Monday, July 4, 2011

The Supreme Court and Video Games

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California ban on the sale of violent video games to minors. California enacted a 2005 law to impose fines on retailers who sold violent video games to minors, which the Supreme Court struck down in a 7-2 decision, according to NPR.

The decision has drawn responses from several media observers. James Steyer of Common Sense Media, who helped construct the 2005 law, stressed the difference between the influence of books and and that of interactive media such as video games in a CBS News interview. Commentary from the Huffington Post, Wired, and the New York Times examines what the decision says about our culture, and what implications it has for gaming.

I was disappointed in the decision, given that I do not believe that video games with graphic violence should be sold to children. Regardless of one's opinion on adults playing violent games, many of us can agree that children should not consume a steady diet of violent images.

As video games depict increasingly more graphic violence, we need to be reflect on why such games are being produced, why there is a demand for them in our culture, and what psychological impacts they could have on young players. I grow increasingly concerned about the graphic violence in games and other media because of its potential to negatively shape self-image, encourage aggression, and reduce empathy. To boot, depictions of graphic (and sexualized) violence against women are becoming more common in games, which should alarm anyone concerned about gender-based violence.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that ... (voice wavers) ... several Religious Right voices ... (deep breath) ... apparently share ... (gulp) ... some of the same concerns that I do. For perhaps the first time, I've found that some Religious Right voices and I are on the same side of a controversy.

- In a June 30th commentary at the Focus on the Family website, Jim Daly argues parents should not buy violent games for their children, regardless of whether or not the law allows children to buy them. Graphically violent games have no redeeming value, he claims, as violence only breeds more violence. Daly disapproves of the violence against women depicted in many games, reminding fathers of their responsibility to teach their sons to respect women. (See www[dot]focusonlinecommunities[dot]com/blogs/Finding_Home/2011/06/30/thoughts-on-violent-video-games)

- In a commentary at the Family Research Council website, Ken Klukowski criticized Justin Antonin Scalia for his vote, observing how conservatives were split on the meaning of the Constitution as it applied to the case. (See www[dot]frc[dot]org/op-eds/scalia-wrong-thomas-right-on-violent-video-games)

- Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote a commentary posted at First Things, in which he criticized the ruling as an affront to parental sovereignty. Chaput argued that when free speech rights are stretched to include a corporation's right to sell violent games to children, we risk poisoning future generations. (See www[dot]firstthings[dot]com/onthesquare/2011/07/violent-video-games-and-the-rights-of-parents)

- In a commentary at Faith Village, Jim Denison of the Center for Informed Faith struggled with the ruling, asking if there were ways to protect children from graphically violent games without infringing on free speech. With regard to such violence, Denison pondered whether cultural reform could best be achieved through legislation or spiritual awakening. (See www[dot]faithvillage[dot]com/2011/06/violent-video-games-and-morality/)

I'm still reflecting on this tiny piece of common ground. Do concerns over violent entertainment cross political and religious lines? Has the entertainment industry gone so far that observers from across the political spectrum cannot ignore it? Are there ways for progressives, moderates, and conservatives to have constructive public conversations about media violence? As society grapples with media violence, I hope to find answers to these questions.


  1. "...we need to be reflect on why such games are being produced, why there is a demand for them in our culture, and what psychological impacts they could have on young players."

    I think the evidence of their negative effects on young players is pretty well collaborated at this point. But what do they say about our culture? That's a fascinating question you've asked.

    I have no answers, of course, but perhaps the question should be asked more often.

  2. Paul -- It's an issue that our society needs to discuss, publicly, because we're already dealing with the ramifications.

  3. It is disturbing, especially the sexualized violence against women portrayed in many of these games. It is sick, particularly when it is marketed to children.

  4. Cognitive Dissenter -- It is. Some video games are starting to resemble violent p0rn, which I think is part of a backlash against women. None of this is healthy, and I fear that such violent images can only do harm.

  5. It is true that extreme religious right claims to protect women. They feel that they must protect women from violence as well as from autonomy. I think the desire to be good citizens trumps their desires to dominate, but many of them truly believe the lies that women need to be protected from being fully human (for their own good).

  6. Prairie Nymph -- Maybe there's hope for them, if their desire to protect women from violence can somehow be wrenched away from their desire to dominate and silence women. I don't know how that could be done, though, since sexism is so entrenched in fundamentalist thinking.


All comments are subject to moderation. Threatening, violent, or bigoted comments will not be published.