A Plea for Caution: Violent Video Games, the Supreme Court, and the Role of Science
Mayo Clinic Proc., 86(4), April 2011
7 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2015
Date Written: 2011
On November 2, 2010, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, a case involving whether states can place statutory restrictions and labeling requirements on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors without violating constitutional principles of free speech guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Laws that restrict minors’ access to sexual materials otherwise legal for adults (the sliding scale notion of restriction on free speech with, more restrictions for minors but fewer for adults) are constitutional because such material is deemed a less valued or protected form of speech. Proponenets of violent video game restrictions argue that the sliding scale standard applied to minors’ access to sexual materials should apply to violent video games as well.
However, violent material has always been seen as protected speech because of its potential and political societal impact. Scientifically, two competing social theories have been formulated about the potential effects of video game violence: (1) that video games increase violence because they teach players how to be violent and they reinforce violent tendancies; and (2) that video games have a neutral or possibly beneficial effect because they provide a socially acceptable, physically nondestructive outlet for the release of aggression, and thereby promote better mental health. The comic book debate of the 1950s is eerily similar to the current debate about the effects of video games on children. In 1954, the US Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held hearings on the effects of comic book violence on America’s youth. This article will review the 1950s comic book debate to highlight common elements in debates pertaining to media, children and harm; the current state of the conflicted scientific literature concerning video game violence and the potential bias in that litereature; and the opinions thus far of lower courts on the debate.
Keywords: Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, video games, violence, US Constitution, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, restrictions, video game restrictions, freedom of speech, speech, protected speech, sexual materials, comic books, juvenile delinquency, Senate Subcommittee
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