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Supreme Court Rules Minors Can Purchase Violent Video Games

M-rated video games are for players 17 years and up, but unsupervised minors can now buy or rent them.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a decision to remove California's restriction on the sale or rental of “violent” or "mature-rated" video games to children under 18 years old. The California law, passed and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, would have reprimanded retailers who violated the act with fines up to $1,000 for each infraction.

With at least one video-game console in 46-million American households, the industry collected over $18 billion in revenue in 2010. Another estimation claims that “5 percent of games fall into a category rated 'mature' and are recommended to those 17-years-old and up." Those games make up a quarter of total video game sales. 

"No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm," wrote justice Antonin Scalia, referring to the majority opinion of the ruling.

Scalia also pointed out that unlike the precautions set for "sexual conduct," there's no obvious practice in the United States of restricting children's access to violence, as seen in many popular children's fairy tales.

"Hansel and Gretel kill their captor by baking her in an oven," Scalia said. "Cinderella's evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves and the evil queen in Snow White is forced to wear red hot slippers and dance until she is dead."

However, some justices expressed concern with the dismissal of a link between video games and harm to children.

Justice Samuel Alito and chief justice John Roberts acknowledged "the effect of exceptionally violent video games on impressionable minors, who often spend countless hours immersed in the alternative worlds that these games create."

While justice Alito said he "would not squelch legislative efforts to deal with what is perceived by some to be a significant and developing social problem," justice Clarence Thomas disagreed with the majority.

"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 a 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?” he wrote. “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?"

Our Moms Council had a wide range of opinions about this.

Tonia Accetta—As a parent of a 14-year-old boy that wants to play M-rated games, the Supreme Court's decision has made my life a bit easier. More and more parents are seeing their right to choose how to manage their children stripped away. I would be outraged if the courts were to give me a list of reading material suitable for my 14-year-old or to limit their viewing of disturbing documentaries. Who would stop their kid from reading Shakespeare, Harper Lee or many other great authors that have all written books with very graphic content? If I want to be censored I will move to China. Thank you, Supreme Court!

Tam Dorow—Thank you, Big Brother (Supreme Court), for respecting our intelligence and our right to choose; and for saving the industry the cost of training employees to check identification for age appropriateness and the additional resources at the checkout counter.

We do not need the state to tell us what video games to purchase for our children. Most of the time, the kids do not buy games for themselves, adults do.  No matter what the law says, the adult can purchase whatever game they choose.  If a child purchases a game that is too violent or explicit, his or her parents can put a stop to the purchase or the use of the game until a more appropriate age. The kids are playing these games in our homes; surely, we can monitor the appropriateness of each new game when it comes in the door— it's not a consumption done outside of the home.

In this case, the law cannot be more effective at screening video games than the parents are.  Again, thank you Supreme Court for allowing us to parent our children. Sadly, California lawmakers are too quick to write ineffective or unenforceable laws. Let's focus on enforcing the laws we already have.

Kurt Sauter—This is a very peculiar ruling. Good Americans all believe in free speech and freedom of expression. No one should be opposed to freedom of expression, but the ban on selling mature material to minors did not attempt to prevent anyone from producing the video games or even prevent them from distributing it.

Why the Supreme Court felt that those freedoms extend to presenting that material to minors without parental consent is puzzling. The decision really doesn’t change the real bottom line. Parents should not count on the Supreme Court to keep mature material out of their children’s hands. If your children do buy this material, will you let them play the games in your house?

The biggest problem is what your children are exposed to in their friend’s house. Even if the ban were still in effect, you need to confirm what you, as a parent, think is appropriate for children is also shared by the parents of your children’s friends. Some adults buy those games for their children already, so the lifting of the ban only has an impact for children who are unsupervised.

Suzette Valle—I made my views on this issue quite public on Fox 5 News only hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision. As I understand it, the issue isn't whether the law intended to take over a parent’s right to purchase these games for their own children, nor did it tell them how to parent. The previous law simply intended to regulate access of these graphic games to unsupervised, underage children running around a mall with plenty of cash in their pockets to afford them.

In our current technology-driven society where a multi-billion-dollar industry has more say over those who brought the law to bear in protection of minors targeted by these violent-video game makers, causes me to question if the SCOTUS isn't out of touch with the brutality depicted in these games and the reality today's parents face. Guardians and caregivers are ultimately responsible for everything that comes through their door, but the truth is, not all households have attentive parents for many reasons. Parents concerned about their children playing with violent videos will just have to step up their game and control the purse strings.

Tonia Accetta is a British born, boarding-school educated, stay-at-home mom of a teenage boy and a preteen girl. She moved to Coronado in 2002 from Florida with her husband of 15 years looking for a better school system than Florida had to offer. Both children attend Coronado Unified Schools. She is currently on the Coronado Youth Softball board covering many positions (offers of help are always welcome!), and she is a co-leader and cookie mom for Girl Scout Troop 5039.

Tam Dorow emigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. when she was 10 years old, and grew up in Lansing, MI. She has a B.S. in Engineering from Michigan State University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. She worked at all Big 3 US car companies in Engineering and International Finance.  She was a management consultant and started a management consulting firm in Indiana. She's been a stay-at-home mom for the last 10 years. She's served on the board of directors for Village Elementary Parents And Teachers Together (PATT), is a past president of Coronado Youth Softball, and is a current member of the board of directors for Coronado Little League. She married her college sweetheart, two children, a dog, and a 21-year-old cat. 

Suzette Valle is a 20-year resident of Coronado. She graduated with a B.A. from the University of San Diego, and has an M.A. from Oxford University, England. After a career as an investment banker, she married and moved from high finance to high drama. She’s the mother of two teenagers, one at Purdue University, another at Coronado High School. She is bilingual and bicultural. She's held many volunteer positions among various Coronado community organizations: vice-president of Coronado Youth Softball 2007-2010, director for the Islander Sports Foundation 2008-2010, and served on both the PTO 2006 and PTA 2005. She was recognized by Time Warner Cable as one of San Diego's “50 Best Moms” in 2006, and has been part of the judging panel for the last four years. She blogs at MamarazziKnowsBest.com, and is a featured Hollyblogger at TheWrap.com, where she blogs about parenting in a celebrity-driven society. In 2010 she appeared on the Dr. Phil Show discussing Reality TV, and was a presenter at San Diego’s Head to Toe Women’s Expo speaking about Hollywood’s far-reaching influence on children's daily lives and family values.

JimmyStewart July 15, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Pretty silly thing to get worried about. If you're doing a job as a parent this isn't a real issue. As an adult parent and gamer I will say I am personally carded more often for buying Mature rated games than anything else I can think of. Buying alcohol doesn't even warrant a glance at this age, but just try and get past a Best Buy clerk with the latest Halo game. I'll be thankful when the younger generations step into power so we can stop all this politicizing of a form of media an older generation clearly does not understand. It's Elvis all over again, what is the world to do! ;-) Raise your kids properly and this shouldn't be an issue.
Suzette Valle July 15, 2011 at 03:30 PM
I agree with you. Parenting is at the heart of this issue.

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