Supreme Court: Ok for kids to maim

Note: I chatted with KSRO 1350 on Wednesday morning about this issue. You can listen to the interview by CLICKING HERE.

If a 10 year old tried to get into the movie theater to watch any of the Saw movies (one of which opened with characters violently cutting off chunks of their skin for the demon who is demanding it for payment), he would thankfully be turned away indefinitely thanks to the R Rating that prohibits those underage from viewing that movie in a theater without a parent there with them. However, if that same 10 year old walked into a video game store today and purchased the game “Manhunt” – a game where gamers simulate motions with their hands on the Nunchuck and Wii remote to stab, maim, split someone open with a chainsaw, punch, impale, dismember….and it’s urged by a “director” that each killing be bloodier and more greusome – they could walk right up to the counter and do so.

According to the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), video games that are rated M (Mature) “have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.” Since 2005, those under age 17 were unable to buy video games that allowed “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” Their parents could buy the games for them, but they would not be able to buy them on their own.

Today the US Supreme Court overturned the ban that prohibited those younger than 18 from purchasing games with a rating of M, deciding it was unconstitutional for the government to “restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed”.

I have seen games where animals have been skinned, a person is graphically blown up, and the imagery is so realistic it’s scary. I’m not going to claim “perfect parent” status here, as I have allowed my son to play video games that involve killing in them. But I’m aware of the games he is playing, and I’ve even told him “no” over some overly graphic games he wanted to buy. The overturning of this law means that my kid could walk into any video game store, pick out any of these games I’ve forbidden, and buy it without question. And I might never even know.

The funny thing is, the Court has decided that forbidding minors from buying violent games is against their First Amendment Rights. Since when did my 10 year old’s rights become more important than my own? Last time I checked, the kid couldn’t vote, isn’t allowed to hold a job, is prohibited from driving a car, is deemed too young to drink a beer, and isn’t even allowed to have a Facebook page. But suddenly, the government is ok with my kid choosing on his own to view possibly pornographic images or gruesome murder scenes as long as it’s a part of a video game?

Shouldn’t the parents have the most power when it comes to things their underage child is viewing?

I’m not going to claim that violent video games create murderers.  There have been so many conflicting reports on whether violence viewed onscreen could actually cause a child to take up that action in real life.  But I do believe that viewing images like that can cause a child stress and affects their ability to think.

Different levels of stress can cause a child’s attention span to lessen as their protective instincts naturally put up blockers.  In extreme cases, their brains pruduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, known for it’s tendency to permanently kill brain cells.  This can cause difficulties in dealing with anxiety and stress later in life.  While it can be argued that a video game is not a real event but just an image on a screen, it should also be pointed out the realistic images that are being rapidly flashed on the screen, the loud sounds coming from headphones, and the actions a gamer must phyically manage to make their avatar move on the screen are intended to make the experience much more than 2D.  It may just be on the screen, but video gaming is becoming more and more realistic with every upgrade. And a child’s growing brain has a harder time differentiating simulation from reality than an adult’s brain would.

What’s your take on this? Do you allow your son or daughter to play video games?  Have you ever allowed them to play games that are rated beyond their years?  Are you concerned that the ban has been overturned, or do you feel the Supreme Court was right in their assessment that this law was unconstitutional?

NOTE: You all really should read the blog article by our resident video game blogger, GameWit.  He gives another side as to why this new rule might be a good thing.

13 thoughts on “Supreme Court: Ok for kids to maim

Add yours

  1. Freedom of speech is a sword that cuts both ways. This is an appalling decision that is out of whack with reality. Clarence Thomas had it right. Minors are not subject to the same priveleges as adults, but the infantilization of our culture is nearly complete, so it should come as no big surprise.
    Next step will be approving kids turning their parents into the authorities for making them unhappy or telling them to zip it.
    Lights out for America.

  2. You’ve got what this ruling means all wrong.

    The video game industry’s win today means that video games are being treated the exact same way that movies are, not differently, as your example suggests.

    Though most movie theaters won’t sell tickets to R-rated movies to minors, there’s no law in place that says they can be fined or go to jail for doing so.

    What the California law would’ve done is imposed fines or jail time on retailers selling violent video games. In other words, it would’ve treated violent video games the same way the law treats porn, alcohol and cigarettes, rather than how it treats books and movies.

    Many retailers prevent children from buying M-rated video games. I suggest that you research this a little better and, if you’re concerned about children having access to M-rated games, stop patronizing retailers that don’t card minors.

    As someone who doesn’t have kids, I have to admit that how successful children are in buying M-rated games are is something that often escapes my purview. But, from time to time, the game industry or parents groups will conduct audits over how easy or hard it is for kids to buy M-rated games, and the general consensus is that it’s gotten a lot harder.

    If a 10-year-old kid walked into the average game retailer without a parent and tried to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops, the kid would be told he needs to have a parent or other adult buy the game for him. I’ve seen this happen way more times that I’ve seen an unattended minor buy something he shouldn’t have access to.

    You know what I’ve seen way more than kids being turned away, though? Parents buying inappropriate games for their children. I’ve even seen retailers try to tell parents they’re buying they’re kid a game in which he can massacre civilians at the airport. The typical parent response is to get defensive and tell the clerk not to tell them how to raise their children.

  3. Also, the rights in this case refer to the game industry’s freedom of speech rights, not your 10-year-old kid’s.

    The general consensus from the game industry and retailers is that, rather than risk a massive fine because some low-level clerk broke the rules, game retailers would’ve stopped carrying violent games. As a result, game companies would have stopped making them.

