Supreme Court: States Cannot Ban Violent Video Games

Mature rating on video game case
In an Associated Press article published in June 2011, Jesse J. Holland reported that the United States Supreme Court rejected the notion that states could ban the sale or rental of violent video games on the grounds that it would be a violation of young peoples’ First Amendment rights. Parents and the self-regulated multibillion-dollar gaming industry should be the arbiters of what children have access to, they said.

Read the AP article HERE.

It’s certainly a complex and longstanding issue, with video games – increasingly more interactive and increasingly visually realistic – dancing a dynamic space between observed media (such as a book, which is what it is each and every time) and actual real-world experience (as some studies suggest, what we see in movies and video games is stored – at least temporarily – in the same part of the brain as things we actually do and see in real life).

Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, with Breyer saying it makes no sense to legally block children’s access to pornography yet allow them to buy or rent brutally violent video games.

“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?” Breyer said.

Video games, said Scalia’s majority opinion, fall into the same category as books, plays and movies as entertainment that “communicates ideas – and even social messages” deserving of First Amendment free-speech protection. And non-obscene speech “cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them,” he said.

i VERY MUCH like that the Court is putting the responsibility back onto parents, but am disappointed in Justice Scalia’s weak and faulty “no precedent” argument:

States can legally ban children from getting pornography. But Scalia said in his ruling that, unlike depictions of sexual conduct, there is no tradition in the United States of restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. He noted the violence in the original depictions of many popular children’s fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White.

Hansel and Gretel kill their captor by baking her in an oven, Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves and the evil queen in Snow White is forced to wear red hot slippers and dance until she is dead, Scalia said.

“Certainly the books we give children to read – or read to them when they are younger – contain no shortage of gore,” he said.

video game responsibility flyerYou’re wrong, sir: the books that we give children to read are NOT the original Grimm Brothers’ tales most probably for the very reason that those stories ARE particularly morbid and gory. These stories have ALL been sanitized and retold to soothe our ever-evolving cultural values. Essentially, we’ve deemed the darkness of them to be distasteful, and have edited it out of the common tellings. If we were of a progressive mind toward editing violence from our deep subconscious menu of “Things That Excite Us” and “Conflict Resolution Options”, it seems the case could be made for a) starting with the children, and b) starting with their media.

For the record and to reiterate, i see this issue as complex and evolving, exciting and important. i’m glad that this conversation is happening at our highest lawmaking levels. Where i’d like for it to be happening even MORE, however, is right where the Supreme Court wants it to: in livingrooms and in toy store aisles.

The AP article is HERE. Please, share your thoughts!