Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee is urging gamers to stand up for their rights as the Supreme Court prepares to take up the issue of violence video game sales to minors, comparing the issue to the “national hysteria” in the 1950s over the purported dangerous effects of comic books on young minds. In a letter on the Video Game Voters Network website, Lee urges gamers to join the organization and vote for political candidates who recognize the benefits of gaming:
My memory has always been lousy and it’s not improving with age. But it’s good enough to remember a time when the government was trying to do to comic books what some politicians now want to do with video games: censor them and prohibit their sales. It was a bad idea half a century ago and it’s just as bad an idea now. And you can do something about it.
I created Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk, the virtual ancestors of the characters in today’s games. In the 1950s, there was a national hysteria about the so-called “dangerous effect” comic books were having on our nation’s youth.
Comic books, it was said, contributed to “juvenile delinquency.” A Senate subcommittee investigated and decided the U.S. could not “afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror and violence.” Comic books were burned. The State of Washington made it a crime to sell comic books without a license. And Los Angeles passed a law that said it was a crime to sell “crime comic books.” Looking back, the outcry was — forgive the expression — comical.
The more things change, as they say, the more they stay the same. Substitute video games for comic books and you’ve got a 21st century replay of the craziness of the 1950s. States have passed laws restricting the sale of video games and later this year, the Supreme Court will hear a case about one of those laws, this one passed in California. Why does this matter? Because if you restrict sales of video games, you’re chipping away at our First Amendment rights to free speech and opening the door to restrictions on books and movies.
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a challenge to California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, which was passed in 2005 but has so far been prevented from taking effect. The law would fine retailers up to $1,000 for each instance in which they sell such titles to anyone younger than 18 and created strict labeling requirements for game manufacturers.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it unconstitutional on free speech grounds. The law was based on studies linking violent games to aggression, antisocial behavior and desensitization to violence.