Daniel Willens of Sonoma Academy


Killing innocent civilians and picking up and beating prostitutes aren’t activities parents want their children doing in their free time. Therefore, it only seems logical that minors should be prohibited from buying or renting video games where these actions occur. A California law passed in 2005 does just that, but it was immediately challenged in federal court and is being examined by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court should find this law constitutional.
Violent video games should be a lessened area of speech protection. Studies published by Iowa State University have shown “exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts.” While opponents of the law argue that certain gamers benefit from the violent nature of these games by “getting the violence out of their system,” the facts strongly suggest otherwise. Most regular gamers are influenced by these video games and in turn apply “aggressive behavior” to real world situations.
Because the statistical majority of underage gamers are negatively influenced by these games, California has a compelling interest in prohibiting minors from buying them. This compelling interest should warrant governmental regulation. Essentially, California should regulate sales of hyper-violent video games to minors, placing these games in the same category as obscene speech and child pornography — areas of speech the court has found to be less protected. The California law proposes an equivalent regulatory scheme to that employed for obscene speech. It would effectively prohibit minors from buying the targeted games, yet the actual use of these games would be left to the discretion of parents or guardians.
Opponents of this measure apply a few predictable counterarguments. First and foremost, opponents state that this proposed law would breach First Amendment protection by infringing upon game makers’ and players’ freedom of speech. However, this law is not a ban upon hyper-violent games but merely a state-imposed regulation upon the sale of these games. Nobody is being prevented from making or playing games.
An additional counterargument is that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) video game rating system in place is a sufficient guide for parents in determining which games are appropriate for their children. However, the ESRB is a private rating company, associated with the video game industry, and serves the wishes and needs of that industry. The accuracy of this rating system may be biased. The ESRB exists to promote the very industry that it claims to rate with neutrality. Furthermore, because the ESRB is a private rating company, if game vendors sell mature-rated games to minors, little or no consequences follow. The California law would regulate the sale of these hyper-violent games by imposing a $1,000 fine upon offending game venders.
Lastly, opponents argue that requiring an age limit on those buying violent video games is ineffective. As with pornography, the buyer may simply buy items online. However this argument is invalid. According to Alan Simpson, an associate of Common Sense Media, a group supportive of regulating violent video games, “a 13-year-old can buy porn online, but that doesn’t make it legal for that seventh grader to walk into a 7-Eleven and buy a copy of Hustler magazine.” The same should be true for violent video games.
It is important to understand the intention of this proposed law. The law is an effort to empower parents and to give them the decision of allowing their children to play these video games or not. With this law, parents still can buy mature-rated, violent video games for their kids. However, as Simpson stated, “without this measure, the sale of ‘mature’ video games is left to the video game vendor — whether a child looks 15, 16 or 12.”
The imposition of the law would indeed empower parents and ensure that the availability of hyper-violent video games is left to the discretion of the parent, not the video game vendor.