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DUMB: Supreme Court Overturns CA Law Banning Sale of Violent Video Games to Children

By carolyncastiglia |

violent video games, supreme court

Do you want your kid playing an ax man?

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.

Forbes reports:

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.

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About carolyncastiglia

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carolyncastiglia

Carolyn Castiglia is a New York-based comedian/writer wowing audiences with her stand-up and freestyle rap. She’s appeared in TONY, The NY Post, The Idiot’s Guide to Jokes and Life & Style. You can find Carolyn’s writing elsewhere online at MarieClaire.com and The Huffington Post. Read bio and latest posts → Read Carolyn's latest posts →

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19 thoughts on “DUMB: Supreme Court Overturns CA Law Banning Sale of Violent Video Games to Children

  1. Ali says:

    It’s simple. You’re a parent, do your job! If you wouldn’t let your kid go to an R-rated movie, don’t let them buy an M-rated game. My husband and I are big gamers (and comic book nerds, and cartoon junkies) but I won’t play Call of Duty until my 4 year old is in bed. She watches Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes because even SHE gets that Dora is annoying, but has yet to point a loaded rifle at her face, yell “Duck Season!” and fire. She knows who all the big name superheroes are, but has she seen “Batman Begins” or “Iron Man?” No, because they are age inappropriate, and we set the rules. I cannot WAIT until she IS old enough to watch and read all of these things, because there’s nothing better than a family trip to the comic shop!

  2. Chris says:

    Are you aware that there is a rating system for games, and that reputable retailers will not sell Mature-rated games to minors? It’s a voluntary rating system, very much like the one you seem to support for movies. So your statement, “We don’t let anyone under the age of 17 watch violent films, why should they play violent video games?” doesn’t really make sense, since we don’t let them buy violent video games, either.

  3. goddess says:

    Of course it’s each parent’s job to monitor the games their children play and purchase. However, we don’t sell porn, cigarettes and alcohol to people under certain ages- not sure WHY (since some R-rated movies are rated due to violence) there should be any different governance for video games.

  4. Sara says:

    How about parents control their kids games.

    You can’t compare a video game to porn. Not to mention that a ten year old can go into a bookstore and buy very sexual manga or romance novels more problems.

    It’s a parents job to parent their children. Not the government.

  5. goddess says:

    Sure I can Sara. You can disagree, but I can find all the similarities that I’d like. When you can play a game that humps and snuffs out prostitutes I’d say you are in the same category of inappropriate and dangerous to kids. And yes, I know EXACTLY which games my kids have and have since the 21yr old got his first Sega Genesis. I’m the mean Mommy who forbade HitMan, Mafia, all the GFAs and one other I can’t recall form my home. And actually, it still stands since he lives here while finishing his degree. And the younger 2 are monitored- and he even screens some of the newer games before they can play them.
    But I see no problem with a few rules like they have for porn, alcohol and cigarettes.

  6. Mae says:

    It’s not the government’s place to decide what kind of products my child consumes. That is my job. You may think that violent video games are inappropriate for minors, and that’s great, so don’t let your kid play violent video games. But it’s my decision which video games/movies/books are too violent and which are not. Mine. Not the government’s.

  7. carolyncastiglia says:

    Mae, the law wouldn’t prohibit YOU from buying a game and letting your child play it. It would prohibit your child from buying it directly.

  8. goddess says:

    It’s not the government’s job to decide what the restaurants in downtown Cleveland use in their cooking- nor the toys McDs puts in the Happy Meals, nor that I wear a seat belt and the kids use a car seat til 8 and 80lbs. . Yet they do. Dela with it.
    As reiterated ad nauseum here: the govt already regulates the sale of other products to minors including violent media= this falls under that umbrella as well.

  9. michelle says:

    I can’t believe all you parents on this board saying that because it’s the parents’ job to regulate what their kids see/consume, this must mean government has absolutely no role to play. Your logic is totally wrong and here’s why. You also say that you yourselves restrict what your children can see/consume. Okay, great. So this means you know some content is harmful to children. Now we also know there are parents out there who are bad parents and let their kids do whatever. So, babble commenters, are you saying that children deserve to suffer because of the bad decisions of their parents? How are these innocent children at fault? Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be at least *some* societal role in putting into place some minimal protection from emotionally harmful content? Because it sure seems to me like you are blaming children for their parents’ bad choices.

