Your Thoughts: US Supreme Court Strikes Down California Video Game Law | Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

June 28, 2011

Your Thoughts: US Supreme Court Strikes Down California Video Game Law

When I was a kid, video games were a new and growing form of entertainment.  Nintendo 64, chock full of Mario and Luigi, became a household staple.  In a family with 3 girls, we resisted for a while, as my sisters and I were more content with Barbies and play kitchens.  But one Christmas when I was in 6th grade, we were presented with an awesome force of nature: The Sega Genesis.  There was no Mario and Luigi, but we had our fill of Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as a myriad of other games.  

It was amazing how quickly we became hooked on these games.  And not just hooked, but sucked in. It was not uncommon to start a game at 10am, only to be woken from a video-game stupor 5 hours later.  Because, let's face it, we just had to beat this level.  We just had to overcome this villian.  We just had to Finish. This. Game.

I am happy to say that the video game era in our household was short-lived.  After beating a few games (or, rather, be beaten by a few games), my sisters and I grew bored with sitting in front of the television hour after hour.  We had more important things to do.  Like cut our barbie's hair and get in trouble for it.

Now that I am a parent, I am amazed at how differently I look at the world.  Movies I would have never thought twice about viewing with kids (since I didn't have any) take on a new light.  My almost-3 year old Little Chica is a wonderful girl.  Passionate.  Scheming.  And sensitive.  

Can you think of one Disney movie that does not involve a scary witch?  Or a frightening monster?  An evil antagonist?  They have never bothered me, until I started trying to watch these movies through the eyes of a child.  While I want her to see the pretty princess dresses, she sees a mean cat named Lucifier, a formidable Beast, an evil witch with an apple.  I've become so much more aware of how sensitive the hearts and minds of children are, even if they are not yet aware of it.

And so it is with video games.  

Now hear me out: I am not saying video games are bad!  We own a Wii! And we enjoy it!  I think there are even video games that can have educational value.  So I am not here to rain on the parade of every video game system owner, or judge parents who allow their kids to use them.  

But can we agree that there are several categories of video games?

There are the fun, sporty video games. There are the work out video games. There are the kid/educational video games. 

And then there are a class of video games I'm not sure how to categorize.  

This past Christmas, Hubby used some of his holiday money to purchase a video game called Call of Duty.  It's a household name, and when it was released, there were lines out the wazoo to buy it.  He brought it home, popped it into the Wii, and tried to play a few rounds.  It was not long until he turned it off and announced that he was unhappy with his purchase.  I asked him why.  His response was to turn the game back on and show me a round.

And I was kind of beside myself.

I know this will make me sound old, but I had no idea how far we'd come in the video game industry from simple little Mario and Luigi skittering along a road, bopping angry mushrooms on the head and gathering coins.  Video games now a days are fierce:  full of fighting, gore, profanity and, yes, even nudity. 

Golly, that makes me sound kind of Puritan, doesn't it?

I'm not.  And really, adults are free to do whatever they want.  The fact that these games exist does not bother me.  But it does not sit well with me that kids, minors, have these games at their fingertips.

Today on the news (see clip at the bottom of the post), I was informed that the US Supreme Court struck down a California law that was  attempting to ban the sale of violent video games to minors (children under the age of 18).  The Court ruled that by banning these sales, we would infringe on the "constitutional guarantee of free expression." I was simultaneously impressed that California attempted to have this law in place for the sake of protecting minors, and appalled by responses of several Supreme Court justices.

Justice Antonin Scalia led the force, equating the violence observed in these video games to the violence seen in Looney Tunes or Grimm's Fairy Tales.  The court seemed to discount studies found that violent video games led kids to be more violent, stating the same effect was found in kids who viewed Bugs Bunny cartoons.

The video gaming industry claimed this as a big victory, praising the Supreme Court's decision. 

And it just doesn't sit right with me.  Perhaps it is because I am a parent, or maybe because before I was a parent, I was a social worker.  And in my years as a social worker, I saw the affects of the world (violence and video games included) on children. While I do not want to squash our constitutional rights and guarantees, I can't help but wonder what the balance is between protecting our rights and protecting our children who do not know enough to protect themselves?

This is a complicated issue:  constitutional rights and guarantees.  The role of a parent in a child's life versus the government's role in a child's life. The ugliness of our World in general. I believe that Scalia is right to say that violence has been around for ages, and that even the seemingly benign Looney Tunes and Grimm's Fairy tales are uncomfortably wracked with violence.  And yes, I believe that all shows of violence, whether it is an old written tale, an animated cartoon, or a life-like video game, affect the viewer. 

To me, though, the life-like video games are a slightly different monster.  One is not only viewing the content on the screen, but they are made to become the character participating in the violence.  I do believe there is a difference between being the violent perpetrator and just watching it. And perhaps I'd even go as far to say that being in the mind of a violent character on a video game is quite similar as being in the mind of a violent first-person narrator in a book. Both scenarios involve becoming wrapped up in a character, and a violent one at that. 

But can we agree that neither mindset could possibly be healthy for a child?


So where do we draw the line? How do we protect without limiting our given rights?  I don't have the answers.  And really, I'm still processing this all in my mind, and I happen to have a blog where I can flesh it out with you.  I only know what naturally doesn't sit well with me, what instinctually feels wrong.  

I have a lot more research to read on the subject, so forgive any glaring gaps in my information. I happened upon the news story, and wanted to get my thoughts into one focused place. Which is here.  I am not here to judge. But I do think we owe it to ourselves as citizens of this country and as parents to come to an informed belief on the topic. 

I know this is a controversial issue, and by opening the floor, I may be shooting myself in the foot, but I'd like to know what you think:  

Where do we draw the line in protecting our rights without sacrificing the ability to protect our children?  

If you choose to participate in the discussion and leave a comment, please abide by the ground rules:

1. Play nice, play fair: no name calling, no profanity, no insults.
2. Do not harrass or pick on other commenters for their thoughts or beliefs.
3. I do not want to overly censor a good discussion, but I do reserve the right to censor comments that I feel are inappropriate (see #'s 1 and 2).  {Note - I will not censor a comment simply because I disgree with it.  That would defeat the purpose of an open discussion!}


  1. I've always felt like this kind of thing should be monitored by the parents. As a parent, you should know what games your child is playing. And the games are rated so that makes even easier to know if it is age appropriate for your child. How does this compare to rated R movies? I know if you go to the movie theater they can ID you, but do they check ID if you buy from the store (Walmart, Target, etc.)?

  2. I'm not from a 'gaming' family so I don't have any real connection or love for video games. That being said, I agree that you should have to show ID to purchase video games which are rated at an adult level....basically the same way children can be prohibited form entering and R rated movie. I don't see how this infringes on a child's rights..(we already limit things by age, driving, smoking, drinking, skydiving, renting a car)..and if they're unhappy about it...they can enact their rights to petition and free speech and try to make a change...


Hey! Share a thought or two - I'd love to hear from you! ~ Steph

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