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Banning Violent Video Games (Parent's Talk)

A Supreme Court decision this week struck down California's 2005 ban on selling violent video games to children under age 18. Was this a good move?

“Video games communicate ideas—and even messages.”

Those were the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion Monday, agreeing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento that California’s 2005 attempt to ban anyone under 18 years of age from buying or renting violent video games is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

While that’s certainly great news for the video industry, which reportedly did business worth at least $18 billion in 2010, it’s safe to say that many parents in Altadena and beyond probably side with the two dissenting judges in the Supreme Court who disagreed with the majority opinion.

America’s founding fathers, wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, did not envision freedom of speech to “include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.”

The highest court’s other dissenting voice—that of Justice Stephen Breyer—deemed the issue as less about censorship and more about education. "Sometimes, children need to learn by making choices for themselves," Breyer wrote. "Other times, choices are made for children—by their parents, by their teachers, and by the people acting democratically through their governments."

So Altadena parents, what do you think about this decision?  Do you approve of a ban on violent video games for children?

And what do you think about the games themselves?  Do you let your child play them?  Do you think they are dangerous for kids?  Or are they relatively harmless?

To lead the discussion we turn to our local moms council, with Courtney Scrabeck, Nina Malone, and Deborah Graff of the local MOMS club, as well as local moms Leslie Aitken and Nadine Isenberg, and Laura Monteros.

