Regulating Violent Video Games: A Job for Parents or Government?

The Supreme Court takes up a landmark case

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Should children be allowed to buy violent video games? For years, courts have struck down laws prohibiting such purchases. However, the Supreme Court decided this week to consider a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors. Sponsored by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the law imposes $1,000 fines on stores skirting the law. Should the government regulate what children play or should parents?

  • This Is a Landmark Case, says Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst speaking in a video clip at CNN: "The parallel is the movie ratings because we don't allow kids into [R-rated] movies. Remember, those are voluntary ratings. The motion picture industry set those up so the government did not regulate it. But the government has never regulated who can go to movies. So the question is: Will the government now regulate who can buy a video game?"
  • Laws Don't Go Far Enough to Help Parents, argues Craig Anderson, a professor at Iowa State University: "The results are really quite clear, regardless of gender... regardless of culture... we know that playing violent videogames increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior and aggressive thinking, decreases the likelihood of pro-social behavior, increases what you might think of as desensitization... Probably the best solution is to educate parents... but we also need to give parents better tools and the current rating systems don't do that."
  • What Is Schwarzenegger Doing Regulating Violence? asks Mike Masnick at Techdirt: "It's particularly ironic, given that the main supporter of the bill is The Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became famous starring in violent movies that are quite similar to the violent video games he now seeks to attack. As with every other state, the original law was found to be unconstitutional in both the district court, and again on appeal. Not surprisingly, The Governator has continued to waste taxpayer money on legal costs fighting for this bill (despite the state being massively cash-strapped)."
  • The California Law Is Too Far-Reaching, writes Michael Pachter, a research analyst at Wedbush Morgan: "When I last looked at the law, it was pretty broad. It said any game that depicted any member of law enforcement shot at was considered too violent for minors to purchase. What if you are playing the cop? How do you have a game where you are chasing robbers and they don't shoot back? The reason it was struck down in California was that is was overbroad and that they didn't prove that even being a police man, it was harmful for minors to see that. You see that on television all the time. And you can have a PG-rated movie where a cop gets shot at."
  • I Wouldn't Trust This Court's Judgment on Video Games! writes Kevin Ohannessian at Fast Company: "[This is the] same Supreme Court where Chief Justice John Roberts asked the difference between email and a pager, and where Justice Antonin Scalia asked if 'spicy little' texts could be printed out and sent in hard copy to buddies... I would like to make a suggestion, if it would please the court: pick up a controller and play some games, to understand them better than you understood texting and email."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.