I believe it is vital that First Amendment rights be protected, and I further believe that doing so may sometimes require ruling in favor of speech that some group, even the majority, may perceive as having generally negative consequences. Nonetheless, I was struck momentarily speechless at learning that the Supreme Court overwhelmingly (7-2) believes that banning minors from purchasing gratuitously violent video games is unconstitutional.
Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion, says violent video games qualify for First Amendment protection. They "communicate ideas," he asserts. Yes, they do, and so does graphic pornography. The question in this case should have been "What is the quality of the ideas communicated, and are those ideas healthy for children to consume?" These games allow players to occupy fantasy identities and torture, mutilate, and kill various life forms, human and otherwise. It is well known that the preponderance of gamers are male. It is significant, therefore, to note that at least one of these so-called games (somehow, the name doesn't quite fit) involves the torture of a woman by a man.
Scalia pointed out that a good deal of popular children's literature over the centuries has contained violent themes. "Grimms Fairy Tales, for example, were grim indeed," he wrote. The comparison is disingenuous. First, these stories conveyed valid moral lessons. That is not the case with the media in question. Second, the violence was not graphic. Third, there is no evidence that the Grimm brothers fanciful stories have or had any negative effect on the social behavior of children. (Children rejoiced when Hansel and Gretel tricked the evil witch into her own oven, but stories of subsequent oven murders are lacking.) But there is a growing body of such evidence concerning violent video games.
A comprehensive, cross-cultural study conducted by psychologist Craig Andersen of Iowa State University found that exposure to violent video games makes kids more aggressive and less considerate of others regardless of age, sex, or culture. In short, as does pornography, violent video games do violence to children. As such, responsible adults should prohibit them. As such, the Supreme Court has acted irresponsibly.
The effect of graphic pornography on children has not been as meticulously researched as has the effect of violent video games; nevertheless, every state has laws barring children's access to pornography. These proscriptions, all of which have withstood First Amendment challenges, rest on nothing more than a consensus of common sense. Now the Supreme Court, with a growing body of research at its disposal, has made it difficult for parents to enforce the same common sense concerning violent video games.
The fact that children have access to the Internet (too much in my estimation) means they will find out that the highest legal authority in the land says they now have a "right" to purchase these games. Many of them are going to interpret this to mean their parents have no say in the matter, and more than a few will have the gall to tell them as much. If parents hold the line, refusing to allow that trash in their home, can the child then appeal to the state? Sue his parents?
This could get complicated, even ugly. Things of this sort make me thankful that my wife and I raised our kids when the law never wavered from supporting the right of parents to control their children's moral education.