Josh June 30, 2011 at 01:01 PM
"America’s founding fathers, wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, did not envision freedom of speech to “include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.”" This is an incorrect statement, and it is sad to see that a US Supreme Court Justice made it. The founding fathers specifically said, in the 1st amendment, and outside of it, that they did not want to put any restrictions on speech. Previous supreme courts have acknowledged this, and ruled accordingly. You will notice that restrictions to free speech are very few and far between, and only used in the most extreme circumstances. I support the decision of the court, and will fight to the end to keep speech free. Whether it's Shakespeare in the Park, or Westboro Baptist Church, it is all protected. And video games fall under this protection. The meet the guidelines for speech, and are (widely) considered a form of art. If you don't want your kids to play violent video games, that is ok. I will support your right as a parent to do that. But the government has no right to keep your kid from playing video games. If you don't want your kids to play violent video games, sit them down. Talk with them. Keep an eye on what they are playing. Keep the X-Box/PS3/Wii in the living room where you can observe. Exercise your rights as parents, don't limit the rights of others.
Leslie Aitken June 30, 2011 at 01:41 PM
OPINION ALERT: I think if our founding fathers would have known what the whole "freedom of speech" thing would end up defending, that they never would have suggested it. The context of the time was that freedom of speech would allow all people to talk about religion and politics without fear of retribution. Speech meant that -- talking, orating, discussing, debating. I am sure that it didn't include freedom of violent video games, or pictures of naked people, or movies of people doing all of the above. This to me is a no brainer. Kids don't know what is best for them. They need their parents, but in this day and age, with so many absentee parents, they need society to have common sense and NOT let kids rent such brain rot to children at video stores.
mister altadena June 30, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Ah yes, the ban police tried but couldn't sneak this one past the goalie. Banning products b/c kids don't know what's good for them? That's a grandiose statement covering ALL kids. Assuming parents know what's good for their kids (debatable), parents need to step up and oversee what games their children are playing. Some kids can deal w/ the violent games, some can't. Presumably, it's parents that are buying the game consoles; they've made that investment. They should continue to parent and watch what games their kids buy & rent.
doris finch June 30, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Josh, Mister Altadena, that's a nice idea[l] to have parents who have time, education, and judgement to lovingly oversee their children, who will happily listen to the wise ones, but it isn't reality. Of course their are such parents, one of whom gave you an OPINION ALERT, but there are many others who don't or can't do the oversight, as Leslie said. In this case, it takes a village, or society, to set a standard to apply to children. This is for both the children and for society at large, because violence begats violence in at least some vulnerable children. And note, guys, no one is telling you what you may load your mind with. It is kids we are talking about. Another good point made by Leslie: The founders had no way of knowing or predicting our current society, so we have to sort things out ourselves for the health of our community.
mister altadena June 30, 2011 at 08:11 PM
@ Doris....so, common sense for parents isn't reality? The video game industry puts warning labels on violent or risque games. Too many parents squirm out of their parenting responsibilities..... and the "village" lets it happen. Society excuses itself out of every responsibility it can. I'm so sick & tired of people saying that it takes "time, education & judgment" and that there are many who don't or can't do the oversight? Why keep giving parents these breaks? Is it "OK" to NOT be a good parent b/c you don't have enough education to have common sense? Or may favorite "parent doesn't read English so they don't know about the warning labels". So, when it becomes too much of a hassle to be a parent, the village should start taking away "stuff" so kids don't hurt themselves or others? I could support a law that says parents need to sign or OK the purchase of a violent game for their child.....much like a PG-13 movie; parent is supposed to be at the movie w/ the child.
Nadine Isenberg June 30, 2011 at 10:14 PM
If a village helps raise kids then my house is way to small. What goes on in your own home is for the Parents to handle. I have kids from 23-15-9 and so there are different levels of what is being brought into our home. Unlike some, the older siblings are aware of what the youngest one is up to. Ah you say sure, will I can say yes and you know why, because they all play together and even though I would not purchase these items just for the 9 yr old hearing them all laughing, talking and ejoying each other is above all the most important. Yes we make sure they all know the difference between these games and what is really going on in the world and I am glad to say I have 3 children with the knowledge of good-bad, right-wrong and left-right. It's not always about the violance in the game but what the kids do with the game. In my case, my kids don't fight with each other during this time and actually show more respect to each other then when just hanging around the house. Go figure.
Laura Monteros July 01, 2011 at 04:26 AM
I am uncomfortable with the government deciding what my child can and can't see. I am (well, was, they're all adults now) perfectly capable of censoring those things that I did not want my children to see, and sometimes it was individual. One of my toddlers couldn't watch Sesame Street because that particular child couldn't handle the frenetic pace. Like Nadine, there's quite an age spread in our family, six years between #2 and #3. When #2 was a teen, he saved up and bought a game console. He was responsible enough that he would not play certain games around the younger ones. The games they did play were appropriate and they were able to relate to each other through the time they spent together. There are some studies that indicate that playing violent games actually help gamers be less violent in real life. Not sure if I agree, but there isn't a hard link between games and life. All my kids are non-violent, even though they've played violent games as teens and adults. On the other hand...my daughter and I did give #2 a very hard time about killing prosititutes in Grand Theft Auto and how that reflects the view of women in society. ;)
Nina Malone July 01, 2011 at 06:01 PM
