Supreme Court Rules Minors Can Purchase Violent Video Games

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a decision to remove California’s restriction on the sale or rental of “violent” or “mature-rated” video games to children under 18 years old. The California law, passed and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, would have reprimanded retailers who violated the act with fines up to $1,000 for each infraction.

With at least one video-game console in 46-million American households, the industry collected over $18 billion in revenue in 2010. Another estimation claims that “5 percent of games fall into a category rated ‘mature’ and are recommended to those 17-years-old and up.” Those games make up a quarter of total video game sales. 

“No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm,” wrote justice Antonin Scalia, referring to the majority opinion of the ruling.

Scalia also pointed out that unlike the precautions set for “sexual conduct,” there’s no obvious practice in the United States of restricting children’s access to violence, as seen in many popular children’s fairy tales.

“Hansel and Gretel kill their captor by baking her in an oven,” Scalia said. “Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves and the evil queen in Snow White is forced to wear red hot slippers and dance until she is dead.”

However, some justices expressed concern with the dismissal of a link between video games and harm to children.

Justice Samuel Alito and chief justice John Roberts acknowledged “the effect of exceptionally violent video games on impressionable minors, who often spend countless hours immersed in the alternative worlds that these games create.”

While justice Alito said he “would not squelch legislative efforts to deal with what is perceived by some to be a significant and developing social problem,” justice Clarence Thomas disagreed with the majority.

“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 a 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?” he wrote. “What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman — bound, gagged, tortured, and killed — is also topless?”

Our Moms Council had a wide range of opinions about this.

Tonia Accetta—As a parent of a 14-year-old boy that wants to play M-rated games, the Supreme Court’s decision has made my life a bit easier. More and more parents are seeing their right to choose how to manage their children stripped away. I would be outraged if the courts were to give me a list of reading material suitable for my 14-year-old or to limit their viewing of disturbing documentaries. Who would stop their kid from reading Shakespeare, Harper Lee or many other great authors that have all written books with very graphic content? If I want to be censored I will move to China. Thank you, Supreme Court!

Tam Dorow—Thank you, Big Brother (Supreme Court), for respecting our intelligence and our right to choose; and for saving the industry the cost of training employees to check identification for age appropriateness and the additional resources at the checkout counter.

We do not need the state to tell us what video games to purchase for our children. Most of the time, the kids do not buy games for themselves, adults do.  No matter what the law says, the adult can purchase whatever game they choose.  If a child purchases a game that is too violent or explicit, his or her parents can put a stop to the purchase or the use of the game until a more appropriate age. The kids are playing these games in our homes; surely, we can monitor the appropriateness of each new game when it comes in the door— it’s not a consumption done outside of the home.

In this case, the law cannot be more effective at screening video games than the parents are.  Again, thank you Supreme Court for allowing us to parent our children. Sadly, California lawmakers are too quick to write ineffective or unenforceable laws. Let’s focus on enforcing the laws we already have.

Kurt Sauter—This is a very peculiar ruling. Good Americans all believe in free speech and freedom of expression. No one should be opposed to freedom of expression, but the ban on selling mature material to minors did not attempt to prevent anyone from producing the video games or even prevent them from distributing it.

Why the Supreme Court felt that those freedoms extend to presenting that material to minors without parental consent is puzzling. The decision really doesn’t change the real bottom line. Parents should not count on the Supreme Court to keep mature material out of their children’s hands. If your children do buy this material, will you let them play the games in your house?

The biggest problem is what your children are exposed to in their friend’s house. Even if the ban were still in effect, you need to confirm what you, as a parent, think is appropriate for children is also shared by the parents of your children’s friends. Some adults buy those games for their children already, so the lifting of the ban only has an impact for children who are unsupervised.

Suzette Valle—I made my views on this issue quite public on Fox 5 News only hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision. As I understand it, the issue isn’t whether the law intended to take over a parent’s right to purchase these games for their own children, nor did it tell them how to parent. The previous law simply intended to regulate access of these graphic games to unsupervised, underage children running around a mall with plenty of cash in their pockets to afford them.

In our current technology-driven society where a multi-billion-dollar industry has more say over those who brought the law to bear in protection of minors targeted by these violent-video game makers, causes me to question if the SCOTUS isn’t out of touch with the brutality depicted in these games and the reality today’s parents face. Guardians and caregivers are ultimately responsible for everything that comes through their door, but the truth is, not all households have attentive parents for many reasons. Parents concerned about their children playing with violent videos will just have to step up their game and control the purse strings.

Tonia Accetta is a British born, boarding-school educated, stay-at-home mom of a teenage boy and a preteen girl. She moved to Coronado in 2002 from Florida with her husband of 15 years looking for a better school system than Florida had to offer. Both children attend Coronado Unified Schools. She is currently on the Coronado Youth Softball board covering many positions (offers of help are always welcome!), and she is a co-leader and cookie mom for Girl Scout Troop 5039.

Tam Dorow emigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. when she was 10 years old, and grew up in Lansing, MI. She has a B.S. in Engineering from Michigan State University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. She worked at all Big 3 US car companies in Engineering and International Finance.  She was a management consultant and started a management consulting firm in Indiana. She’s been a stay-at-home mom for the last 10 years. She’s served on the board of directors for Village Elementary Parents And Teachers Together (PATT), is a past president of Coronado Youth Softball, and is a current member of the board of directors for Coronado Little League. She married her college sweetheart, two children, a dog, and a 21-year-old cat. 

