In 2005, the California state legislature passed a law that fined retailers for selling video games, “in which the range of options, available to a player, includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” The law was finally overturned this past year in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association.
The Supreme Court demonstrated that video games are subject to the same protection as music, books, and movies, as guaranteed under the First Amendment. And while Justice Antonin Scalia was writing the majority opinion defending video games, members of the Libyan rebellion were playing Call of Duty with the hopes of learning battlefield tactics, according to an article in The Australian. The Libyan rebellion’s usage of video games in planning their attack patterns is perhaps something to be considered within the context of the recent court ruling. Why?
Though the Supreme Court found that California's concern failed to pass strict scrutiny, if the video games are capable of training rebels, perhaps the state has a stronger interest in restricting such sales than the majority granted. Curiously, though, we are unconcerned about other forms of "terroristic" education. What about David Galula’s writings on counterinsurgency in Algeria during the 1950's or simply the World War II dramatization Saving Private Ryan (remember sticky bombs)? We would not want the court to restrict one’s ability to purchase these items, would we?
Nonetheless, video games provide a unique experience. Unlike books and movies, video games are active and they demand the player make decisions in an actively hostile environment. Even though Call of Duty’s “glossary” is much smaller than, say, Galula’s, the value is in both the active engagement and the accessibility; you do not have to be literate or strategically-minded to play video games. But is this a problem we as a society should be concerned about?
Despite just how much the video game factor has affected the rebels' strategy for winning the war, the overall war effort seems to be dwindling, and a combination of Call of Duty and a NATO no-fly zone have not brought down Muammar Gaddafi nor deterred his military from offensive operations against the rebels.
A few rebels' using an iPhone compass, charting attack routes with Google Maps, and playing a militaristic video game does not mean the entire Libyan rebel army has somehow transformed itself into the U.S. Marine Corp., or even a formidable police force. The Supreme Court's finding that there was little evidence linking users' violent behavior to video games should not be surprising, even if rebels are finding a use for them.
These games are not creating attitudes that did not exist before. Though video games might be able to expose the rebels to some unfamiliar decision making processes, they will not turn a child into a soldier, or in Libya’s case, a farmer into a fighter.
John Mickey was a contributing author for this piece.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons