Video game ruling ignores reality

July 2, 2011


Intellectually, I understand the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision that the First Amendment protects the most violent of video games. Experientially, I don’t.

It’s fine for the majority to say parents have ultimate control over what their children see, but how many members of the Supreme Court have experienced “real” life? Chief Justice John Roberts spoke at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference last Saturday and said, “I don’t think any of us have a Facebook page or a tweet — whatever that is. But technology is making inroads.” It certainly is.

According to the Huffington Post, at least one justice — Stephen Breyer — has a private Twitter account, which he said he used “to track the so-called Green Revolution in Iran following the country’s 2009 presidential elections. But he told a House Appropriations general government subcommittee he was testifying in front of that he had been unsure how to erase the account.”

Justices live in an unreal world. They have little experience with cyberspace and violent video games. They bring law school minds to a subject that requires practical experience.

Justices enjoy security that protects them from the kind of assaults depicted in games like “Mortal Kombat” and others in which children are allowed to emulate school shooting sprees or virtually carry out assassinations, decapitations, rape, torture and every other unimaginable horror one human being can inflict upon another.

In his dissent, Justice Breyer asked the right question: “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?”

Justices should step out of their safety zones and experience life on urban streets where mortal combat is for real and shootings are as commonplace as corrupt politicians. Where do armed teenagers in roving gangs get the idea that life is cheap and can be so easily taken without regard to social mores? Children aren’t born this way. They must be taught these things, and if parents aren’t teaching them — or more accurately “parent,” since fathers are usually absent and it doesn’t take a sociologist to see a connection — a violent and life-denying culture is happy to fill the moral void.

Does anyone believe Thomas Jefferson could have foreseen a day when violent images of the worst sort ought to be protected by the First Amendment? When he wrote about freedom of the press, did “press” mean blood and gore? And if it did, should anything be banned? Should any child be told “no”?

There are a number of laws governing childhood behavior that have never been successfully challenged. Minors are told they can’t smoke or drink until a certain age. Why does the state consider it injurious for minors to take alcohol into their stomachs and nicotine into their lungs, but not harmful for them to absorb the most violent images into their minds?

If alcohol produces a reaction in minors the state finds harmful and if cigarettes injure developing lungs and contribute to rising health care costs, — and so the state imposes age restrictions — what do violent images produce and why can’t the law impose age restrictions on those?

Minors can’t sign contracts. The state won’t let kids drive cars until a certain age, believing, rightly, that they are not mature enough to handle the responsibility. Some argue that even at age 16, the legal driving age in most states, children are still not sufficiently mature enough to drive, as evidenced by the high accident rate among teens.

Anyone who has tried to stop an adolescent from ignoring a parent’s wishes knows what I’m talking about. In a perfect world, children would listen to, respect and obey their parents. But this is far from a perfect world and parents could use occasional help from the state in preventing violent culture from undermining what’s in the best interest of the child, and the country. This ruling by the Supreme Court does not achieve that end.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


ksriver2010 6 years, 3 months ago

Thomas talks about minors and the "line" that is crossed. The most ridiculous example of this would be that our young men and women are allowed to vote and even die for our country at the age of 18, yet they can't drink until they are 21.

Mary Darst 6 years, 3 months ago

Speechless, again. Some of those games are so graphic, it is discusting. They have banned so many other things in this nation for underaged people, why not this. It is every bit as bad as porn, maybe worse because the nature of the violence. These judges don't live in the real world....They just don't get that parents DON"T monitor what their kids are watching and doing.

phi4life940 6 years, 3 months ago

FYI....video games are RATED. For example, if a game is rated "M," only a person 17 or older can purchase it. So they are banned/prohibited from minors. Why doesn't anyone see this???? Essentially, the games are as restricted as pornographic material and cigarettes

For further rating information, go to: http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp

The problem IS the PARENTS because they MUST purchase the games for the minors. The Supreme Court came to the correct conclusion here. To say, "They just don't get that parents DON"T monitor what their kids are watching and doing," is a moronic statement....

If you don't agree with the Supreme Court, I suggest you start lobbying to no longer allow for the sale of cigarettes, pornographic material or any other material or commerce which has a "negative influence" on minors. The PARENTS are responsible for what their children view or don't view. To say otherwise is absolutely ridiculous.

