In today’s society, 66 percent of American households contain a video gaming system, a piece of technology that’s fast becoming a central part of many people’s lives. This is true especially for the teens who enjoy playing games such as Halo, Call of Duty, and the Gears of War series. However, as more and more kids are playing these video games, more and more adults are starting to wonder whether these games, depicting gruesome war scenes and unbelievable violence, may have negative effects on America’s younger generation.
This mindset has been taken way past the individual level, however. The California government has passed a law that bans “ultra-violent” video games from being rented or sold to people under the age of 18. This movement against violent video games has gained so much momentum that the United States Supreme Court is reviewing the law to decide whether it is constitutional. Depending on how the justices rule, teenagers’ video gaming practices could be in severe jeopardy.
So far, 11 states have supported a ban on “ultra-violent” video games, but all of the proposed bans have been struck down by the federal courts. After being challenged at the federal court level, the California law is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court justices. If the law is deemed Constitutional, there will be a $1,000 fine for any California retailer who sells a banned video game to a minor, and teens won’t be able to rent and buy some of their favorite games without their parents’ help.
The games that would be subject to the California ban would include any game that depicts “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting of an image of a human being.” Fairmont High School sophomore Danny Phillips is against California’s ban, though. “I think that it’s stupid for any state to ban violent games because they can be a way to have fun with my friends as well as relax,” he said.
If California’s law is upheld, other states may enact similar bans, and the video game playing of teens could be in jeopardy. Sophomore Chris Koester is one of the teens who it would seriously affect. “If Ohio passed a law like California’s, it would basically ruin gaming for me,” he said. “Most of the newer and more fun games now being released have an M [mature] rating, and at the high school age most people enjoy those games most, so teen gaming in general would drop.”
Sophomore Luke Honeywell is on the same side as Koester. “I think if Ohio carried out on the ban, it would affect me a lot. I play violent video games weekly, if not sometimes daily,” said Honeywell.
California and several other states’ movements to ban violent video games aren’t very new, though. This is only one example of the government trying to limit the media industry. Throughout history as new and more technologically advanced forms of media devices have come out, the government has attempted to find a way to manage them – sometimes unsuccessfully, other times very successfully.
Arguments for it
For years, adults have been blaming the actions of some kids, teens, and even some adults on “ultra-violent” games that they believe desensitize players to violence. This desensitization could be the result of both the hours upon hours kids spend playing video games and the actual act of the kids controlling their players in the game. Many are afraid that when young people actually press the button to kill a person in the games, it causes greater desensitization than just watching it on TV or in a movie.
Another argument that the proponents of the law maintain is that the First Amendment’s guarantee to freedom of speech does not include the right to play excessively violent video games. These people strictly interpret the First Amendment to only protect speech, not necessarily other forms of expression.
Arguments against it
Many people – especially teens – want the Supreme Court to vote against this law. If the Supreme Court deems the California law constitutional, many other states may choose to enact their own limits on video games. Then teens won’t be able to access these games as easily as they used to; they’ll have to have their parents buy the games for them.
Koester disagrees that the video games desensitize kids, though. “I think it’s wrong that California should try to ban violent games,” he said. “If someone gets the idea to do violent things, I think that’s not related to the game but to parenting and also how it’s shown in TV and movies.”
Mike Gallagher, the president of the Entertainment Software Association, argues that the federal court that reviewed this law was not impressed by studies linking video games to increased youth violence.
Another argument many use is that the Entertainment Software Rating Board already bans the sale of some violent games through its rating system, with a fine of $1,000 for every infraction. The Federal Trade Commission sent testers to evaluate the effectiveness of the ESRB’s self-regulation, and it found 80 percent compliance – the highest of any entertainment industry including music, movies and TV.
In an interview with NPR, Paul Smith, the lawyer defending the video game industry, argued that movies such as Lord of the Rings show “huge battle scenes in which people’s heads are chopped off and … thousands and thousands of characters are being killed,” but these forms of media entertainment aren’t banned. In fact, Lord of the Rings is rated PG and the two sequels of it are rated PG-13. This means that young teens and even kids can go see these huge battle scenes by themselves.
One more popular argument against the video game ban is that there are filters on the gaming consoles already. A parent can go into a password-protected settings screen that can block games of certain ratings.
Honeywell also thinks this filtering system is enough security against violent games. “I think the law is unnecessary. If you’re a parent and think your child can handle playing violent games like that, then I don’t see why the kids would have to be limited by a law,” he said.
Possibly the largest argument against the ban is more fundamental: Where will this banning and censorship stop? People involved in the media industry fear that this is the first step in a large slippery slope of increased government interference in the media industry. If they ban the sale of these video games, many people are starting to ask, then why not ban the sale of other media forms, such as movies, books or even violence in news reports?
As with any controversial issue, there are passionate opinions on both sides, but one thing is certain: Everyone is anxiously awaiting the opinion of the 9 Supreme Court justices who will decide the fate of the California law. For some, it’s a matter of First Amendment freedoms, but for many teens, it’s simply about the future of gaming.