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Supreme Court to Kids: Resume Fire (Update)

Posted on Jun 27, 2011
Flickr / sean dreilinger

A boy watches his brother play a “Star Wars” game on a portable console.

American kids scored a victory Monday over parents who just don’t understand how the U.S. Supreme Court could uphold an appellate court’s decision striking down a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. In his ruling, conservative Justice Atonin Scalia cited his general preference for limited government, and he lumped the ban with failed earlier attempts to censor comic books, TV and music lyrics aimed at the young.

Psychologists have shown a link between the playing of violent video games and aggressive behavior among youths. However, as statisticians never tire of reminding the public, a correlation between events does not mean one was the cause of the other. City University of New York philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci pointed out in a recent issue of Skeptical Inquirer that the California law “was passed on the assumption that one can establish a causal link between a general trend (more and more young people play violent video games) and individual acts of violence perpetrated by a small subset of the population,” but “there is always the very tricky issue that a correlation suggests (sometimes strongly) but does not establish a causal link.”

That being said, it is probably healthier in general for children to spend time outdoors and in each other’s company than blowing each other up on a screen. —ARK

Update: Having written an article for this site called “Video Games Are Good for Your Brain,” I can’t help but stick my nose in here. First of all, the Supreme Court decision is a great victory for the First Amendment, irrespective of games or children.

The censors will always cite threats against children because fear is a powerful motivator, but the reliance on fear is an indication that one’s argument is weak. If violence begets violence, then our warmongering politicians are much worse influences on children than Mario and Luigi. Notwithstanding the claim that video games, as opposed to dodgeball, make kids aggressive, some studies show positive effects among game players, such as the ability to make better decisions in less time than the luddites.

There will always be people who condemn media they are unfamiliar with, and, unfortunately, they will often be parents and legislators. What a relief that even this lousy Supreme Court knows better than the state of California that the Constitution applies even to new technologies. The best defender of the medium is one of its greatest artists, Will Wright, who created The Sims and has pointed out that the anxieties expressed about games were once applied to literature. I’m embedding one of his talks on the subject below.  —Peter Z. Scheer

Summit on Science, Entertainment, and Education - Will Wright from The Science and Entertainment Ex on Vimeo.

The Wall Street Journal:

The court, in a 7-2 vote, said the law violated First Amendment free-speech protections. “Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in an 18-page opinion, which was joined by four other justices.

... California lawmakers passed the ban in 2005 after finding that violent videogames are “a new, modern threat to children” that cause psychological harm and make minors more likely to exhibit violent or aggressive behavior.

... To have been subject to the sales ban, the game must have lacked “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors,” or it must allow a player to virtually inflict serious injury in a manner that is “especially heinous, cruel or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.”

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By diamond, June 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm Link to this comment

It’s simple. Never stand between a corporation and a shitload of money. Protecting children? What’s that? They don’t even understand the concept. To them we’re all just ‘consumers’ (translation, stooges) including children.

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By Shenonymous, June 28, 2011 at 4:44 am Link to this comment

Once again the conservative (read Republican) Supreme Court
protects big business against the good of the people.  Saying
children have the right to violent video games is ludicrous and
that is a mild criticism.  Yes, ultimately it is the responsibility of
parents to rear their children, but putting elements that cause
damage to children within their experience, damages their psyches
in the same way as lead would do damage to their bodies if found
in toys with which they play, and needs to be regulated in the same
way. It is claimed by corporations who create and market war-themed
video games that such simulation games do not do real physical
damage, that there is no correlation between playing a violent game
and actual violence found in society.  That has not yet been
corroborated by any science.  Just the opposite is true.  Further, It is
said that fictional violence is sublimated in video war gaming and as
a result subdues the urge to do real physical violence.  Again, there is
empirical evidence this is false.  If a violent action is conducted over
and over again in a gaming situation, how much easier would it be for
a mind to be desensitized in a real life event?  It defies logic to even
suggest it does not.  But then when have corporations been logical
except when the issue is money to flow like water into their pockets?
Effects of Video Games on Aggressive Thoughts and Behaviors During
Development, a report by Thomas A. Kooijmans, Rochester Institute of
Technology, 2004.  No less than 15 studies are given at this site as a
bibliography for the effects of video games on young minds.

