of *&^% electronic entertainment for your slacker son?" I almost guarantee that violence will ensue.
There are several possible outcomes to this case. The Court could strike down the law completely, order it to be modified, or accept it as it is. Or they could punt and get Justice Clarence Thomas's wife to demand an apology from Anita Hill for "Grand Theft Auto."
("Go on -- apologize! Or I'm making you my shovel-ready project!")
Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at email@example.com.