According to Forbes, “The U.S. Supreme Court, as expected, struck down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children, saying video games are protected under the First Amendment and the law was an unconstitutional restriction of the freedom of speech.”
Oy. Just, ugh. The decision was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who says that “anybody who grew up on Grimm’s Fairy Tales or ‘Tom and Jerry’ knows kids’ entertainment has always been violent.”
Okay, um, I’m just gonna have to disagree with the majority opinion here, and Alito’s point that “Spending hour upon hour controlling the actions of a character who guns down scores of innocent victims is not different in ‘kind’ from reading a description of violence in a work of literature.” Cuz it’s waaaaaaaay different.
Look, here’s the thing: I believe wholeheartedly in free speech, and I use my right to it night after night, cursing and making sex jokes in bars to entertain people. ADULTS. Everyone who enjoys my free speech is 21+, or in some cases 18+, but certainly old enough to be hearing the things they’re hearing. No child under the age of… I don’t know… 16? 14? needs to be playing shoot-em-up games. I’m 34 years old and I don’t want to play shoot ‘em up games. Though I know there is a place for the discussion and examination of real-life violence (like in Rihanna’s Man Down, for example), I think acknowledging violence is completely different from encouraging violence. And people say that shoot-em-up games don’t encourage killing, okay, fine. I’ll believe that’s true if the player is well-adjusted, well-fed and well-loved. But what about kids/teens/adults who are isolated, who are technology addicts, who only experience life through a game console? According to the American Psychological Association, “Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior.” (Conversely, researchers at Texas A&M found that ”violent games helped reduce depression and hostile feelings through mood management, essentially acting as a stress ball,” when they tested young adults. Not children.) We spend so much time teaching our kids to be prosocial, why would we want to allow a video game to erode that?
You have to understand my perspective: I don’t like horror movies or violence, so I’m certainly not the target market for this stuff. But I think the fundamental point here isn’t really about video games being a part of free speech. I don’t think anyone is questioning the right of game designers to make violent video games. The question is whether or not those games should be marketed and sold to kids.
Justice Clarence Thomas, dissenting…. wrote:
“The freedom of speech,” as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors’ parents or guardians. Therefore, I cannot agree that the statute at issue is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Justice Stephen Breyer also dissented, saying the majority went too far in striking down a law aimed at protecting children from inappropriate content.
Exactly. We don’t let anyone under the age of 18 buy cigarettes and we don’t let anyone under the age of 21 buy alcohol, why should we let anyone under the age of 16 buy a violent video game? (I’m ballparking here with the age because I’m not an expert in brain development, but I figure if you can drive, you can play Call of Duty.)
Of course, how to precisely define “violence” in video games presents its own set of problems, but I think it’s pretty obvious that the “violence” seen in cartoons like “Tom and Jerry” and the old “Merrie Melodies” is not on par with controlling a pimp so that he beats a ho in Grand Theft Auto. (I’ve never seen an ACME anvil fall on an animal’s head, but I’ve seen photos of real battered women.) Let’s examine the difference between watching and playing, too: cartoons may show kids “violence,” but violent video games allow children to control the execution of violent acts. Even within the world of video games, Mario stomping on a mushroom head or throwing fire at a dragon is not as psychologically penetrating as a first-person soldier character shooting up other human characters. (Clearly it’s been a long time since I’ve cared about playing video games. Though I am pretty good at Wii Bowling and Rock Band.)
Also – for the record – when was the last time you saw a “violent” kids’ cartoon? The only thing violent on Nick Jr. today is the sound of Dora’s voice.
For me, the argument is simple. I’m a peacenik, I have an aversion to violence, I want to limit my daughter’s exposure to it. If you have to have ID to buy allergy medicine, why shouldn’t you have ID to buy something filled with adult content? We don’t let anyone under the age of 17 watch violent films, why should they play violent video games? Discuss.