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November 03, 2010


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Jacqueline Lipton

I think the problem for those wanting to strike down the legislation in this case will be the difficulty in raising sufficient evidence of a causal link between real world violence and video game violence. In the Californian courts, the judges accepted that there was a correlation, but were not convinced of causality. Even if you do accept the causality evidence, this is a First Amendment challenge and the S.C. may not feel as comfortable striking down state legislation regulating violence than it has with cases involving areas such as obscene and indecent speech - on which there are a lot more precedents. I was also interested (if I read the news reports right) that oral argument didn't seem to last very long in this case. [Oh, and BTW, welcome back Kelly!]

Kelly Anders

Thanks for the welcome. It's great to be back! I think you're right on both fronts. As for proving a causal link, at the time my article was published, there were no studies with empirical data that connected behavior with playing these games. There could be studies that may have been completed during the past decade, but I have not checked.

Another issue concerns parental control. In the past, the video game industry has argued that keeping such games out of the hands of minors is the job of parents. They further contend that parents buy the games for their children (but there's really no way to track this with complete certainty). In the old days, gamers played in public venues -- arcades. Now, they play in the privacy of their own homes, and can do so around the clock.

There are myriad issues to consider, and I think the Court has a tough decision to make.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

I'm not sure why the burden of proof should be (the virtually impossible) one of proving a causal link between real world violence and video game violence: why can't the fact that parents do not want their children (who, after all, are impressionable to one degree or another) exposed to games that exploit gratuitous violence, indeed, that revolve around or have a predilection for the depiction of human beings predominantly engaged in sadistic, brutal acts of violence on other human beings, suffice to find the legislation acceptable. Such games contribute to a cultural ethos of violence, suggesting or insinuating that such violence is socially acceptable (children are experts at emulation, and the objects of such emulation increasingly extend into the realms of 'virtual reality'). Parents are charged with socializing and teaching their children and the existence of such games makes these tasks unduly burdensome and runs contrary in an egregious way to the norms, values, and ethics they hope to instill (in a broad sense) in their charges.

To be sure, many children have dispositional and emerging character traits that make them fairly immune to the influence of such things, perhaps they are even a majority, but what about the others? what about those who have a fragile sense of identity, an uncertain and conficted intuitive ethical sense, symptoms of mental illness (from borderline pathology to full-blown psychosis), recipients of unduly vague or psychologically harmful messages (both literal and symbolic, direct and implicative) from caregivers, and so forth and so on? There's something to be said for laws enabling parents to "teach their children well," rather than subvert or contradict or, at best, render fatally ambiguous the lessons being taught in the home and other intimate realms of social space, lessons that speak to a particular kind of cultural ethos in the best sense of that term, one believed to be a necessary condition for children to grow into adults more sane than not, in possession of at least a minimal ethical sense or conscience, perhaps with a taste for values that enhance their own well-being as well as the common good.

Some readers may find this article of interest:,0,5049743,full.story

Ben Buchwalter

I need to know much more about this issue before sharing how I think the court should decide, but I think it's an especially interesting issue through the lens of those who read the Constitution only as-is. Clearly, the founders did not think about video games when drafting the constitution.

The LA Times reports on Justice Alito's comment to Justice Scalia: "'What Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games.' The remark elicited laughter in the courtroom."

Lots of Questions

As both a fan of Grand Theft Auto and a parent of young children, I am intrigued by this case. Isn't the issue less about violent video games and more about raising children? That is, whatever the First Amendment rights of adults to play violent video games, don't those same adults have a right (also protected by the constitution?) to raise their children free of such games? Is there something special about the nature of violent video games here? Is the answer different if this were a statute prohibiting the sale of bibles or other religious books to minors? Could the state pass a statute prohibiting such sales on the grounds that parents have the right to determine how best to introduce (or not introduce) religion to their children? Or do minors have exactly the same First Amendment rights as adults? It certainly doesn't seem impermissible for a state to bar sales of obscene materials to minors regardless of whether sale of those materials to adults is constitutionally protected, but am I wrong there? Aren't there state or local laws prohibiting admittance of children to R and NC-17 movies without parental consent, or is that all voluntary by the industry?

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Knowledge is important for us!

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