Star Trek’s Vulcans Brought Up In Supreme Court Arguments On Violent Video Games Ban Case

Just a week ago we reported how the Texas Supreme Court had cited a Vulcan axiom in an official decision, and now today comes news that Vulcans have shown up again, this time in oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, hearing a case on video game violence.   

 

Vulcan logic at US Supreme Court

This morning the United States Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in California v. Entertainment Merchants Association, where the court is weighing the constitutionality of a 2007 California law that bans the sale of violent video games to minors. Specifically the law states:

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

The EMA has argued the law violates free speech, while State of California argued that the law protects children. Oral arguments covered a lot of issues with the law, especially on how game makers should draw the line on what is violent or not, but where it gets to Star Trek was in an exchange between Justice Sotomayor and California deputy attorney general Zachary Morazzini where Sotomayor picked on another aspect of the law.

Here is the exchange:

Sotomayor: 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?

Morazzini: No, it wouldn’t, Your Honor, because the act is only directed towards the range of options that are able to be inflicted on a human being.

Sotomayor: So if the video producer says this is not a human being, it’s an android computer simulated person, then all they have to do is put a little artificial feature on the creature and they could sell the video game?

Morazzini: Under the act, yes, because California’s concern, I think this is one of the reasons that sex and violence are so similar, these are base physical acts we are talking about, Justice Sotomayor. So limiting, narrowing our law here in California, there in California to violence — violent depictions against human beings.

It is nice to see how Star Trek’s Vulcans are the ‘go to’ aliens to be used in legal preceding. It is also reminiscent of a conversation in Star Trek VI, when Chekov espouses the “human rights” of the Federation and the Klingon Azetbur, retorts back ” ‘Human rights’! Even the name is racist. The Federation is basically a Homo Sapiens only club”

Source: SupremeCourt.gov (via Kotaku)

Thanks to Herbie for tip

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Kenneth-Of-Borg
November 2, 2010 4:44 pm

We need more Vulcans on the Supreme Court.
I rest my case.

Allen Williams
November 2, 2010 4:54 pm

in other words they are racists.

Reign1701A
November 2, 2010 5:00 pm

That’d be an awful Star Trek game, torturing Vulcans and what not.

rm10019
November 2, 2010 5:14 pm

This is great stuff. I applaude the new justice for pointing out the hypocrisy in this notion that only humans can be tortured.

Hat Rick
November 2, 2010 5:20 pm

The power of Trek to influence our culture never ceases to amaze me. It has now been referenced in a Supreme Court argument.

Trek is also known for its currency in philosophical circles, where those of elan for the latest in metaphysical conundrums will ponder the so-called “transporter problem,” referring to whether a soul can survive teleportation. This has been an issue I have had an interest in since before it was raised in discussion at an undergrad philosophy class some decades ago. Like many philosophical questions, it has no empirically verifiable answer, since the nature of the soul is as yet undefined to the satisfaction of the rigorous.

A related question is, of course, whether every instance of teleportation must be a form of murder even if the subject does not know that he or she has died, since the reconstituted form truly believes that he or she is the original, when in some sense, it may not be.

The question may hinge in some fundamental manner on philosophical materialism and quantum uncertainty.

There is news, complicating matters, that eventually there may be proof that the entire universe may be a hologram (as discussed a day or so ago at Wired.com). We may be in fact like creatures created on a Trekkian holodeck.

For whatever but a dream, after all, would have Vulcans of Trek fame cited at the highest halls of jurisprudential reasoning?

Row, row, row your boat….

Pensive's Wetness
November 2, 2010 5:41 pm

so what? LET PARENTS buy the stuff. LET PARENTS parent or fail parent…

Ian B
November 2, 2010 5:47 pm

Interestingly, when my government *spit* here in the UK decided to bring in a law against “underage” cartoons; that is, they took it upon themselves to protect cartoon characters from abuse, they worded it so that non-human elements in a picture would not disqualify it. I don’t think there has been a test case yet; it’s going to be interesting to see how you prove the age of an illustrated character. Anyway, it apparently protects juvenile animals and aliens as well.

Thank God for government. What would we do without its fabulous legislative awesomenessness?

November 2, 2010 5:47 pm

Haven’t Vulcan’s Endured enought, First Vulcan is blown up in Star Trek of Gods and men and then on Star Trek 11 Movie? Come on “LEAVE THE VULCANS ALONE” (That annoying guy Leave Britney Alone Video)

Phaser Guy
November 2, 2010 5:48 pm

The sad thing is that they’re arguing over some bad video game that came out 10 years ago.

Corinthian7
November 2, 2010 6:05 pm

So ‘Vulcan Love Slave’ would be fine then?

Boborci
November 2, 2010 6:14 pm

I met Justice S at the white house. Reasonable person.

Scooter
November 2, 2010 6:39 pm

I bet Bush was water boarding Klingons. That should be investigated.

