• Should minors be protected from violent video games?

    Date: 05.06.10 | by Judge Tom.

    California is one of seven states* that have passed laws forbidding the sale and rental of violent video games to minors.  The California law, passed in 2005, authorizes a civil fine of $1,000 on retailers who sell or rent to minors games labeled as violent.

    Because of lawsuits challenging these laws as a violation of free speech, none have actually been enforced. The basic question is  how far can a state legislature go to protect minors from the alleged harm that results from exposure to extremely violent video games. Some of the games mentioned in the court cases include “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,”  “Postal 2,”  and “Duke Nukem 3D.”

    Photo by Ellecer (Flickr)

    The California law defines violent video games as those where ”the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”  In 2009, a federal court held that the law violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutional. Opponents of the law argue that an improved rating system, educational campaigns and parental controls should be implemented rather than legislation criminalizing this activity.

    What do you think of government regulation of violent video games for minors? Do we need a law about this or should it be a decision for parents to make? Do you think exposure to violence in videos causes psychological harm to children?

    In April, 2010, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the California case.** Arguments will be presented to the Court in the Fall of 2010 with a decision expected in 2011. Update: On June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court declared in a 7 to 2 decision that the laws banning sales and rentals to minors were unconstitutional. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the Supreme Court stated that “Our cases hold that minors are entitled to a significant degree of First Amendment protection. Government has no free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which they may be exposed.” (emphasis added)

    *Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Washington.

    **Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (Calif).

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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