Violent Videos Win. Kids Lose.


Image by Dekuwa via Flickr

Remember a few years back when Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction gave the youth of America a glimpse of her breast? People went bananas.  “Our kids saw that!” They cried. And the courts fined CBS for broadcasting the flash of flesh. But right now, there are any number of video games that encourage players to beat people to death, to rape women, to blow off people’s heads, and this week, the Supreme Court said kids don’t need to be protected from that.

This week, the Supreme Court ruled that a California Law banning the sale of violent video games to minors violates those minors’ first amendment rights, and was – as a lower court had determined – unconstitutional.

Justice Antonin Scalia argued that while sexual content has long been regulated for children, there is no precedent for limiting children’s access to violent content. The Court determined that the government’s “legitimate power to protect children from harm… does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

So what the Supreme Court is saying is, kids shouldn’t be exposed to sex, but if they rack up points by shooting someone – more points for shooting them in the head, and even more for shooting them in their private parts while playing a video game (in Bulletstorm), or if they shoot up a street full of Russian civilians whose blood spatters everywhere (Modern Warfare 2) — well, that’s freedom of speech.

I find this argument ridiculous on a number of levels.

1. Precedent Schmecedent. Just because the Courts haven’t done something before, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it now.  Take child protection laws.  For more than a century, there were no such laws.  Should we have allowed the continued abuse of children in the workplace, or at the hands of their parents simply because we’d never limited it before?

2. Degree matters.  The violence in the Red Shoes (which Justice Scalia referenced in his decision) is that of a girl forced to dance herself to death. Snow White?  A poison apple. Compare that to a child playing a character that beats someone to death with a hammer – with splattering blood and all — and who gets points for it! Not the same thing.

3. Consistency Counts  The law they struck down was pretty specific, it defined violent games as those “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” in a way that was “patently offensive,” appealed to minors’ “deviant or morbid interests” and lacked “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

So Scalia’s argument (And Ruth Ginsberg!! How could you agree with this?) that these video games are conveying “ideas and even social messages” just doesn’t work.

4. Obscene isn’t just about Sex. Doesn’t  content that includes the “entertaining” depiction of raping a prostitute then killing her when you’re done (Grand Theft Auto) seem obscene to you? Seriously.  How much more obscene does it get?

4. Do the Research  Do violent video games encourage violence in kids?

Read this excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

Many academics and medical professionals say yes, though not all agree. The  American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement in 2009 concluding that exposure to different forms of media, including video games but also TV, movies and music, “can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares and fear of being harmed.” The American Psychological Association takes a similar stance  in a resolution on violence in video games and advocates reducing the amount of violence in them.

True, there are some studies that show no correlation.  But the prevailing wisdom is that it’s unhealthy for kids to be exposed to graphic violence.  In the case of video games – to graphic violence in which they virtually participate.

So what’s next?   Hopefully, much like the Motion Picture Association – the video games association will monitor themselves, and limit childrens’ access to such games.  But in the end,  it’s up to parents to be – well – parents, and monitor what their kids are watching and playing.

Cause otherwise, they might be exposed to such terrible violence as a princess biting into a poison apple, right?

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