Most people who have commented on this article need to step back and think, "Why am I not on the Supreme Court, or in law school, or a lawyer for that matter?" then re-read your comment....that's why.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 3 months ago

I agree with Mr. Thomas here. Not sure there is any practical answer to the problem and it will only get worse. Participating in faux violence does not make one inherently violent, but clearly some children are warped by spending hours playing these horrible games. If nothing else, they burn up hours they could be reading, spending time with other humans, studying for school, etc. I disagree with the court, but they are, after all, THE SUPREMES. They don't call them that because they are good singers.

beatrice 6 years, 3 months ago

Violence is good, sex is bad. We can show as much violence on television as one could imagine, but flash Janet Jackson's partially covered breast for half a second and the country goes crazy. This has been a conservative point of view that we have taught our children for generations. I'm not saying all conservatives feel this way, of course, but most would recognize that it is a view that is opposite of the liberal "Make love, not war."

Guns and violence are acceptable parts of our right of center society and families sit together to eat dinner while watching CSI-type programming like there is nothing wrong with it. Murder is entertainment in America. Sorry Cal, but the pro-violence approach of many of these games has long been supported by conservatives, and now we must all live with the consequences.

beatrice 6 years, 3 months ago

Are you saying that conservatives support the notion of "Make love, not war"? Didn't think so.

If you have any further doubts, then enjoy this image: http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2007/07/ted-nugent-still-bitter-still-crazy.html

beatrice 6 years, 3 months ago

Who is getting nasty? I'm not. I'm simply pointing out that conservatives are not the "peace and love" crowd. Conservatives are the "spend more on military might" types, while liberals tend to be against military spending. That is just obvious, and yes, the image of the gun toting, trophy hunting Ted Nugent is relevant because he has a ton of fans that buy into that nonsense because he is so openly radical. Show me the conservatives that support ideas as simple as "make love not war." Sorry, but I'm telling it like it is. Conservatives are also more likely to mention using "second amendment" responses when things aren't going their way. I'm absolutely not saying all conservatives are violent, just that conservatives tend to be more prone to violence than liberals.

Why do you think non-violent solutions to issues come from liberal thinkers like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gahndi? Who are their conservative counterparts?

beatrice 6 years, 3 months ago

You might have been talking exclusively about video games, but I obviously wasn't, hence my first post mentioning "television." I was talking about conservatives and their greater embrace of violence as a general rule than liberals. Pat Robertson? -- hateful of non-Christians, sure, but he doesn't strike me as the violent type. If you read what i wrote, you would have seen where I stated "not saying all conservatives are violent." Guess Pat Robertson would fall into that category.

If you want to stick strictly to video games, fine. The sale of violent video games to children was just allowed by the Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court has a conservative majority. The conservatives ruled in favor of the violent games.

tomatogrower 6 years, 3 months ago

Actually conservatives are really strange on this subject. They will support the rights of the Westboro group, but deny the rights of game makers. They will tell government they have no business interfering in their lives, and they can raise their children how they want, but then call for government censorship of porn and violent videos.

I'm not defending these games. I hate these games, whether or not there is violence or explicit sex. I question why anyone would want to play them. I think they should be banned for all. Or I would suggest serious mental evaluation for those who play the games. But I also know that many people can watch violent movies and are not violent.

I do want to point out that the conservative message about government interference is pretty screwed up. Why is forcing you to wear a seat belt the nanny state, but not censoring game content?

kantubek 6 years, 3 months ago

Honestly - If someone is driven to act out something violent they saw in a video game in real life, then they were already unstable to begin with. This applies to television, movies, and other forms of media both print and electronic equally. This is a matter for parents to decide; if they feel as though their child can handle violence/graphic imagery, that is their choice. The video games that most would find appalling are rated as such and only available for purchase by adults. This really is a moot issue because it is perfectly legal for a parent to purchase a video game for their child.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I'm not sure that's true.

The increasing levels of violence and over-stimulation in movies and video games must have an effect on children.

