Supreme Court ruling on video games only an assault on bad parenting

by Tom Shortell

The Supreme Court ruled Monday it’s unconstitutional to ban the sale of violent video games to children, striking a severe blow to lazy parents across the nation.

In a 7-2 decision that cast aside typical alliances of the court, the court ruled that video games as a medium are protected under the First Amendment as free speech. The decision struck down a 2005 California law that forbid the sale of games “that depicts ‘killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being’ in a way that appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors” to anyone under the age of 18.

The Supreme Court’s decision isn’t just a matter of child’s play. Along with addressing the ever-important matter of free speech, the case focuses on one of the most popular mediums in the country for the first time. Americans spend more than $10 billion a year on computer and video games, and 67 percent of U.S. households play such games, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Last year, for the first time ever, video games sold more units than music or movies last year. The top selling game, Call of Duty: Black Ops, sold 270,000 more units than Avatar, James Cameron’s top selling movie. That list is this close only because just console games were included; the top-selling mobile phone game Angry Birds sold about 9 million more units than Avatar.

California’s attorneys argued that video games pose a greater risk to children because they are an interactive medium. It’s one thing for a child to read a Superman comic book or watch a violent movie like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That’s a passive experience – the child isn’t doing anything more than observing a masked maniac butcher some sexed up teenagers. In games like Grand Theft Auto 4, the player is the one directing the character to shoot people, commit crimes and sleep with hookers to recover health. Some games, like Splatterhouse, actually use gore as a mechanic to level the character up. If Little Johnny isn’t protected from violent video games, he’s just not watching something violent. He’s the one doing the slaughtering.

Ultimately, the majority of the court came down on the side of industry lobbyists and game designers. Justice Antonin Scalia noted children have been subjected to violent tales since times untold. Some of Grimm’s Fairy Tales aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. “As her just desserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers ’till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy,’” Scalia wrote in the majority. Furthermore, no legal precedent exists for allowing censorship of a medium because of violence, Scalia said.

While I can understand the urge to shelter our children from needlessly violent images, the argument in favor of the ban is ignoring simple economics. A video game console costs about $300, and it requires a television to hook it up to. The proud owner of the game console will then need to spend about $65 to have a game to play on their expensive piece of electronic equipment. Perhaps I’m revealing too much of my own humble beginnings, but I doubt your average 12 year-old has that kind of cash flow.

The only way most kids can get their hands on a $65 game is A) they steal it, either directly from a store or by getting the credit card out of Mom’s purse and going online B) an adult buys it for them or C) an adult drives them to the toy store, hands them a Benjamin and tells them to go nuts without actually paying attention to what the child does with it.

The California law would only prevent scenario C from occurring, and honestly, states have bigger fish to fry with those same adults. I suspect if a parent who’s too lazy to see if their child is carrying home a copy of the horrific RapeLay game, they’re most likely neglecting their kid’s social and academic lives as well. If I’m right, then the only way to truly protect kids is by preventing some people from reproducing.

Tom Shortell is a New Jersey expatriate working as a reporter in Pennsylvania. He will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

8 replies »

  1. We are one of the rare families (esp with 4 boys) that doesn’t have a game console of any kind. We have a few computer games, but nothing more violent than football. Amazingly, my kids are well adjusted and fairly normal.

  2. Whoa. You’re dead wrong about the cash flow. Most of the 12-year-olds in my neighborhood could easily get their hands on $65 – and do, and more, on a regular basis. You’re correct, though, that the law wouldn’t really stop unsupervised kids from buying violent games.

    Now let’s go the logical step further and do away with age restrictions on pornography. Because if you think gaming is big business…

  3. Ann, while violence is perfectly acceptable, pornography has repeatedly been cited as obscene by the Supreme Court. You can have kids get rewarded for kicking enemies into the air and shooting them off a cliff in games such as Bulletstorm, but God forbid they see a bare breast.

    As for the 12-year-olds, how? If its just parents giving them money and not following up on it, I’d argue it’s the same thing as Scenario C. An allowance fits the same category. As a kid, I asked my parents if I could get an allowance. They said I was already getting free room and board, so I shouldn’t push my luck.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say the kids have the money needed. Few kids have the credit cards or the ability to set up a PayPal account. Unless they’re in an urban area or have access to public transportation, they’ll still need an adult to get them to a store. I acknowledge its a different conversation for teenagers, but I doubt 16-year-olds were the target audience of this law.

  4. I’m not sure why we need to do anything “for the sake of argument,” since I was agreeing with you. So let’s not.

    If you’re really curious about how a twelve-year-old can get money, ask one. The answers will vary, but the common thread will likely be your own underestimation of what a kid that age can do, will do and knows how to do. On second thought, maybe you’re better off not knowing.

    And yes, I’m well aware of the ins and outs (so to speak) of obscenity laws in this country. Shame, really, that we’re still so terribly confused about the true meaning of the word “obscene.”

  5. My general rule of thumb:

    Good parenting produces kids that will be successful even if they play video games. Bad (or absent) parenting will lead to problem kids even in the absence of video games.

    I think SCOTUS got this one right.

  6. Ah no, it’s removing the parents ability to screen out the bad stuff. Before this got shut down the parent had the ability to buy the R18 game and pass it on if they wanted to. Now they are neatly side stepped and American law continues to roll over for corporate interests.
    Of course good, involved parents will stop their kids from viewing things they deem unsuitable but it just got harder, and kids will find a way to watch this stuff.
    A serious sell-out by the Supremes.

  7. gah you have it all wrong hamish gaming isnt something that will make children violent as many people on this forum said it is the ABSCENCE OR LACK OF PARENTING for the children. especially since you do have to have an id to buy rated M games