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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Supreme Court strikes ban on violent video games for kids



violent.jpgViolent video games are protected by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, just like those old books and movies. In 2005, while still governor of California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger -- the star of the ultra violent Predator and The Terminator -- co-signed a law that would ban the sale of violent video games to minors in the state.

The games industry, through the Entertainment Merchants Association, naturally opposed this and on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. Justice Antonin Scalia stated: "Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply."

What I find interesting is that the justices are fine with laws that prevent children from buying pornography, but violence doesn't bother them. I'm not a big fan of either, and I'm not sure I want the government doing anything about either of them, but I'm always amazed that we accept violence much more readily than sex.

States can legally ban children from getting pornography. But Scalia said in his ruling that, unlike depictions of sexual conduct, there is no tradition in the United States of restricting children's access to depictions of violence. He noted the violence in the original depictions of many popular children's fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White.

One of the dissenting justices, Stephen Brayer, said: "What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?"

Right now the stores have a system of voluntary enforcemen­t. This chart from the gaming industry claims there is already a high degree of compliance of store policies that won't sell these games to minors. So maybe California was fixing something that wasn't broken. After all, if a parent wants to buy that game and give it to Junior, there's nothing to be done about that.

But the battle may not be over. Leland Yee, a child psychologist and California state senator who wrote the video game ban, told The Associated Press Monday that he was reading the dissents in hopes of finding a way to reintroduce the law in a way that would be constitutional.

"It's disappointing the court didn't understand just how violent these games are," Yee told the AP.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who was also in the minority, argued in his separate dissent that the nation's founders never intended for free speech rights to "include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors' parents or guardians."

And at least two justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, indicated they would be willing to reconsider their votes under certain circumstances. "I would not squelch legislative efforts to deal with what is perceived by some to be a significant and developing social problem," Alito said, suggesting that a narrower state law might be upheld.

So what are your rules about video games, and are they as strict as the state of California would like? At what age do you let kids play a gore killing game?

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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AP PHOTO: Children play Grand Theft Auto IV in Los Altos, Calif., Sunday

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 5:44pm]


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