The following editorial first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:
The Supreme Court’s rejection of a California law banning sales and rentals of violent video games to minors doesn’t change anything. The law was never enforced. It remains the responsibility of parents to see that their kids don’t play the most offensive and disturbing games.
Still, the court’s 7-2 decision is puzzling. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, says the First Amendment does not allow restrictions on sales to protect children. Scalia argued that violent content is not the same as obscenity, which isn’t protected by the First Amendment, and that children have long been exposed to violence in fairy tales and the like.
Leaving aside the obvious differences between “Mortal Kombat” and “Hansel and Gretel,” why is there a distinction between sexual and violent obscenity? Violent images can be just as offensive as pornography, particularly in the vivid detail video games allow. Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, focuses on that absurdity.
“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her? What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman — bound, gagged, tortured and killed — is also topless?” Hard to argue with that.
Parents aren’t defenseless, however. The industry’s voluntary rating system, according to the Federal Trade Commission, does a decent job keeping games rated “Mature” and “Adults Only” from being sold to minors. And where it fails, parents still can pull out that time-tested technique: the word “no.”