For one thing, they desensitize them.

kantubek 6 years, 3 months ago

I would disagree. By your logic the world was a happy-go-lucky place before the introduction of mass media and video games. Unstable people are just that - if they are driven to act in a manner portrayed in a video game, then they already had trouble distinguishing fact from fiction.

You can't desensitize that which had no sense to begin with.

beatrice 6 years, 3 months ago

Are you saying that society has no relation to how people behave? I would have to disagree.

kantubek 6 years, 3 months ago

No, I'm saying that deranged/delusional/unstable people will act as such regardless of how society relates to them or what forms of media they consume.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

Gotta agree with JAFS on this one. While the world was not happy-go-lucky back in the day, it is more violent today.

kantubek 6 years, 3 months ago

I'd really like to know how you came to that conclusion.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

When I grew up, there were no Columbine type school shootings.

Now they are unfortunately somewhat common.

kantubek 6 years, 3 months ago

"When I grew up, there were no Columbine type school shootings."

Ever hear of Andrew Kehoe? Perhaps he was set off from motion pictures or AM radio. And Charles Whitman? Definitely technicolor had something to do with his homicidal rampage.

Yes we can undeniably state that media influenced their murderous tendencies, not predisposition to violence caused by underlying mental illness and aided by the over-availability of weapons or explosives.

Nope, video games and goth/metal/emo/rap music are what's sending our children over the edge to commit brutal acts of violence.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I never said that reducing children's exposure to violent games and movies will eliminate all violence - that would be silly.

But I am sure that desensitizing them to violence through media increases violent behavior.

One interesting study showed that music with an unrelenting driving bass line stimulates the "fight or flight" response.

aaronair127 6 years, 3 months ago

There is system in place to try and keep these games out of minors hands. It is called the ESRB (esrb.org) which works much like the movie industry with ratings and age recommendations, in theory at 13 shouldn't be able to walk into a Best Buy, Walmart, or Gamestop without a parent to buy a Mature rated game. I say theory because no program is perfect and I am sure it is not 100%. From my experience it is the parents lack of care that allows most of the underage sales of mature rated games.

Parents not Government need to get involved.

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

I remember this type of controversy back when it was heavy metal being blamed for causing suicides.

Olympics 6 years, 3 months ago

Don't let data in the way of our conclusions......Violence and porn exposure...What about the children!!! Sorry for the length....tapping into my inner Merrill.

1) http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html...

2) several major studies by groups such as The Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health, The Journal of Adolescent Health, and The British Medical Journal have shown no conclusive link between video game usage and violent activity."[21][22][23] wikipedia

3) We can all agree that exposure to porn is easier than at any other time in human history (thanks Internet!!). AND YET....

"If porn consumption inspired people—men people—to commit sex crimes, which a not-surprising number of people who went to college in the 80s and 90s still believe, then the current and historically unprecedented ubiquity of hardcore porn should have led to an explosion of sex crimes, right? It didn't happen.

Sex crimes against children: Down 53 percent between 1992 and 2006. Abortion: The abortion rate has dropped by about 25 percent since 1993. Teen pregnancy: In 2009, teen pregnancy hit its lowest rate in the 70 years that the federal government has been tracking the statistic. Divorce: The U.S. divorce rate is at its lowest level since 1970. Domestic violence: The rate of reported domestic violence in the U.S. dropped by more than half between 1993 and 2004. Rape: The forcible rape rate in the U.S. has dropped from 41.1 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 28.7 in 2009. That latter figure is also an all-time low."

4) Read "the culture of fear" for why people's perception of violent crime rate has risen when it has actually fallen over the past 20 years.

Linda Endicott 6 years, 3 months ago

Just a matter of semantics here, but...how exactly would you have non-forcible rape??

I think the major problem with so many video and computer games is the amount of time kids spend doing them...and by doing that they're not going outside and getting exercise, or reading, etc., etc....

We had this exact same controversy in the 60s and 70s when it seemed that all the world was against Warner Bros. cartoons (you know, Bugs Bunny and such) because they were too violent...

