OMGN: Online Movies & Games Network

Opinions on Supreme Court's Violent Video Games Ruling

Three of the OMGN staff weigh in on the Supreme Court's recent ruling

On June 27, the Supreme Court made a final decision on a topic under debate for the last few years as to whether video games are protected under the First Amendment and, thus, to be treated as free speech. Also under debate was whether video games belong in the same category as films, literature and music, and are therefore considered an expressive art form.

Lady Justice

We at OMGN are passionate about video games and the industry that surrounds them. The decision has left us and many others talking about the impact it will have on both gamers and the industry as a whole for years to come.

Kyle's Thoughts

The decision made by the Supreme Court has been a tremendous victory for video games in a number of ways. The most important is that video games are now fully recognized as a legitimate art form able to stand alongside other notable forms, from film to literature.

However, a more striking argument being made by all sides is the ease at which children have access to these titles. Some of the strongest opponents of the topic have pointed out that ultra violent content being readily available to children creates a moral and ethical dilemma of immense proportions.

The ESRB rating system is not a difficult system to understand. It is the most descriptive in detailing the reasons behind its ratings. It is a system I have used when purchasing video games for my younger family members and friends for as long as I was able to spend my own funds on video games. Along with a stark, black-and-white letter and what the letter stands for in the corner of each game box, the back has an even larger area detailing the reason behind the rating. 

I am a strong supporter of strong parenting. I believe that a child's healthy growth comes from the dedication and care parents put into it. This includes monitoring what children are exposed to, and in regard to video games, what they play. A parent needs to be fully aware of what kind of games their child plays and who he/she plays them with. While this is not always the easiest task, most major consoles contain software to limit the content that children play, based on ESRB age rating. There are even helpful instructions for each console and plenty of online tutorials as to how to activate and operate these functions.

I agree entirely with the argument that there are certain games young children simply do not need to to be exposed to. Despite being a video game fan at a young age, my parents felt there were some inappropriate games and made sure that I didn't play them -- a rule that I had to begrudgingly accept. However, I feel that introducing a law preventing children from having access to violent video games and not applying that law to other forms of media is unfair. It would give the impression that games are a lesser form of expression -- that movies in which men make lewd, sexually laced comments at scantily clad females or novels that detail murders in depth are somehow higher art forms, easily viewed on television or checked out from a library without any legal repercussions. 

It's not the law itself that I have issues with; its the implications behind it. It's the statement that this form of media is legal for children to read, legal to buy and watch, but this one isn't. When you start to pick what is appropriate and what isn't, you open an entirely new floodgate of differing opinions -- and then who decides? It brings up a famous quote from the 1971 case Cohen v. California made by Justice Harlan: “One man's vulgarity is another man's lyric.”

In regard to two dissenting opinions made by Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Stephen Breyer, their points are valid, and in many cases, thought-provoking, but no matter their arguments, one can simply point out that parental supervision can stop these problems before they start. Each of the arguments could just as easily be applied to another entertainment medium not restricted under law that shares an equal amount of vulgar material.

The final point I'd like to make is Clarence Thomas' argument over the First Amendment and its application to children. Thomas firmly believes that it does not apply to children, stating that: "In my view, the 'practices and beliefs held by the Founders' reveal another category of excluded speech: speech to minor children bypassing their parents. McIntyre, supra, at 360. The historical evidence shows that the founding generation believed parents had absolute authority over their minor children and expected parents to use that authority to direct the proper development of their children. It would be absurd to suggest that such a society understood 'the freedom of speech' to include a right to speak to minors (or a corresponding right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors' parents."

Taking this statement into account, one can look back a few weeks to the “Candy Cane Case,” or Morgan v. Swanson, in which children and their parents sue a school system for restricting the distribution of religious material in the schools. This was not the first time a school has faced the issue of religion in schools; however, the decision made in this case and the decisions made in other cases had different outcomes, made by different judges.

This brings to light the inconsistency behind the debate of children having First Amendment rights, and this isn't even close to the first time this issue has come up. The point is, when you have such a divided federal court on an issue, how can one fairly say that one certain situation gives a group of people rights, but another one does not? How can students have protection by wearing armbands in one case (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)) but not have protection in this case? It's inconsistent, confusing, and most important, it is completely circumstantial.

Video games have had to fight for the right of legitimacy for as long as they've been around. I'm glad for this ruling, and while I see valid points brought up by both sides, I feel that strong parental presence takes precedence, negating the need for any government intervention in the first place.

Jenner's Thoughts

After asking my parents, I played the first Doom on the Super Nintendo when I was 9 years old. That game was rated Mature. Why did I want to play it? It wasn't because of the violence, blood, and gore. It was because it was 3-D. There weren't too many games like that on that system. Today, I often play such violent video games with younger family members, and even though they're not my children, I do watch too see if any of them get wrong ideas while I'm there. I'm happy to say that I have seen nothing of the sort.

Granted, our proper upbringing is probably the reason why we didn't turn into a bullies in school, but before you tell me that not everyone brings up their child that way, ask yourself, "Why not?" I'm not saying I had the best upbringing, and I'm definitely not saying your child has to be a perfect angel, but common sense would tell you that you don't need to be an overly-strict parent to have your child know the difference between right and wrong and to be able to apply that sense to reality.

I find it ironic what California law deems excessively violent -- in this case, "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." Since when is killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexual assault NOT offensive? When it has no blood in it? Just because a game has no blood in it doesn't make the act of murder any less wrong. If this was truly the case, then Mario or even Pacman would be guilty as sin.

