Earlier this week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments as to whether California can ban the sale of violent video games to children under the age of 18.
I’ll be interested to hear what it decides. California actually passed the bill five years ago, but it was blocked by lower courts and never went into effect. Detractors say the law violates the First Amendment—that is, it restricts free speech—adding that the current ratings system works just fine: Youngsters, the inference goes, aren’t really playing these games now. Why enact an unnecessary law?
“Video games are not pornographic magazines, which can be purchased with pocket change and consumed in private,” writes Tim Rutton in the Los Angeles Times. “Even used versions of popular games can cost $50, and very few young children or even adolescents make discretionary purchases of that size on their own. Games, moreover, are played out in the open on televisions and computers. A home in which those things go unmonitored has issues of parental supervision alongside which inappropriate video games are a minor matter.”
Rutton, of course, has a point. But some of his premise feels a little faulty. Children, we know, are buying and playing M-rated games in huge numbers—often (contrary to what Rutton says) on televisions and computers in their very own rooms, away from their parents’ prying eyes. Many parents either don’t understand the ratings system or, more worrisome, don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
Sure, in an ideal world, parents would be more vigilant. But that’s not always the case. Reams of studies show connections between violence in video games and real-life violence and, while scientists debate what those connections mean, it seems that they likely mean something. Society seems to accept, on some level, that pornography is unhealthy for kids to see, and enacted laws forbidding its purchase by minors. Couldn’t you make many of the same arguments when it comes to depictions of excessive violence? That it desensitizes impressionable brains? That it might spark an unhealthy attitude toward violence in youngsters? That it’s simply not that good for them?
Then again, in an age where porn and violence is accessible on most home computers with just a click or two, is all this hand-wringing moot?
I dunno. These are, after all, complex issues.
I’m a massive proponent of free speech. As a journalist and lifelong writer, I’ve built my career on the First Amendment, and I abhor the thought of it being restricted. Yes, there are many, many things that I think are unhealthy or unsuitable to watch or play. But I will forever support the inherent right of people to create it. And, to be honest, I’m kinda wary of unnecessary government intrusion.
At the same time, we as a society often show an unwillingness to make wise decisions on our own. While you may be a wonderful, discerning parent, the folks next door may not be—and their little darling could suffer for that later on. And, if violence in media does beget real-life violence at times, we all might.
I don’t have the answers here, just questions. So here’s another: Do you think the Supreme Court should make it illegal for kids to buy violent games?