Violent video games: Protected by the First Amendment?

The Supreme Court considers whether a ban on selling gory games to minors is unconstitutional

A ban on violent video games may not prevent children from being exposed to brutal imagery
(Image credit: Corbis)

In a potentially crucial First Amendment case, the Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on whether California should have the right to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. Justice Antonin Scalia said depictions of violence in literature have always been seen as something protected by the First Amendment right to free expression. But three justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, said there has to be a limit to what children can legally be exposed to. Should the government be able to regulate the sales of gory video games? (Watch a USA Today report about the case)

The court should not allow the state to restrict free speech: Even if you accept California's unproven claim that violent games damage children, there are ways to address the problem without censorship, say the editors of the Los Angeles Times. "Publicizing the video-game industry's voluntary ratings system" or pushing technology letting parents screen out offensive videos accomplishes the same goal without butchering the Constitution.

"Good intentions, bad law"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Sorry, these games are not art: Video game makers say California is violating their rights, say the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, but this not about "artistic freedom." Some of these "grotesque" games let players "burn people alive, beat a cop to death," or "decapitate girls with a shovel." The state has the right and duty to protect kids from the "deadening side effects" of such "inappropriate and harmful" garbage.

"High court should allow video game law"

Banning violent games would not help, anyway: The impulse is understandable, says Garrett Epps at The Atlantic. "Since the time of Plato's Republic, human beings have imagined that if we could just stop our kids from seeing or reading anything bad, they would grow up to be perfect." But you can't keep darkness out of "bright innocent souls." We are born with that darkness already lurking within us — "encountering that shared darkness in art is part of learning to be human."

"In the war on violent video games, Arnold has no clothes"

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us