  10. im-in-tx says:

    I don’t get those who say “it’s not the government’s job to parent my child.” All the law says is that a minor can’t go into a store and purchase the video games for him or herself. If a parent wants to buy the video game for the child, he or she is free to make that very poor decision.

  11. goddess says:

    Actually Michelle- I’m not big on the “village parenting thing” since I am prevented from using my own parenting techniques on any children but mine, LOL!
    Do children suffer? Yes. Can I ask mom to abort ones she should never have had? No. And no to so many more things.

  12. lam says:

    I’m with Michelle. It’s not always about parents and our rights. Children are citizens, too, and entitled to protection from certain things by their government. Our government has some obligation to the children of our nation to ensure that they are fed, clothed, protected from abuse, and provided with a basic education. Children have long been considered a public interest, and our governance reflects that. I love gaming, and the violent games are some of the best out there, but after I’ve played for a while, I FEEL like I’ve really done something… When I’m out in the world, I see things a little bit differently. Gaming is fun, but to say there aren’t concerns with its impact on the mind is either naive or dishonest. It’s because of this that I think their sale to minors should be prohibited.

  13. Kristi says:

    Theres a little thing called the ESRB. They decide if a game is fit for children or only adults. They put an M on MATURE games and Only adults can buy them.
    The guy working at EB games or walmart isnt going to let a minor buy a game that is rated M, they get in trouble for it.
    If a parent buys a violent game then it should be for only them to play when their kids arent around. If they let their kids play those games then its called Bad Parenting

  14. Amanda says:

    I don’t understand why we can prohibit the sale of porn to kids but not the sale of violent video games. Why is one worse than the other?

  15. goddess says:

    Cuz everyone knows sex is bad for kids to know about and killing is good for them to imagine doing Amanda!

  16. LooLoosMommy says:

    This is a silly debate. On one hand there is already a rating system for games and M games are not sold to minors. (Most of you non gamers seem to be oblivious to that). So although not technically a law it is a regulation. Kinda makes the law seem pointless. Its like anything else cigarettes, porn, liquor are all illegal yet some places sell to minors. Then on the other hand is the regulation in itself. Like MICHELLE pointed out there are bad parents who let there kids do whatever. So regulation would protect them. But where is the line with that? There are so many obese children and parents who cant seem to make the best choices for them are minors going to be band from purchasing certain foods? What about cable TV? What if there is a minor in a home who could watch an inappropriate show and there parents don’t care? Should homes with minor children not be allowed certain channels? Or omg what about the internet!!!??? It goes from semi reasonable to pretty ridiculous with that type of thinking.

  17. ChiLaura says:

    Interestingly, it was the left-leaning justices who struck down the ban, with Scalia joining them. The dissenting opinions were all over the board.

    Regardless of how one feels about the ban, I want to know how kids would get money to buy these games in the first place? We’re not talking about $5 saved up from an allowance, right? For all the talk about how the gov’t needs to step in, and how movies and other things have restrictions, and how parents can’t control marketing, etc.: How do kids have $50 or $60 (I don’t even know how much they cost) to buy the games in the first place?

  18. puasamanda says:

    Another one chiming in to explain that M-rated games are not sold to minors by any major retailer. I spent the last four years of my life running a video store, where we both rented and sold games. The ESRB sets the ratings standards for video games, and they also require manufacturers to carry EXACT descriptions on the game case as to why that game received a certain rating. The sale and rental of games is self-regulated by the industry – i.e., virtually all retailers have signed on voluntarily to regulate the sale and rental of M-rated or Adult-rated games. They create a voluntary contract with the ESRB that states they will not sell or rent these to minors, then they enforce it from within. The ESRB, along with the FDC, does regular audits and secret-shops to test the retailer’s compliance – according to the ESRB site, there is an 87% compliance rate, and getting better every year. It gets even more technical when it comes to getting inventory, because game manufacturers regulate the industry by refusing to provide product to retailers who don’t comply with ESRB recommendations – a terrific motivator for individual stores to enforce their policies. With major retailers, such as the corporate store that I ran, the sale or rental of one of these games to an unaccompanied minor results in a large PERSONAL fine to the employee ($5,000 at my job, and we were not unusual). A law seems a little redundant.

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