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Selling The Idea of Violent Video Games

The Supreme Court struck down a California law barring the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, citing freedom of speech. Depictions of violence, one justice noted, aren’t subject to government regulation. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed,” wrote Justice Scalia. The ruling, of course, has video game makers cheering.

Perhaps these games should be openly for sale, and parents should have the responsibility for monitoring kids’ use. But what’s most deeply disturbing to me is the level of discussion that surrounded the news, and even the ruling. Two veins of illogic seem to dominate:

–       “One media is the same as another.” In playing violent video games, modern youth are often spending considerable amounts of time virtually participating in intense, fast-paced violence. That’s a different form of absorption than is exercised when merely listening to or reading an age-old fairy tale. Even if children act out violence in play, the content won’t (I hope) resemble the realism of these games. True, we don’t yet know all the effects of gaming, but equating one media with another isn’t the right way to understand either.

–       “The jury is out – we don’t know whether they do harm.” Study after study shows that video games can lead children to become immune to the horror of violence, to imitate violence, and show more aggressive behavior after being exposed to media violence, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In an op-ed today, one researcher ridiculed the idea that these games might have an effect on young children, arguing that kids know that exhortations to shoot and kill are “fake.” Just because a child may know that a game is fantasy doesn’t mean they won’t be influenced by its content. Another collapsed bit of logic.

My personal bottom line: would I allow my child to spend time on these games? Not a chance.

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