Well, I watched those cartoons all the time...saw countless images of critters getting hit by anvils, jumping or being thrown out of windows, run over by cars...and I never once had the urge to do any of those things myself...gee, I wasn't stupid...I knew what would happen if you dropped an anvil on a real cat...I knew the difference between REALITY and FANTASY...so in that way I think Kantubek is right...if someone has the urge to do any violent things, it's not because they saw it on a video game or a movie...it's because they probably already had the urge to do violent things...

And what is any more violent than the CSI shows? Or Law and Order? They're just as graphic as any video game, probably more so...

I kind of wonder about people (even adult people) who LIKE to watch that stuff, but to each his own, I guess...but I don't think they will cause someone to become violent...

If you want to do something about the kind of violence that I think has the biggest, most damaging impact on kids, then let's work to wipe out domestic violence...I don't think any violent video game is going to have nearly as negative an effect on a child as having to watch his father smash his mother's face in (or vice versa)and think that this is what normal families are supposed to be like...

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

Non-forcible rape is when the victim is unable to consent. Usually you see this when the person is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

Linda Endicott 6 years, 3 months ago

Well, now that you've said that, I understand the legaleze aspect of it...but it seems to me that slipping someone a mickey is still "forcible"...because I don't see what consciousness has to do with it...even if the woman is out cold it doesn't give a man the right to violate her...still sounds violent to me...

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

Incapacitation by drugs or alcohol is just one example of non-forcible rape.

Non-forcible refers to the inability to give consent. Forcible refers to refusing consent and the requester still proceeds with whatever act that was requested.

Other examples of non-forcible include underage people (under 16 in KS) and moderate to severe mentally disabled people. Neither under the law has the ability to give consent. They are not considered to have the capacity to understand what they are consenting to.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

The distinction you mention between reality and fantasy is being blurred, I suspect, by our increasingly amazing technology.

And, people are increasingly occupied with fantasy worlds, and less with the real world, and other people.

There's an interesting commercial for some sort of cell phone technology that shows 3 friends on a ski lift, each with their own phone, off in their own world. This is seen as a positive thing, and a way to sell the product.

I always wonder why they wouldn't be more interested in sitting together and talking, enjoying the beautiful nature all around them, etc.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 3 months ago

I'm confused. These games all have ratings much like movies. If a parent doesn't monitor their child to the extent that kids end up with these games (and movies) how does that violate the Constitution? A number of parents don't want their children to receive sex education in the schools, feeling that it violates their parental right s to teach their children their brand of "morality" and "abstinence only" sex education. Fine. There isn't a public school in the nation that doesn't give such parents the option to "opt out" of such education. How is this different? Bottom line, do you want a "Nanny State" or don't you? Because I have to tell you, between this and Brownback's "marriage council" and the new abortion clinic regulations, my head is going all 'splodey. (Oh god I'm getting another headache. Where's the aspirin?)

notaubermime 6 years, 3 months ago

Needless fear-mongering. Throw around words like "desensitization" all you want, but there is a clear difference between carrying out an action with a remote on a tv and doing the same thing in real life. Study after study has shown that these games do not turn kids into murderers and the rate of violent crimes in virtually all developed nations has decreased since their introduction. There are more important issues that the government should spend its time on right now.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I'd be interested in some sources for some of those claims.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Well, there was an interesting study I mentioned above.

It showed that exposure to music with a constant relentless bass beat stimulates the "fight or flight" system.

When those systems are stimulated, the possibility of fights increases, hence the name. This may partly explain why there are often violent interactions outside hip-hop concerts, but not outside classical music ones.

I don't remember the name of the study, but a google search should find it - if I have time, I'll try to do it myself.

Also, I have personal experience, and the observation of others to rely on.

Do you really think that the increasing levels of violence in movies and video games has no effect on children (and adults, for that matter)?

notaubermime 6 years, 3 months ago


As to "study after study has shown that these games do not turn kids into murderers," it would probably be better phrased as "there is no conclusive study to establish such a link." My prior statement appeared to claim that someone proved a negative, which is exceedingly difficult.

http://www.fepproject.org/courtbriefs/stlouis.pdf http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080514213432.htm

Lower youth violence in the US since 1993:


We aren't worried that kids who play WOW will grow up to become wizards or that kids who play Zelda will be inspired to attack wildlife with swords. People can separate fantasy play from reality.

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