This week's decision by the United States Supreme Court to hear arguments both for and against the State of California's attempt to make the sale of very violent games to kids illegal raises a question: Which games would be affected?
The California bill, authored by State Senator Leland Yee, does not name any specific games, nor does it refer to the existing games rating system as a guideline regarding which games it would be criminal to sell to children.
With Yee not naming games in the bill, we're left to speculate. Would it be Grand Theft Auto? Halo? Pain?
Here are the standards as articulated in the 2005 bill, which was signed into law by Arnold Schwarzengger but blocked by video game industry lawsuits and court judgments that have, so far, ruled it unconstitutional:
(d) (1) "Violent video game" means a video game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted in the game in a manner that does either of the following:
(A) Comes within all of the following descriptions:
(i) A reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors.
(ii) It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors.
(iii) It causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
(B) Enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon images of human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.
(2) For purposes of this subdivision, the following definitions apply:
(A) "Cruel" means that the player intends to virtually inflict a high degree of pain by torture or serious physical abuse of the victim in addition to killing the victim.
(B) "Depraved" means that the player relishes the virtual killing or shows indifference to the suffering of the victim, as evidenced by torture or serious physical abuse of the victim.
(C) "Heinous" means shockingly atrocious. For the killing depicted in a video game to be heinous, it must involve additional acts of torture or serious physical abuse of the victim as set apart from
(D) "Serious physical abuse" means a significant or considerable amount of injury or damage to the victim's body which involves a substantial risk of death, unconsciousness, extreme physical pain, substantial disfigurement, or substantial impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty. Serious physical abuse, unlike torture, does not require that the victim be conscious of the
abuse at the time it is inflicted. However, the player must specifically intend the abuse apart from the killing.
(E) "Torture" includes mental as well as physical abuse of the victim. In either case, the virtual victim must be conscious of the abuse at the time it is inflicted; and the player must specifically intend to virtually inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering upon the victim, apart from killing the victim.
(3) Pertinent factors in determining whether a killing depicted in a video game is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved include infliction of gratuitous violence upon the victim beyond that necessary to commit the killing, needless mutilation of the victim's body, and helplessness of the victim.
So, which games do you think could qualify?
For Kotaku's continued coverage of the California and the video game industry's legal battle of violent video games, check out our full "Schwarzenegger vs." coverage. This case is heading to the United States Supreme Court in the next session, which begins in October.