November 2, 2010 6:54 pm

Fascinating. I’m not sure Justice Sotomayor intentionally meant to use Vulcans as her alien example. But think about it. Vulcans look almost exactly like humans except for the ears. Then she talks about using androids but with say a minor small distinction. And according to the exchange, you could depict them (Vulcans and androids) being killed, or sexually assaulted. So, that game according to the Attorney General would be allowed to be sold to a minor?. How could that protect minors? Think about Bioware’s Mass Effect games. The female race Asari in those games look exactly like humans except for their blue skin and tentacle like hair. And yes, on occasion you kill them or um, have them dance for you.

Unfortunately, a Klingon game producer could make a game where you kill Vulcans or do all kinds of crazy things to them. Call it Grand Theft Auto V: Vulcan.

gingerly
November 2, 2010 7:15 pm

@15

Fascinating. I’m not sure Justice Sotomayor intentionally meant to use Vulcans as her alien example. But think about it. Vulcans look almost exactly like humans except for the ears.

I’m certain she did precisely because of this fact. Nice to see a Trekkie on the Supreme Court. :)

Terence T
November 2, 2010 7:15 pm

So should the law cover “humanoids” then? What about violence against Neanderthals?

Sean
November 2, 2010 7:35 pm

Off topic, but… No Talosians.

http://twitter.com/boborci

November 2, 2010 7:37 pm

Not to nitpick, I mean this to be helpful: it’s a “legal proceeding,” not “preceding.”

Having got that out of the way, I’m enjoying this new trend in American law — first Texas and now the Supreme Court. And with luck this should settle any misgivings about the new justice, Sonia Sotomayor.

Although, now that I think about it, one worry the right wing had about her was that she would be soft on illegal aliens and now she’s brought a whole new category of alien into Supreme Court jurisprudence.

DeShonn Steinblatt
November 2, 2010 7:38 pm

12.

Name dropper. Next you’ll be telling us you’ve met Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.

Sam
November 2, 2010 7:45 pm

Its funny how most “violent” games are things like Halo, Gears of War, Killzone, etc. where the enemies are most definitely NOT human.

CmdrR
November 2, 2010 8:07 pm

But of course, blowing up humans 422 (NCC 1701) or 1014 (NCC 1701-D) at a time is fine if you’re taking on the Klingon role.

Areli
November 2, 2010 9:16 pm

@17

Oh bummer. Then I guess it could be Trelane or Gary. Trelane being the best guess because if STXII is about developing the characters, introducing Gary would put more focus on him and Kirk.

Trelane is a possible Q, and the Q Continuum watch over time and space and whatnot and the AU created by the black hole would obviously interest Trelane.

November 2, 2010 9:51 pm

In the context of preventing the sale of such games to MINORS it seems the intent of the California law is commendable but poorly conceived, since video games often take place in science fiction or fantasy realms in which the characters you kill may not be human, but still representative of sentient beings and, in the case of Vulcans, having few features that distinguish them from humans, it is hard to imagine how it would be less negative, and therefore more acceptable, to kill Vulcans instead of humans; probably, those who wrote the law are not very familiar with such games or they would have made it clear that it does not matter if the target is human or human enough to warrant prevention of sale to MINORS.

Like booze.

November 2, 2010 10:03 pm

But HALO is great. Those evil aliens and their zombie Flood deserve to die!

Boris
November 2, 2010 10:49 pm

Can we think of a less cheesy business-speak/synergy/evangelism/going forward-type title for the creators of the new Star Trek than ‘Supreme Court’? I thought they were taking a break from the script to discuss violent video games.

Hat Rick
November 2, 2010 10:57 pm

Also, Superman is an alien but he looks exactly like a human being.

Charla
November 2, 2010 11:05 pm

#25

Um, huh??? You didn’t READ the article now, did you-

I had to read your response a couple of times in an attempt to understand your complaint!

The article is referencing THE SUPREME COURT as in bonifide, judicial supreme court judges….. doh!! LOL

Vultan
November 2, 2010 11:24 pm

#26

Not really. It’s just that humans look Kryptonian. ;)

Hat Rick
November 3, 2010 12:07 am

Good point, 28. Six on one hand, half a dozen on the other. ;-)

Vultan
November 3, 2010 12:15 am

#29

Poe-tae-toe
Poe-taw-toe

Toe-may-toe
Toe-maw-toe

:D

Phaser Guy
November 3, 2010 12:23 am

Just another instance where the Government thinks it knows everything. Why do we pay these idiots?

Bill Peters
November 3, 2010 12:36 am

So the guy from California is a Romulus. who else Tourtues Vulcans ?

Boris
November 3, 2010 12:52 am

“Supreme Court” as in JJ and Co. is such a cheesy-business-jargon kind of metaphor. Let’s use plain English.

November 3, 2010 1:18 am

I discuss the videogames of Mass Effect a lot on this website. And I posted that the female alien race of the Asari would fall outside of the California law as to whether a player could cause violence or commit sexual acts against them. On my post @ 13 , i cite this race. Well, I will link what they look like below. Asari look like human females with the exception of the skin which is a beautiful blue and the hair.

Does this relate to Star Trek? Yes it does. Marina Sirtis (ST: TNG) played an Asari in the first Mass Effect game. The link below is from Mass Effect 2, and depicts Samara. By the way if you’ve got a chance, please play both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Not perfect games but excellent science fiction.

