Non-Violent, Except For the Killing

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The California Legislature has put on the governor’s desk a bill that would prevent the sale of violent video games to those under 18.

Any such bill would be ironic and amusing given who sits behind the governor’s desk. Governor Schwartenegger did not get his movie fame by starring in Muppet movies.

However, in this instance, the Legislature outdid itself in surrealness. It demands non-violent video games, except for the killing, of course.

You may ask, “Just what do they think a violent video game is?

The bill says (emphasis ours):

(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

    (2) For purposes of this subdivision, the following definitions
    (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
other killings.
    (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.

Let’s skip (A), since the criteria are highly legal, and subject to debatable interpretations which would probably bore you, anyway, and focus on (B).

First, if you want to sell a game to someone under 18, it’s apparently OK to author a game that lets gamers kill, maim, dismember or sexually assault characters, but you have to be nice about it.

The bill tries to tell you how. The best I can gather, a gamer can kill the enemy, but can’t hurt their bodies or feelings. I think you can insult them, but only when a) they’re unconscious and can’t hear you or b) speak in a language he/she/it doesn’t understand, so he/she/it can’t comprehend you.

By the way, just how do you cause a video game character with no brain or feelings to suffer “severe mental pain?” I suppose ripping his spouse and children up limb-from-limb in front of him/her/it would qualify, but does this also mean gamers have to be politically correct when talking to him/her/it?

What if you’re a lousy shot and you don’t nail the bad whatever the first shot? How many shots do you get before it stops being killing and starts becoming physical abuse/torture?

But wait a minute! Aren’t you even in more trouble if a gamer stops trying to kill somebody, and moves on? Isn’t that “serious physical abuse/torture” without the saving grace of killing? Doesn’t “shoot and forget” show “indifference to the suffering of the victim?” Doesn’t this mean that any gamer is obliged to kill every character they hurt? If you don’t, can you make up for it by taking care of him until he gets better?

Is “Kill them all” the better lesson we want to teach under-18 in “non-violent” video games?

Apparently, these rules apply to the not-quite-human, too. So what is the kosher way of killing a vampire? If a gamer shoots to immobilize, then puts a stake in his heart, is that OK? Again, what if you’re a little clumsy on the controls and miss with the stake the first time? Is that covered by the “killing” exception? Do you have to let him go? Do you lose the game if you do something wrong?

What if this is a Star Wars-type game? I guess you can shoot up an Imperial Star Destroyer piece by piece, but not Darth Vader. But don’t take my word for it, get qualified legal advice before deciding.

How can the game tell whether you’re a sadist, or just suck at killing people? I’m sorry, but in either real or virtual life, if you have a lethal weapon, you can use it sublethally. Period.

What if the nature of the game precludes killing? Let’s say somebody made up a Roadrunner video game. Assuming that Wile E Coyote qualifies as being human-enough, this game would definitely have to be an adult game. Roadrunner certainly causes him great physical and psychological pain and anguish without the slightest bit of killing.

The problem with these definitions is that it creates a little legal world where murder is OK, but anything less isn’t.

This is absurd.

Veto the bill, Arnold. Let them go back to the drawing board.



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