Banning Violent Video Games: Free Speech Violation or Smart Legislation?

With its summer recess looming, one of the most highly anticipated decisions of the Supreme Court’s term will be handed down this month. In a case from California, the justices have been asked to decide whether the government can ban the sale of violent video games to kids.

It’s an issue that speaks to every parent and child in the country. For the past few months, visitors to the National Constitution Center have been weighing in at the Town Hall Wall in the main exhibition gallery. Opinions have been sharply divided.

The case involves a California law that bans the sale of violent video games to children under 18. In addition to California, six other states and one county have passed similar laws, in the belief that violent video games are harmful enough that children should be protected from them by the government. Every time a lower court has reviewed such a law, it has been struck down as a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. In the past, the Supreme Court has allowed states to ban the sale of only one kind of speech to kids – porn.

Teacher’s corner

In addition to considering the following arguments below, what implications would a Supreme Court decision have on media censorship if the justices do decide that violent video games can no longer be sold? Here is a Town Hall poster that can help facilitate discussion.

Should the government also be able to ban the sale of violent video games to kids? Before the justices issue their opinion, please leave a comment below. Here are six arguments to consider:

• Gruesomely violent video games are not appropriate for children, and government can legitimately ban their sale to them.

• It’s not the government’s job to decide what is appropriate for kids; that’s the responsibility of parents.

• If explicit sexual material can be banned from children without violating the First Amendment, so should violent content. Such games are obscene for kids, even if they are acceptable for adults.

• People more or less agree on what is sexually obscene, but there is no such consensus about violence. So where do you draw the line?

• Scientific research shows that violent video games cause aggressive behavior in children and adolescents.

• The research can’t prove for sure that violent video games make kids more aggressive. Some studies suggest that kids use the games to vent anger.




  1. sl1510 says

    This article makes it seem as if video games right now are wholely unregulated when in fact, The Entertainment Software Rating Board or ESRB has been in consistent use since 1994. The industry itself tries to discourage the sale of rated Mature and rated Adult Only games to persons under the age of 18 and even without the system having legal backing most of your major retailers of video games take it upon themselves to refuse sale to minors.

    The California ban (AB1179) has come up in court several times since its enactment in 2005. The arguement of the is that state has an interest in backing up the parental authority of its citizens to ensure the healthly psycological developement of the countries youth. The problem lies in that the studies reporting that violent video games actually cause increased aggression in children have been weak and unverified and a legal ban provides the stepping stones of increased censorship of video games based on these weak scientific claims. The Entertainmennt Merchants Association and the Entertainment Software Association have drawn parrellels to this case and attempts to legally censor comic books, true-crime novels, movies, and rock music, all of which were believed to be harmful to young people at one point in time.

    There’s a reason why this law has yet to win a court room defense, its adoption would mean we’re drawing a large exception for the freedom of speech minors. While exceptions to the first ammendement are not unprecidented (particularlly in the case of minors), violence in video games is not fundamentally different from violence in tv, film and literature and as in those cases censorship should not be the grovernments role.