CBLDF Steps Up for Video Game Freedom

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is taking aim at Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.V.) for pushing a link between video game use by children and violent crime.

Rockefeller believes the link between video games and violence is clear. He introduced a bill last month that would have the National Academy of Sciences examine any link between violent video games and media and violent acts by children. Rockefeller says those who don’t believe in the link don’t understand it yet.

"They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons," Rockefeller explained in a statement. "Parents, pediatricians, and psychologists know better."

The CBLDF, a "non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the First Amendment rights of the comics medium," argues that the actual evidence shows there is no proven link and that Rockefeller’s conclusions are based on the same type of "pseudoscience" that has been used to advocate for the censoring of comic books for decades. The organization additionally argues that any type of legislation restricting the content of video games would be unconstitutional.

The CBLDF’s advisory chair for education and outreach Betsy Gomez takes the senator to task:

With Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D., W.V.) announcement that he is drafting a bill mandating that the National Academy of Sciences research the effect of video games on children, several sources have been examining the current research on video games and violent gun murders. Even though pundits and politicians have vehemently endorsed a link between video game play and violent crime, the evidence does not support such a link, calling to mind the pseudoscience that was used to censor comic books for decades. …

Frequently politicians and pundits cite inaccurate and poorly designed studies to support their argument that the video game industry should be regulated — regulation that harkens to the persecution of comic books in the 1950s. Fredric Wertham used his expertise as a psychologist in testifying against comic books during Senate hearings in 1954, but his testimony was not based on actual scientific study, but on anecdotal evidence, personal opinion, and false conclusions. …

Should violent expression in video games be censored by unconstitutional legislation, such regulation could be extended to other forms of entertainment. Given the fact that the evidence many politicians cite to justify video game censorship is fallacious in much the same way the "evidence" for the censorship of comic books was, then it isn’t impossible to see such legislation being extended to affect comic books, instigating a whole new era of censorship.

This would not be the first time the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has been forced to step in to defend the freedom of video game makers.

The CBLDF submitted an amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court comparing the crusade against video games to the unconstitutional attempts to censor comic books when California passed legislation that would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors.

The Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 7-2 that the California law violated the First Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia cited the CBLDF brief in the majority decision, explaining that efforts to censor video games are no more constitutional than the efforts to censor comics in the 1950s.

Supporters of comic book censorship told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1954 "as long as the crime comic books industry exists in its present forms there are no secure homes," striking a similar tone to Rockefeller. Legislation in New York banning the sale of certain comic books to minors was vetoed that year by Republican Gov. Thomas Dewey on grounds it was an unconstitutional breach of the First Amendment.