Game Over?


RatedM.JPGEarlier 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?

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Spinmaster:

JIM, following that logic, we could go down an interesting path...  You're saying that if parents don't exercise proper guidance of their children, the government should be allowed to; ok, lets try that idea out in a related (but perhaps slightly more drastic) area.  The very act of becoming a parent is something that ought to be considered carefully before one takes that step... yet many people don't consider it at all.  They don't think about whether they're willing to devote themselves to raising a healthy (both physically, and more pertinent to this subject, mentally) child - or whether they're even capable of doing so.  But yet they have children... be it from an innate but ill considered desire to reproduce, or perhaps simply because they felt like "getting smoochey".  And the child suffers because of a parent(s) that won't - or maybe isn't qualified to - be a parent.These folks really oughta take a step back and say "you know, I'm not ready/willing/able to raise a child properly".  But they won't, and the children suffer.  Well... maybe the government should be allowed to.  After all, we don't let just anybody own an animal... why should just anyone be allowed to have children?

I'm not saying I advocate licensing reproduction... but I have seen people that either won't or can't be good parents.  But they have kids just the same.It's a sobering thought... Should this be allowed to happen?  Or on the other hand, should we give away our freedom to prevent it?

I digress somewhat, so to summarize; you can't advocate allowing the government to take the parent's responsibilities in this case, without condoning things such as licensing reproduction.  The scale may be very different, but the principle is exactly the same.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  RayJ829:

I'm kind of confused here.

I thought the M label on the games meant that anyone under 18 couldn't purchase the games without an adult present...? Maybe Illinois just enforces it more than California but I've seen stores out here card people buying M-rated video games - I was even carded a few times for purchasing an R-rated movie!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Bunjiman:

Even if it passes, I doubt it would have a large effect.  If the kids don't buy it, the parents will, or they could get someone else old enough to buy it for them.  Anyone under 17 isn't supposed to watch an R rated film, but they certainly watch them in droves at home.  As always, lots of lip service to what it's supposed to be, but no actual enforcement that they'll consistently stand by.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  JIM:

The ESRB can already prevent anyone under 18 from buying AO rated games.  All they would be doing is making the list of games children can't buy more inclusive, so its nothing brand new.  I'm all for it.  As much as freedom of choice sounds good, someone has to stop kids from playing games like that.  If parents won't do it, I say the government should be allowed to.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Sean_the_Highlander:

I completely agree with your wariness of government intrusion. America was built on the principle of choice, choosing the lives we wish to live. Even God never violates our freedom to choose; He offers us Grace, but it is up to us if we take it.

As to the video games, I agree that it is disturbing that young children are playing "M" rated games. On one hand it is good that someone is stepping in for these kids. On the other hand, it is the parents that should be doing this, not the government. To me, this is yet another case of the government taking responsibility for the parenting of our children away from their moms and dads.

Ultimately, we need God to turn the hearts of the children to their parents and the hearts of their parents towards their children. Until then, stop government intrusion into our basic freedom of choice!