Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Supreme Court's Video Game Violence Word Cloud

 supreme court vidgame word clouc

The Supreme Court is busy pondering a California law about restricting sales of violent video games. We've quickly analyzed the first day's discussion, and it appears that the Justices are hung up on the philosophy of it all.

The arguments the Supreme Court are tackling concern a 2005 California state law banning the sale of "violent" video games to minors under 18. The law carries a penalty of $1,000 for renting or selling, to someone aged 17 or less, a game that depicts "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." It may have important implications for the video game industry as a whole.

The thing is, it's a very philosophical matter. The prominence of the words "obscenity," "know," "whether," and, above all, "think" reveal this to us. Because what defines "violence" in the first place? Is there scientific data that proves video game violence leads to real life violence? What defines an "image of a human being" in a digital sense anyway?

That's one matter that Justice Sotomayor is pondering, while revealing she's a Trekkie at heart: "Would a video game that portrayed a Vulcan as opposed to a human being, being maimed and tortured, would that be covered by the act?" And here's the choicest quote, from Chief Justice Roberts: You "cannot pass a law that says you may not sell to a 10-year-old a video in which they set schoolgirls on fire." Quite what's going through Roberts' mind here is open to speculation.

As you can see from the word cloud we created from day one of the Court's deliberations, the only one of those provocative words that ended up being used prominently was "sexual"—a nicely charged word all by itself, of course, and one that often gets raised when talking about Net censorship. Most prominent of all were the words "video," "game" and "violence," and while "zombie" and "beheading" are sadly entirely missed in the list, we know the courts have our best interests at heart because "first" and "amendment" stand out in the cloud too. "Minors" and "children" also outweighed "parent," which is interesting—it implies the legal beagles are really trying to think their way into the problem from a kid's point of view, rather than bowing to pressure from parents groups.

Expect more of the cut-and-thrust (ahem!) of this legal debate over the next day or so.

To keep up with this news, and more like it, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.