Captain Dunsel
November 3, 2010 5:07 am

So, the politicians try to give us The Three Laws of Gaming? And those laws encounter the same definitional failures as the Three Laws of Robotcs?

Looks like…

November 3, 2010 7:43 am

Humans,Aliens,Androids. What ever. But you don’t need horendous acts to make good games. Rape,torture is horrific imagery. Not needed to make good games.I wonder the logic of these game creaters.

Shunnabunich
November 3, 2010 8:05 am

Solution seems simple (relatively speaking — I mean, this is the legislative system we’re talking about): change the wording to refer to sentient beings instead of specifically humans.

@36: I would, perhaps, amend that to “only if it legitimately serves the story in an ultimately positive way”. If handled properly, violence can have great dramatic impact and be deeply disturbing. Perhaps the problem with violence in most video games is that it’s designed *not* to be disturbing, but rather to be a release.

Capt Mike of the Terran Empire
November 3, 2010 9:58 am

Ok. What id the game is a Trek Game and is called the Terran Empire and is set in an alternate timeline. Hmm. Would that be ok.

November 3, 2010 12:26 pm

@ 16, @ 21

There was a discussion of the possible new villains in the upcoming Star Trek film. This site reported a rumor that the new villan would be Harry Mudd, Trelane, Talosians, Gary Mitchell or the Horta. (Link below.) @ 16 posted what I believe to Bob Orci’s Twitter account. “No Talosians.”

My comment is that it’s just a rumor as to the list of villains or should we say antagonists. I have no idea if the list is correct. And things could change between drafts too. Remember this is an alternate universe so they could choose villains from other series also. Borg anyone? The Narada was built with Borg technology. (See graphic novel, Star Trek: Countdown”) Yes, I know the graphic novel is not canon. Could we have an exception to the rule? The story is from Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

If they decide to use a villain from the original series, I will continue to vote for the planet killer of “The Doomsday Machine.” Anyway here’s the story from TrekMovie.

http://trekmovie.com/2010/10/25/rumor-no-khan-for-star-trek-sequel-but-known-tos-villain/

November 3, 2010 12:48 pm

@ 38

According to the California law, if your Terran Empire game included killing humans or having them sexually assaulted then you could be prosecuted if you sold your “Mirror, Mirror” game to a minor. That’s because the depictions would be human regardless of the alternate timeline.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re Romulan Nero and wanted to make a game called “Call of Duty: Assault on Vulcan” a first person shooter where you run around killing Vulcans. Well, the way I interpret the comments of the Attorney General, that would be okay to sell to minors.

And please, Nero don’t make a videogame where you drill a hole in Vulcan and destroy it by turning it into a black hole. That game would be over in two minutes. : )

Will_H
November 3, 2010 1:35 pm

I have more respect for Sotomayor after reading this. These people trying to get video games even further censored are looking for a scape goat for the failings of today’s parents I think. I grew up on violent video games, probably a few of us here did, and I know I didn’t kill or attack anyone. Pretty sure most of you can say the same. Chances are we had:
A) Parents that did their jobs and taught us between right and wrong
B) A conscience
C) When our parents werent around we had Star Trek to teach us between right and wrong.

So yeah, just balance violent games out with some Star Trek and it’ll be all good, lol.

James Heaney
November 3, 2010 1:50 pm

@#11: Oh, boborci, now you’re just showin’ off. :P

I'm Dead Jim!
November 3, 2010 2:00 pm

@16

Not off topic at all. We just heard from the other Supreme Court!

November 3, 2010 2:05 pm

Inspiring words from Marco Rubio. Something about him reminds me of JFK.

39. Basement Blogger – November 3, 2010

No Talosians, huh? Probably because the planet is not called Talos IV in the new timeline.

That Bob Orci is a squirrelly dude. ;-)

boborci
November 3, 2010 4:55 pm

42. James Heaney – November 3, 2010

I know. I suck.

SciFiMetalGirl
November 3, 2010 5:24 pm

45. boborci – No, you don’t suck, you’re just a geek like the rest of us! :)

Dave
November 3, 2010 7:59 pm

45.

A wise Latina indeed! Now if we can just get dialogue from the Drumhead or Courtmartial into a Supreme Court opinion,,,,

November 4, 2010 10:21 am

A good loophole in the law would be for the games to use lawyers in place of humans; and nobody would object to them being killed or maimed.

Red Dead Ryan
November 4, 2010 10:26 am

48

The lawyers would sue to prevent that.

Mammalian Verisimilitude
November 4, 2010 11:20 am

37> Solution seems simple (relatively speaking — I mean, this is the legislative system we’re talking about): change the wording to refer to sentient beings instead of specifically humans.

But:
1) Characters in games *AREN’T* sentient.
2) Taking it the way you meant it, that would make a game where you bloodily shoot a tentacle monster that is meant to be intelligent illegal, but leave the android loophole.

Basically, think “humanoid” rather than “sentient” – anything that resembles a human structurally (with small details like blue skin, pointed ears, etc not constituting a loophole).

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