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Supreme Court to Kids: Resume Fire (Update)

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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