The conservative Supreme Court is the most dangerous institution
in this country prima facie in the service of the public.  In the service
of the public is a laughable concept even though the Supreme Court
is a permanent part of a government devised in the first place for
the benefit of the public.  It ought to be seen that it is the people’s
responsibility to change the flavor of the Supreme Court from a
conservative one to one that is liberal.  The liberal perspective is the
one that represents the welfare of the people, the conservative that of
corporations.  It is time the people start to control the corporate world
by doing what can be done to change the imbalance of the Supreme
Court from conservative to liberal. That does not mean that a
conservative rationale would be totally missing as liberals can become
overzealous as well in their welfare mentality.  It is probably good that a
conservative voice be heard, but also that does not mean it should be
the prevailing voice!  Our voice is the prime and only reason for
government.  We ought not to forget that!  We the people cannot allow
the election of a Republican president who will maintain the
conservative court as it is today, against the people’s interests and for
the corporate interests.

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By Inherit The Wind, June 28, 2011 at 3:09 am Link to this comment

Or, more to the point, when Texas is sued for removing Thomas Jefferson from the official state history curriculum, and Huckleberry Finn is removed from the library bookshelves, Scalia’s words will be used in the suit.

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By Inherit The Wind, June 28, 2011 at 3:07 am Link to this comment

I’ll bet Scalia chokes the next time a case comes up trying to force only Genesis-safe “science” to be taught in public schools and Scalia’s own decision here is quoted against it.

Gotta look at the bright side!

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By Willow, June 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Garbage in, Garbage out. 

Wake up people, these violent video games are
training kids for war.  With college no longer
an option middle class kids can afford, the draft won’t be necessary.  With all the practice at annhilating the enemy, they will be primed and ready for a military career as killing machines desensitized for violence.

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By Miko, June 27, 2011 at 6:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Right on Peter Z. Scheer!

It’s gotten to the point where the average “leftist” is
indistinguishable from the garden variety (right-wing) progressive, so I’m always glad to see an ally fighting
the good fight.

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By destroy.all.monsters, June 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment

First of all there is *no* causation between the
games we play and what we do. The entire point of
gaming is to become someone else or to do things that
you typically cannot do in real life. One doesn’t
become a real estate mogul by playing Monopoly any
more than they become a mass murderer by playing a
first person shooter or Grand Theft Auto.

Frankly AKR you should be ashmamed of yourself for
perpetuating the same othering tactics (well I don’t
play video games so they must be bad) that the other
side uses.

Every single anti video game study has been shown to
be bogus or politically motivated and the Supreme
Court rightly mocked those studies.

We cannot vilify those creationists that would force
their god into the classroom while simultaneously
trying to force our own ignorant values on others. My
expectation, right or wrong, is that the left lead by
being understanding and empathetic instead of making
knee jerk uninformed commentary.

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By Yes I Am Human, June 27, 2011 at 11:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As an addition to my last post (once it appears, we hope), consider the ways you as a parent can use less violent videos to the advantage of yourself and your child (like television).

Once they are addicted to this stuff, make them work for it.  Take it away and make them do their homework or their chores before you let them have it again.


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By Yes I Am Human, June 27, 2011 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is not necessarily better for kids to playing with each other, nowadays, since any number of parents hosting “play dates” may be real-to-life gun owners.  Plus you don’t know about any number of other issues in people’s homes.

So where or how children can best play is another subject unto itself.

As far as videos, best to just carefully supervise which games your children acquire.  You don’t have to know every in and out of the game, but certain games are known to be relatively fine.  Also limit television exposure - cancel your cable subscription if you must and use only selected videos.

That way you can acquire the best of educational children’s television, avoid commercials, and save a lot of money.  And your children can get the best, rather than worst, of what the video game world has to offer.

In addition to having more sane children.

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By rico, suave, June 27, 2011 at 10:52 am Link to this comment


Somebody has to be willing and able to keep you safe.

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By monkeymind, June 27, 2011 at 9:38 am Link to this comment

“Be all that you can be” training.

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