Star Trek’s Vulcans Brought Up In Supreme Court Arguments On Violent Video Games Ban Case |
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Star Trek’s Vulcans Brought Up In Supreme Court Arguments On Violent Video Games Ban Case November 2, 2010

by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: Games,Great Links , trackback

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: (via Kotaku)

Thanks to Herbie for tip


1. Kenneth-Of-Borg - November 2, 2010

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

2. Allen Williams - November 2, 2010

in other words they are racists.

3. Reign1701A - November 2, 2010

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

4. rm10019 - November 2, 2010

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

5. Hat Rick - November 2, 2010

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 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….

6. Pensive's Wetness - November 2, 2010

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

7. Ian B - November 2, 2010

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?

8. Chris Mulrooney - November 2, 2010

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)

9. Phaser Guy - November 2, 2010

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

10. Corinthian7 - November 2, 2010

So ‘Vulcan Love Slave’ would be fine then?

11. Boborci - November 2, 2010

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

12. Scooter - November 2, 2010

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

13. Basement Blogger - November 2, 2010

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.

14. gingerly - November 2, 2010


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. :)

15. Terence T - November 2, 2010

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

16. Sean - November 2, 2010

Off topic, but… No Talosians.

17. nas - November 2, 2010

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.

18. DeShonn Steinblatt - November 2, 2010


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

19. Sam - November 2, 2010

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

20. CmdrR - November 2, 2010

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.

21. Areli - November 2, 2010


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.

22. dmduncan - November 2, 2010

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.

23. Anthony Pascale - November 2, 2010

Just so you know

if you come to this site and post links to something in every thread, they will all be deleted and you will be banned. This site isnt for people to spam and use to link to your site. You have something you think we should report on send it into the tip line

24. dmduncan - November 2, 2010

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

25. Boris - November 2, 2010

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.

26. Hat Rick - November 2, 2010

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

27. Charla - November 2, 2010


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

28. Vultan - November 2, 2010


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

29. Hat Rick - November 3, 2010

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

30. Vultan - November 3, 2010





31. Phaser Guy - November 3, 2010

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

32. Bill Peters - November 3, 2010

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

33. Boris - November 3, 2010

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

34. Basement Blogger - November 3, 2010

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.

35. Captain Dunsel - November 3, 2010

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…

36. Losira - November 3, 2010

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.

37. Shunnabunich - November 3, 2010

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.

38. Capt Mike of the Terran Empire - November 3, 2010

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.

39. Basement Blogger - November 3, 2010

@ 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.

40. Basement Blogger - November 3, 2010

@ 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. : )

41. Will_H - November 3, 2010

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.

42. James Heaney - November 3, 2010

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

43. I'm Dead Jim! - November 3, 2010


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

44. dmduncan - November 3, 2010

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. ;-)

45. boborci - November 3, 2010

42. James Heaney – November 3, 2010

I know. I suck.

46. SciFiMetalGirl - November 3, 2010

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

47. Dave - November 3, 2010


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

48. Frederick - November 4, 2010

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.

49. Red Dead Ryan - November 4, 2010


The lawyers would sue to prevent that.

50. Mammalian Verisimilitude - November 4, 2010

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.

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).

51. dmduncan - November 4, 2010

50: “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).”

I’ll be Sotomayor: “So killing Lt. Commander Data would be okay?”

52. Basement Blogger - November 5, 2010

Could the Califronia Law Endanger Star Trek?

The L.A, Times has reported that the Motion Pictiures Association of America (MPAA) has filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to affirm a lower court’s decision to strike down the California Law. (Link below.) Does this case have any relevance to the future of Star Trek movies. Yes, it does.

Let’s take a quick primer on First Amendment law. First, forgive me if I don’t get the issues exact. I have not read the briefs. Freedom of speech from government intrusion is protected by the First Amendment. It is a fundamental right. That means it’s a right that is a backbone to American democracy. The courts will protect that right from government abridgement with what we call “strict scrutiny.” That means that any government action against speech must 1) fulfill a “compelling government interest AND 2) must be done with the “least restrictive means.” See Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 31 (1968) Okay, let’s get this out of the way quick. Minors are treated differently under the law when it comes to the First Amendment. For example, in public schools they don’t have the same rights. Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007)

Some of you have proposed that the California Law (sorry, I don’t know the statute number) include “sentient beings.” @ 37, 50. That would run afoul of the ‘strict scrutiny” test since you’re actually enlarging the net for government to stiffle speech. Remember it must be done with the least restrictive means. Second, it’s vague. Vague laws can also be struck down. Chicago v. Morales 527 U.S. 41 (1999)

Next the L.A. Times points out the the killing and or sexual assault of human beings must be done that “appeals to a deviant or morbid interest” and have no “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” according to the California Law. The “literary, aritistic etc.” stuff is lanquage similar to rulings prohibiting obscenity but we need not address obscenity as it relates to Star Trek, unless someone makes an explicit film of Kirk’s night with slave woman Drusilla in “Breads and Circuses.”

So why is the MPAA worried? First, they’re worried about expansion of the California Law to film. Second, they’re worried about it having a “chilling effect” on the filmmakers. A law that has a “chilling effect” on what a writer or artists writes or expresses can be struck down under the First Amendment. It causes an artist to self censor himself. See wikipedia article below.

