NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Zap California's Video Game Law

November 2, 2010

You can't blame parents for wanting to shield their children from ultra-violent video games.  They should.  But the legal question to be argued at the Supreme Court on Tuesday is whether government -- in this case, the state of California -- has a role in deciding which games ought to be banned, says USA Today.

For one thing, scientific evidence of harm is slim to nonexistent.

  • Study after study has failed to establish that playing violent video games is any more dangerous than playing with toy guns.
  • One report, cited by a federal appeals court, admitted it couldn't answer this simple question: "Are young adolescents more hostile and aggressive because they expose themselves to media violence, or do previously hostile adolescents prefer violent media?"

Even assuming that some individual, vulnerable teenagers are adversely affected, it's better to rely on parents to impose limits, rather than expecting the heavy hand of government to do the job for them, says USA Today.

The strongest argument against California's law is the constitutional one.

  • For decades, federal courts have recognized only a handful of exceptions to the First Amendment, such as defamation and -- for minors -- pornography.
  • The courts have never included violence in that short list, for good reason: That would open the door to restricting or banning violence in news accounts, movies or even books.

California's law defines a violent video game by subjective standards on which reasonable people could easily disagree.

Guarding the First Amendment often means protecting the right of people to say or do things that most Americans find repulsive.  But the alternative is to arbitrarily pick and choose who's entitled to free expression and who isn't.  In that world, anyone might be deprived of rights reserved for individuals since the nation's founding, says USA Today.

Source: "Zap California's Video Game Law," USA Today, October 29, 2010.

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