I agree with Leslie and Doris, you have said it well. I think it's great that both laura and nadine have been "present" parents and I know some of the other parents making comments, they too are in their children's lives. That their children are responsible enough to be thoughtful of the younger kids. But the thought of my 6 year old playing a game where they blow prostitutes away is deplorable. This isn't about adults having access and if the parent wants the child to have the game in the first place, it doesn't ban the parent from buying it. I can guarantee you that many of these well-raised, overseen children are buying stuff that their parents wouldn't approve of. I did it as a kid and so will kids today. Will it turn them into violent prostitute murders? Probably not, but do we need to be exposing our kids to that stuff before it's necessary? I lived nextdoor to an 8 year old who was showing me how his video game simulated sex. He wouldn't have learned this had it not been for the video game. yay for free speech. But his grandma bought it, it was her decision to expose it to him. But for every parent who will buy the game for them, there are enough that wouldn't (regardless of whether they care or not), but because of the easier accessibility, my daughter can learn about blowing up prostitutes in the school yard, woop woop.
True Freedom July 01, 2011 at 09:42 PM
I'm not totally opposed to a rating system and restrictions based on age.. in exactly the same way that movies are regulated. Here, if a parent decides that it's ok for their child to have a game, the parent can buy or rent it. The game itself is not banned, it's the allowing a minor to make their own decision to pick it up.
Leslie Aitken July 01, 2011 at 10:28 PM
The legal age of drinking is 21. Does that infringe on anyone's freedoms? So what is wrong with a rating system on video games? And really, are children thwarted by being protected from sex and violence? I don't even understand how this is debatable! My son is 31. When he came home at age 14 with the latest Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg CD, I sat down by myself at night and listened to the whole thing. And while the beats and the hooks were unmistakable, so was the message of gin and juice, and smoking weed while cruising in a pimped out car. Definitely NOT what I wanted him to emulate. When I got to the song: B**ches ain't s*#t but hos and tricks....well that cut it for me. I was a single Mom living in a house with my son and my daughter. I birthed my son to soft soothing music, dimmed lights, at home in my kitchen so he could turn 14 and fill his head with that rot? NO NO NO NO! Censorship? OH YES IT WAS! And I wasn't afraid to tell him that if he wanted to fill his head with misogynistic malarkey, he could have the CD's back when he turned 18 and lived on his own. But in the meantime....MY HOUSE -- MY RULES! I wasn't his favorite person for a while......but he got the message loud and clear: There is a difference between right and wrong, Mom has clear boundaries and she will protect him and her family from as much as she could We laugh about it now that the music is "old school" but the message lives on!
Joseph Barley July 01, 2011 at 11:44 PM
I myself belong to the group that this law applies to: a 15 year old video game player. Yes, in some game that I play, you can murder prostitutes, stab old women, and blow up an entire city. But despite all this, anyone will tell you that I am not a violent person at all, I even passed out when I saw blood a few days ago! The point is, it's not hard to distinguish between what's ok in a video game and what's ok in real world society. Also, to a lot of people's surprise, there are lots of video games that communicate good moral lesson. For example, Metal Gear Solid, a popular shooting game, is all about how terrible and unnecessary war is. Grand Theft Auto 4 (the game where you can kill prostitutes) even has a good moral message. The main character spends the whole game searching for a man to get revenge. At the end, when the player finds this person, the game shows that revenge does not solve anything. In fact, almost games try to communicate messages such as these, and this law would put those views out of reach of minors. And about the founding fathers, they knew what they were doing when they wrote the Bill of Rights. They knew that society would change, and they had the possibility of change in mind. After all, their constitution still works fine 200 years later. We cannot just assume that they weren't thinking about speech to children, if they wanted us to assume that, they would have written it.
Joseph Barley July 01, 2011 at 11:56 PM
@Lestlie Atkin The debate comes from the fact that this law would not only censor violence, but also the messages that the game writers wanted their audience to hear. And our country was founded on the idea that the government can NEVER censor that.
Leslie Aitken July 02, 2011 at 12:44 AM
WHAT? So if a video game writer wanted to convey the "idea or message" that it is okay for....oh , say, adults to have sex with children - you think the people who founded this country would think that was freedom of speech? I am pretty sure that the Bill of Rights was never written to protect video game writers and allow them to convey whatever ideas and messages that they want!
Mike f. July 02, 2011 at 09:44 AM
Look if you don't want your kids to play violent video games then don't have kids. Honestly to the blind parents that think your kid is a saint guess again oh and by the way my brother didn't play video games and he ended up addicted to drugs and he is in jail, while 99% of the games I play are just so terribly violent and yet I don't have any of those problems I'm now 20 working and never been in trouble. To all the ignorant people that blame video games for their kids or their own problems your just to afraid to admit your the cause for your own problems no one else is responsible.
Beth W. July 06, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Hi, I wanted to let you know I included your thoughts in my roundup of parents' reactions to the Supreme Court ruling: http://backwardmessages.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/parents-respond-to-violent-video-games-ruling/
navigio July 07, 2011 at 12:49 AM
Hi Joseph, I believe protected speech components can be treated separably so the existence of 'good' messages has no bearing on whether the violence would be considered protected (you cant yell fire in a crowded theater no matter how many other good things you're doing at the time), Ie this ruling seems to explicitly protect the message of violence as a component of free speech. Not expressing a value judgement just trying to interpret the ruling.
mister altadena July 07, 2011 at 05:03 AM
AOL search on this topic: http://search.aol.com/aol/search?s_it=topsearchbox.search&v_t=comsearch50&q=US+SUPREME+COURT+STRIKES+DOWN+VIDEO+GAME+BAN

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