Suzette Valle is a 20-year resident of Coronado. She graduated with a B.A. from the University of San Diego, and has an M.A. from Oxford University, England. After a career as an investment banker, she married and moved from high finance to high drama. She’s the mother of two teenagers, one at Purdue University, another at Coronado High School. She is bilingual and bicultural. She’s held many volunteer positions among various Coronado community organizations: vice-president of Coronado Youth Softball 2007-2010, director for the Islander Sports Foundation 2008-2010, and served on both the PTO 2006 and PTA 2005. She was recognized by Time Warner Cable as one of San Diego’s “50 Best Moms” in 2006, and has been part of the judging panel for the last four years. She blogs at MamarazziKnowsBest.com, and is a featured Hollyblogger at TheWrap.com, where she blogs about parenting in a celebrity-driven society. In 2010 she appeared on the Dr. Phil Show discussing Reality TV, and was a presenter at San Diego’s Head to Toe Women’s Expo speaking about Hollywood’s far-reaching influence on children’s daily lives and family values.


16 Comments

  • handyman

    Seniors, what do you think of the Supreme Court ruling upholding the rights of minors to purchase/rent?
    Violent video games? That pesky First Amendment, she bites sometimes, eh?
    I worded my question purposely. The ruling actually stated that we can’t restrict the right of store owners to rent or sell to whom they please. To paraphrase the NRA, guns kill, video games don’t.

  • Tom

    I haven’t seen that one, but it would be interesting to see what their opinions were. I don’t see how they can differentiate between small purchases which the court says is their right and large expensive purchases. Where would they draw the line?
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  • † Maryalice †

    I didn’t know about this, but it’s just any bad thing added to the pile of trashy stuff the devil keeps throwing at us. The minors imitate what they see, and this is a terrible mistake.
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  • rita

    I didn’t know that. It is not that way in Canada. Up here we have an age rating system that prevents minors from renting violent video games. it just can’t be done. The violent ones are restricted to kids 17 and above, and they have to show I.D.
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  • lovelydays

    at some point parents are going to have to take responsibility for the content of their children’s entertaiment…when I was a kid I was not allowed to watch violent tv shows…the courts are not there to raise children or to decide what they’re exposed to in video games. that is a parent’s job. too bad so many parents are asleep at the wheel when it comes to what their kids get into.
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  • KathyC

    i don’t think this is what the powdered wigs intended but who knows they had their own scandals and skeletons..
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  • Kembek

    I think it’s a valid ruling. Parents should parent their children, not the Supreme Court.
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  • mrwizard

    This really is about the parents

    Shouldn’t they be the ones in control of what games their children play?

    Edit–The NRA–whole nother question:)
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    This kind of violence–not for my children/grandchildren(now) 🙂

  • john

    I agree that parents need to monitor what their children watch.Or for that matter,and this may sound harsh,but toss the little doughballs outside and let their imaginations run wild.A good bike ride or game of baseball would keep their minds off video games and internet pornography.

    Plus taking children to church on Sunday and raising them in a Godly manner would give them a sense of conviction that these violent games are wrong.
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  • marcia f

    Parents need to be very aware of what their children are doing, watching and hearing every minute of the day and night. It is the parents job and not the job of the Supreme Court. It is called being a responsible parent.
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  • rosebud

    I suppose it’s like video stores and movie theaters. They can refuse to sell various items to certain age groups, but it’s not something controlled by the police or the courts. Just one of those things that parents need to monitor and take care of themselves.
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  • adeline

    Mixed feelings here. Parents are the ultimate authority regarding what their children are involved in. However, I think a country also has a responsibility to it’s minors to keep them safe and sound, especially when it comes to violence. I think all things depicting violence of any kind are a detriment to minors, in particular. Too bad all parents weren’t interested in what their children are doing.
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  • dannysleft

    you are pissing in the ocean , from movies, to advertising, to the nightly news, to what they see on the streets every day our children are surrounded by violence ,
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  • Sew What?

    I don’t think the ruling matters much one way or the other. Even if kids could not legally purchase or rent a violent video game, an older friend, sibling or parent might just buy it for them.

    Having spent a lot of years working with young families I can tell you some parents actually parent their kids and some don’t.

    You may be able to stop kids from legally buying violent games but you can’t stop them from playing them. It’s just not practical to enforce what kids do in the privacy of their own homes.
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  • Nomdeplum

    Scalia, who has 9 kids, wrote the majority opinion joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. Roberts and Alito agreed with the outcome of the case but did not join Scalia’s opinion.

    I throw my lot with the 2 who dissented.
    Justice Breyer wrote:
    “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 a 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?” .

    Justice Thomas based his support for the law on an originalist view of the Constitution. “ ‘The freedom of speech,’ as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.”
    References :
    Bob Barnes of the Washington Post
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-strikes-calif-law-banning-sale-of-violent-video-games-to-minors/2011/06/26/AGwtxenH_story_1.html

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