Perfect Dark on the N64 has been heralded as one of the best shooters of all time and was rated "M" for Mature for blood and minor use of curse words. Before that was Goldeneye 64, with similar game play, but it had no blood and was only rated "T" for Teens. Yet you kill just as many people in it. Should Goldeneye 64 be any less guilty if it were often played by a violent teen, than another equally violent teen who often played Perfect Dark?

True, not everyone may feel this way. Some people can't stand blood. I can. And I feel that games which have blood in them, given the right mindset, shouldn't cause a teen to turn violent. But this is my opinion. Many people have theirs. Passing such a law would mean controlling the public's opinion, something I feel government shouldn't have any part of. This is why I agree when Justice Antonin Scalia says that "it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harmless pastime." Yes, I do believe that higher rated games should require more supervision, and I respect and support the existence of those ratings, and the vendors that abide by them. In fact, I can't imagine too many stores that don't abide by these recommendations anyway, so I see this proposed law -- thankfully rejected -- as a complete waste of the court's time. A law that makes it illegal to do something that is already prohibited in many stores just seems pointless. A store cannot deny service to a parent, at least if it wants any business from that parent in the future. And there isn't anything a store, or any sale-limiting government law, can do to prevent that parent allowing that child to play that game.

I think it goes without saying that this issue is a dead horse the public simply refuses to stop beating. I will admit, video games have gotten a lot more violent than they used to be, but it doesn't change the fact that violence in any form or degree viewed by any unbalanced individual can be interpreted wrong. Why should video games be any different? People have been asking that for years, and the answer has always been because of a video game's level of interactivity. That's just an excuse.

Gaming is a hobby. The same goes for music and movies. But anyone who enjoys music or movies more than video games isn't going to pay any attention to the latter. They're going to be influenced by whatever they enjoy, not by what any government says they should be wary of. Influence comes from what catches your attention, not anyone else's. It's not only up to you to decide to what degree you want to take the influence, but it's important to take responsibility for it. Let us not pass the buck on to someone else when we should be taking the responsibility ourselves as parents. We need not baby people any further.

I'm not going to deny that gaming hasn't had an influence on violent behavior completely, but it is a rare occurrence; a far cry from what other violent reports have been. But never, ever, have video games -- combined with any hint of common sense -- been the prime reason for murder. I see more reports of studies of violent behavior from video games for the sake of making studies, not because some kid got into a violent fight. Poking fun, messing with friends, yeah, it's all in good fun, but bullying is a different story, and this has always been the prime suspect, not video games.

Violence has been a part of video games since the beginning. Let's face it, being the hero is generally a lot of fun, but being the hero also requires violence. Therefore, we can't ignore it. Real life is no different. The wars we've had show it. Therefore, violence is hard to ignore in our every day lives as well. Violence should not be ignored, but it should also not be embraced. I think Patch Adams said it best: "If we're gonna fight a disease, let's fight one of the most terrible diseases of all -- indifference."

Robert's Thoughts

I, for one, am quite happy to see that my new home state's law was struck down by the Supreme Court. When I first heard of this law back when it was under consideration by the state government, it just looked like another attempt to curtail violent video games based on studies and evidence that weren't proven. It then was passed into law and, as expected, the Entertainment Software Association stepped in and said it wasn't a good law. Obviously we've seen the fruits of the ESA's labor here. Finally this law has been struck down on First Amendment principles.

What bugged me the whole time, however, was the insistence that this law was needed in order to protect the children of the state of California. How does passing this help protect California's children? It doesn't, honestly. Sure, you can make the argument that by not allowing violent video games to be sold directly to underage children that it will help keep them from playing these games. It may help a little, but not a whole lot.

First of all, parents buy games for their kids regularly without knowing a thing about the content of said games. I've known a few different families that have video games where the parents say, "Well, my kid wanted this so I got it for him for his birthday!" This law did nothing to protect that child from a violent video game that would supposedly have adverse effects on him -- his parent bought the game regardless. Not only that, but even with the increased isolationism kids exhibit these days by playing video games alone in their bedrooms, they can still visit their friends' houses to play or watch these games. I never owned the original Mortal Kombat myself, but I played the hell out of it at friends' houses when I was younger.

Another argument I've seen against violent video games in the hands of children is that they supposedly make kids more violent. Aside from the studies that are inconclusive on that subject (for both sides), have you seen how violent humans are in general? Humans have been hurting and killing one another for thousands upon thousands of years. Do you honestly think violent video games are a reason that humans are violent these days? No. It's inherent in our species. The only way to combat that is through better parenting overall.

In any case, if there's one big reason I'm cheering the outcome of this case, it's fairness. Fairness that the video game industry gets to be treated in the same manner as other big entertainment industries. Are there laws banning the sale or rental of violent movies to children? No. There are industry-mandated policies that are supposed to keep kids from viewing rated-R movies, for example, but these policies are not law. The same goes for explicit music being regulated by the music industry. All of these regulations and policies are done at the industry level, not the government level.

It would have been wildly unfair to subject the video game industry to additional laws and not force these laws on the other entertainment industries. It's not ethical, in fact. As I learned during an ethics course while I was pursuing my MBA at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, one of the three methods used to judge whether or not something was ethical is to see if it treats similarly situated parties in a similar manner. That ethics test would have failed in this case, as video games are now widely accepted as an entertainment form rivaling movies, books and music.

I really just want to see parents taking more action in their kids' lives. Take an active interest in what games your sons and daughters play. Look into the content of the game and see if it's appropriate. Talk with your kids, and if you raise them right, then you may not have to worry about violent video games at all. Monitor what your kids play and take appropriate action. Actually be a parent and stop asking your government to raise your kids for you.

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