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.