On Monday, June 27th, a Supreme Court ruling struck down a California law that would have banned the sale of violent video games to children.
If the law had gone through, the government like firearms would have regulated video games.
Ultimately, reported Bloomberg Businessweek, the court ruled that games, like other art forms, are protected under the First Amendment.
It was a 7-2 vote, and the whole affair was closely watched by the video game industry, which Businessweek said had been cautiously optimistic. The law would have precluded the sale of violent games to anyone less than 18 years of age.
In a report by An Hour Ago, Justice Stephen Breyer remarked that it was hypocritical to block children’s access to something like pornography yet allows them to be exposed to violent games.
“What sense does it make,” Breyer said, “to forbid selling a 13 year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that [boy] of an interactive game in which he actively, but virtually, blinds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?”
According to NPR, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the U.S. “had no tradition of restricting depictions of violence for children.”
Several troubling facts would seem to back up Scalia’s assertion. According to Live Science, the U.S. military is vocally supportive of video games, which are used to recruit and train young gamers. Moreover, the U.S. Army has its own official game – “America’s Army,” which, for better or worse, allows players to participate in virtual training missions and fight and kill one another online.
MIT researchers arrived at the conclusion that these games have become a more powerful tool for the Army than all other Army advertisements combined.
Peter Singer, a Brookings Institute defense expert, in Foreign Policy says the melding of entertainment and warfare could have undesirable consequences. Singer notes the “fog of war” effect, where the game America’s Army lets players experience the vicarious sensation of a battle during the invasion of Iraq.
Yet, when the virtual unit initiates an airstrike, they leave out an important real-world detail. “The airstrike accidentally hit some of their own and also killed some of our Kurdish allies,” adds Singer.
But this virtual replication would perhaps have young, impressionable players believing that they are undefeatable.
“Just because you excel in the video game of something,” notes Singer, “it doesn’t mean you’ll excel in the real world version.”
The question remains: Are violent video games actually dangerous to young minds?
Daphne Bavelier, assistant professor in the department of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester, told the Associated Press, “People that play these games have better vision, better attention, and better cognition.” He added, “We are testing the hypothesis that when you play an action video game, you learn to better allocate your resources. In a sense, you learn to learn. You become very good at adapting to whatever is asked of you.”
Critics continue to ask if video games are good or bad for teen’s. Some argue, as with anything else, that video games can be bad if they dominate someone’s life. However, others note that some games are cheap, great entertainment, and could be used as a great social event.
Yet the dilemma at hand is a question of where, in regard to children, the line between education and exploitation should be drawn.
Sources indicate the U.S. Army wanted kids to be able to start playing its America’s Army video game at the age 13.
Some past developments suggest the Army and the video game industry have become bedfellows in the name of profit and recruitment.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, GameStop’s 2007 release party for the game Halo 3 included a military recruitment drive. Local Air Force recruiters hung out at a nearby strip mall, where underage kids ate pizza, drank Mountain Dew, and played Halo 2 on a large screen on the back of an SUV.
Joe Turcotte, an Iraq war veteran and member of the New Hampshire chapter of Iraqi Veterans Against the War, does not approve of petty video game recruitment tactics being used to enlist youth into the military.
Turcotte says a clear line needs to be drawn between reality and gaming.
“It cheapens the honor and sacrifice when you turn it into a video game,” he said. “There’s something about this that just doesn’t seem right. I would like to know if there’s a disclaimer, warning kids that their actual experience may vary. War is not a game.”
Photo: This screenshot, taken from the America’s Army official website, depicts the third entry in the official video game series of the U.S. Army.