Violent Video Games: Will the Supreme Court Say No?

Time to put down the controls?

Today the Supreme Court hears Schwarzenegger Vs. Entertainment Merchants Association. In it, the state of California asks to ban the sale and rental of violent video games to those under 18.

The case raises many, many questions. Here’s one: Are violent video games bad for kids? (Maybe not.) Differently put, do they make kids more violent toward others ? (The research says yes.)  Parents might  not like violent video games but they’re protected as a form of free speech.  By saying violent video games should be banned is the state acting like the parent?

After all, video games are expensive. Who’s buying video games for kids? Once they’re in the house, how much time are kids allowed to spend playing video games?

Study after study has shown too much television screen time isn’t good for kids.  But kids still get plenty of it.  And when they do, they might see all kinds of violence. For that matter, kids encounter violence when they read, too.

As Nina Totenberg points out in the NPR story on the case, video games may be different from TV because of their interactivity.  When kids play them, they have to push buttons to blow things up instead of watching Bruce Willis (or Arnold Schwarzenegger) push those buttons for them and that does seem to make kids more aggressive and prone to bullying (link via Slate).

In her story on the case, Emily Bazelon notes that violent video games already come with parental warning labels.  Let’s face it, even if the Supreme Court decides that warnings are not enough and the games, which are very violent, need to be banned, kids will probably find a way to get a hold of them.  And when they do, it’ll be right back on parents to set up and enforce limits.

In a way, there’s something to the California case: Parents alone can’t stop kids from playing violent video games if the kids really want to.  But my strong guess is a parent’s partner in prevention isn’t the state, it’s the child.  Figuring out what will work for any family may involve extended arguments that feel like a Supreme Court case, only they’re not. It’s just a family figuring out what works when it comes to interactive entertainment, and what doesn’t.

Do you let your kids play video games?

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