Supreme Court: Violent Video Games More Like Fairy Tales Than Porn?

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK.

Children playing handheld video games.Children playing handheld video games.How to hawk a loogie, what "the bird" is, and that "the bus driver ran over a girl for throwing stuff out the window"-my kids have learned a lot of questionable things riding the bus (which led to some very interesting and educational dinner discussions), but by far the most upsetting bus moment from this year was when my two boys came running in the front door exclaiming about the coolest video game they'd ever played. The game? Grand Theft Auto: one of the most morally corrupt and violent video games out there. My 8-year-old and 6-year-old saw it on a friend's iPhone. (Also: what is a 2nd grader doing with an iPhone?)
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I saw red. I'll admit it. If there was a way for my kids to never be exposed to violent and sexually explicit video games, short of going off the grid, I'd do it. So when the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that "[states] cannot ban the sale or rental of ultraviolent video games to children, rejecting such limits as a violation of young people's First Amendment rights", I can't say I was thrilled. Maybe banning minors from buying the game wouldn't have prevented my kids' friend from downloading the game nor from my kids from seeing it, but as many barriers as I can put between kids and those games seems like a good idea to me.

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But is it? The basic idea behind the ruling is not that the games aren't abhorrent-none of the Justices proclaimed a love of killing hookers and stashing their bodies in trash cans-but rather that it is the parent's responsibility to mediate their kids' media consumption. Of course they're right. Sigh. While it's easier to allow the government to step in for some of my more difficult parenting moments-"Sorry kids, but it's illegal to pole vault over the back seat while the car is moving! Don't shoot the messenger!"-I can't expect them to keep my kids safe from every influence I deem bad. And I know that not all parents share my distaste of violent games, as shown by the fact that my kids' friend has it-with full knowledge of his mom; I asked.

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Unfortunately, it's not a clear cut argument. Justice Scalia, speaking for the majority, pointed out how many children's fairy tales are extremely violent (remember Hans Christian Andersen's "The Red Dancing Shoes"? Ack!) and that the government should not have "a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."

Justice Breyer, in his dissenting opinion, argues, "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?"

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So are violent video games more like fairy tales or porn? What do you think of this ruling - should the government enforce age limits for video games?


Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a mom of 5 and the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and the blog of the same name.

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