    Granted, most of the stuff I play wouldn’t have been effected by this ruling, at least not right away. But as a grown-up gamer, I wasn’t looking forward to a future in which the entertainment available to me to purchase was censored or restricted because other people don’t do a good enough job policing what their kids play and watch.

  4. Quoted from article: “Video game makers and sellers celebrated their victory, saying the decision puts them on the same legal footing as other forms of entertainment. “There now can be no argument whether video games are entitled to the same protection as books, movies, music, and other expressive entertainment,” said Bo Andersen, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association.”

    You’re absolutely right. I was really under the impression that movie theaters could be fined if they let minors in to view movies that restrict their age group. My bad. And you make a very good point about parents biting at merchants who warn them of the graphic nature. It’s my hopes that merchants out there will continue to use good judgement when it comes to selling to minors, as well as warning parents of what goes on in the more violent games.

  5. Regarding First Amendment rights, they are referring to minors: “The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento had ruled that the law violated minors’ rights under the First Amendment, and the high court agreed.”

  6. To be clear, I think the game industry and retailers need to do a better job at getting the message out there about what’s appropriate/inappropriate for kids. For example, the industry does a great job summarizing potentially objectionable content that games might have over at But I’d love to see those summaries printed out on little cards and displayed at retailers like Wal-Mart, GameStop and Best Buy.

    I wince every time I see a print ad or TV commercial that is clearly trying to market an M-rated game to teens. The game industry would help solve some of its public-perception problems if it discontinued this practice.

    Getting back to the movie thing, I’m sure a ridiculous number of teens buy tickets for G-, PG- or PG-13-rated movies, then sneak in to see R-rated movies. The last time I went to see an R-rated movie in downtown Santa Rosa, I was appalled at how many underage kids had sneaked into the theater. (Admittedly, this was a number of years ago, as I only recently moved back to Sonoma County from San Francisco. Things may have improved on that front.)

  7. Ah, I missed that part of the ruling. I’ll be whipping up my own quick reaction piece shortly, so I’m glad you pointed that out. Thanks!

  8. Just to add to what Gamewit said, I know for a fact that GameStop — basically the only retailer in Santa Rosa that sells video games anymore since they bought out all the other stores (there are actually two GameStops in the mall as a result) — has a strict policy. Employees will be fired if they sell an “M” rated game to someone under 17. End of story.

  9. Stars, I have to say I’ve been thoroughly impressed whenever I stop in a GameStop with my kid. They are extremely well knowledged in what they are selling, and it shows. And I’ve seen employees in action as they explain the more violent games to parents just so they’re aware of what their child is viewing. Thanks for the opportunity to give them a thumbs up.

    GameWit, I’ve been waiting for your piece on this all morning. 😉 Can’t wait to read it!

  10. You pose the quandry, are my child’s rights more important than mine? Kind of a silly question in my mind. If you are as involved with your children’s lives as you would appear to be, won’t you be aware of what game they own and play? Shouldn’t you (the parent) be the only arbitor of what is and what is not acceptable for your child, their individual maturity level, and your own standards of what is and what is not decent? The concept of community standards is a joke and in reality, when enforced, is really not the standard of any one community but is rather the standard of whomever is in charge of enforcing it. When you give control to a beurocracy to do your parenting, you only give away your rights to choose and to make decisions for your child. Though certainly it is easier to let the Government take care of your kids, step up and be an active parent yourself!

  11. While I know every single game my kid owns and plays, as well as the content each game has in them, I am not naive enough to think that my kid could never, ever slip one past me. I honestly don’t think he would, knowing my kid. But come on now, even we used to pull one over on our own parents from time to time when it came to following rules and such, right? Even the most diligent parent could be caught off guard by a determined child bent on getting their way. So while I will definitely be the one who has the say-so when it comes to what my child will or will not play, I hope that the retailers will have some setbacks in place should I fail in being aware that my kid has snuck over to the videogame store to buy a game beyond his years.

  12. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the existing ratings system. It’s OUR job as parents to monitor the games that are being played. It is NOT the job of California or the U.S. Govt. to tell ME what my child can and cannot purchase. SCOTUS absolutely made the right call — this particular line is much too gray. Who exactly was going to determine just how much was too much? Who exactly was going to be responsible for labeling something obscene? And why stop at games? How about books and music? Maybe even art! I find the statue of David obscene, TEAR IT DOWN. You can see where this was going.

  13. Yes, I agree with you (WineCountry.Mom) that your kid, like all kids, has the ability to get one by on the parent, but don’t you see; you already did your job. The fact that the child knows it is wrong is the point. The fact that your child understands that you don’t condone playing such games for them, and (I assume) becuase you have explained why you don’t, is already helping to shape your childs own personal morals and values. You will never keep your child from seeing violent things or graphic sexual content, but preparing them to understand it for what it is and what it represents is the job you have done as a parent. Of course kids will seek out forbiden content, just like you did, because it’s human nature. Curiosity is how we learn, especially as children. The best we can do is to guide.
    The bottom line is that the court made the correct decision because it should not be left to the government to make personnal decisions for families. I’m in favor of the rating system, as this provides information to the parent who may not otherwise understand what each game contains which helps them to make their own decisions, but preventing sales based on such a subjective interpretation of acceptability is clearly over the line. One familie’s view of art is anothers view of obscenity, and that is okay, but what is not okay is the false concept of community standards when it comes to censorship and first ammendment rights. I say, regulate yourselves and leave everyone else alone…………

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