Editor’s Note: A version of this article ran in The Washington Times. Click here to read it.
The constitutionality of a law regulating the sale of extremely violent video games to minors is being challenged in the Supreme Court. The California law in question prohibits the sale of violent video games to minors and imposes up to $1,000 in fines.
The law defines “violent video games” as games “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted in the game in a manner that … appeals to a deviant or morbid interest for minors … is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community … and it causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors,” or games in which the violence is “especially heinous, cruel or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.”
This law seems reasonable to any parent who has taken a look at some of the more violent games available to children today. Games like Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto include some of the most heinous crimes imaginable, including murder, theft, torture and even serious sexual assault. The treatment of women should be especially troubling as we see real cases of abuse pour on our society like torrential rain. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the child’s character can recover health by visiting prostitutes, beating them to death and taking back the character’s money.
That’s the type of “free speech” opponents of the law are defending.
Yet the law, despite being labeled a “ban” on speech by its detractors, is no ban on speech at all. If a parent has no problem with the harm this type of content has on children, he can go ahead and purchase the game for them. This law puts parents back in control.
There is no question that playing violent video games has an adverse effect on our children. Parents know this intuitively, and the research confirms it. It ranks right up there with gang membership as the No. 1 sign for propensity to commit crimes of violence. Among the risk factors for aggressive or violent behavior, it is three times greater than substance abuse and two times greater than a record of prior violence.
The research in this area is so clear that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pediatricians “assess their patients’ level of media exposure and intervene on media-related health risks.” The academy’s official policy states, “The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music and video games, as a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents.”
The Supreme Court has seen the wisdom in this type of argument when it comes to obscenity, but in oral arguments, it seemed reluctant to extend the same level of deference to the issue of violence. Can the justices not see the harmful effects we as parents can see of this type of exposure to violence, just as the court was able to see it in the case of obscene materials?
Video games are especially troubling because children are not just exposed to this garbage, they are, in fact, asked to “participate” in it. These are “role-playing” games in which game developers offer our children the “thrill” of engaging in murder, sexual assault, etc. The desensitization cannot possibly be ignored by any reasonable person.
These “games” are so “real” that the same technology is used by the military, NASA and other professional groups to train in their respective fields.
Just as the Constitution allows states to regulate minors’ access to pornography and gambling, it allows states to empower parents to have more control over their children’s access to extremely violent video games.
Parents can see that. We just hope the Supreme Court can.