So can the California Law effect Star Trek? Okay, let’s make an assumption that California decides to expand it to film to creat a hypothetical example. Let’s take a look at Star Trek (2009) Remember how Engineer Olsen gets killed. Yeah, he got flambed alive on the end of Nero’s drill. Let’s add to our hypothetical. Vice Cop Wiggum sees Comic Book Guy sell Star Trek rated PG-13 to Bart who’s a minor. Wiggum cites Comic Book Guy. Wiggum thinks that Olsen’s death was “morbid” and had none of the values needed per law. This causes CEO of Big Pictures, Krusty to tell all writers of Star Trek to stop writing “morbid” death scenes. (Yeah, I know Paramount owns the rights, this is a fictional example. Plus I don’t want to get sued. :) ) See the problem?

Want a better fictional example? Okay assume the California Law applies to film and was around in 1977. Think about the film “Alien.” Pretend you’re the writer for this film. Knowing the studio and employees could get prosecuted would you change the chestburster scene where the alien bursts out of Kane’s chest? If you did to make it less “morbid,” you would have censored yourself. And what has happend to the art? Chilling effect. Censored by the state.

I’m a strong supporter of freedom of speech. I thing the California Law is unconstitutional and hope it’s struck down.

1. L.A. Times Article on the case
2. Wikipedia article on “chilling effect.”

53. Cody A - November 5, 2010

@3 Its part of Vulcan Love Slave.. you haven’t gotten your latest copy yet? lol

54. Disinvited - November 6, 2010


I’d rather stay on course and paraphrase her query as “So killing Captain Spock would be okay?”

You introduce androids and then you have to open the floor to figuring out exactly what is the equivalent of “death” for an android? Remember Data was decapitated for hundreds of years but they reconnected his head and sentience was as good as new. Some would describe that as being more akin to suspended animation and yet an android being “off” would certainly seem to fit the current legal definition which prefers to circle “brain” death.

55. Mammalian Verisimilitude - November 6, 2010

51> I’ll be Sotomayor: “So killing Lt. Commander Data would be okay?”

Data’s humanoid (any character played by a human in makeup, as with almost *all* Star Trek characters, is humanoid by definition).

And the point that seems to be being made by Sotomayor is that there’s no difference between “human” and “human with pointy ears” in the context. Once you get to (e.g) “big tentacle monster”, I doubt Sotomayor’d be bothered even if the BTM is meant to be sentient.

56. dmduncan - November 6, 2010

55. Mammalian Verisimilitude – November 6, 2010

So then killing Hortas would be okay?

57. Basement Blogger - November 6, 2010

I think what Justice Sotomayor was getting at was that the California Law would fail on the lowest test of review which is the rational basis test. Laws that do not impinge fundamental rights are usually given rational basis review. That means there must be a rational basis for the restriction and it must have a legitimate governmental concern. Almost all governmental laws will pass this test. Remember though that First Amendment rights are fundamental rights so they are given the highest protection or strict scrutiny review on governmental interference.. (See my post @ 52)

Justice Sotomayor correctly points out that Vulcans look like humans. If the point is to protect minors from killing and sexually assaulting humans in computer games then a producer can get around the restriction by mildly altering a small feature. And that occurs in videogames. See Mass Effect where on occasion you have to kill Asari who look like women only with tentacle like hair and blue skin. In fact, in Mass Effect 1 you have to kill Marina Sirtis’ Asari character. The law makes no sense because a child could blow away a humanoid character. Where’s the protection for the children? So the California Law can’t even pass the lowest review of legislation.

Second, please stop trying to expand the law by trying to write in sentient beings. We’re dealing with the First Amendment and laws that interfere with that law must undergo strict scrutiny. They must serve a comelling interest and must be done in the LEAST RESTRICTIVE MEANS. Expanding the law to cover Horta or other sentient characters is not the least restrictive means.

I hope the Supreme Court agrees that the law is unconstitutional. If California can pass a law like this, then they may follow up with a law on film. Then watch out. Filmmakers will censor themselves so they don’t run afoul of the law. Chilling effect. (@ 52) Censored indirectly by the state. That’s why the MPAA is so concerned.

58. Jovan Gauthier - November 8, 2010

… so wait, violence against other intelligent beings is okay because they aren’t human? It doesn’t matter if a game only depicts squirts of green blood coming from Vulcans and Romulans when shot. Such a game would be considered as violent as one where red blood comes from genuine humans.

As far as equating sex with violence goes, he should be ashamed of himself. Everyone here probably knows the benefits of sex acts over violent acts, not to mention the difference between healthy sexuality and rape, so I need not say why his statement is so flawed.

59. Rush Limborg - November 8, 2010

I wonder if Justice Sotomayor said the Vulcan line as a cheap shot at Justice Scalia–the Court’s real-life Vulcan….

60. dmduncan - November 8, 2010

59. Rush Limborg – November 8, 2010

Nah, why would you think that? She’s asking a good question I think. Whether it’s human or human enough (Vulcan) it’s still understood as sentient so why should the law allow that loophole to companies who want to market violent stuff to children where they can use that trick to get around the law’s intent?

Plus, if Vulcans really exist and come to visit earth someday, we don’t want a whole generation of kids growing up on violence to Vulcans such that the ambassador has his “Live long and—” interrupted by a shotgun blast that blows off two of the fingers in his Vulcan salute. is represented by Gorilla Nation. Please contact Gorilla Nation for ad rates, packages and general advertising information.