Issue 113, Winter 2010-11

Every lower federal court to consider state or local laws restricting minors’ access to violent content has found them unconstitutional. Here’s a brief rundown:

Video Software Dealers’ Ass’n v. Webster (8th Cir. 1992). Statute restricting minors’ access to violent video games invalidated: “unlike obscenity, violent expression is protected by the First Amendment.”

Eclipse Enterprises v. Gulotta (2nd Cir. 1997). Absent evidence of harm, the effort to restrict minors’ access to violent content is “presumptively unconstitutional.”

American Amusement Machine Ass’n v. Kendrick (7th Cir. 2001). Violent video games are protected expression; the claim that they harm minors is highly speculative. “To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.”

Interactive Digital Software Ass’n v. St. Louis (8th Cir. 2003). Rejected effort to regulate violent video games because there was no evidence that “the recited harms are real, not merely conjectural.”

Entertainment Software Ass’n v. Hatch (8th Cir. 2008). Enjoined a law that barred minors’ access to M-rated video games because of lack of evidence of a causal relationship “between the exposure to such violence and subsequent psychological dysfunction.”

Praise for Violent Video Games

“Grand Theft Auto IV is a violent, intelligent, profane, endearing, obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun…. [I]t sets a new standard for what is possible in interactive arts.” Seth Schiesel, NY Times, 4/28/08

Grand Theft Auto III “was whatever game you wanted it to be and each and everyone one of those games was … intuitive and gripping….GTA IV doesn’t have to be ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘Beloved’ to be the Greatest Game of a Lifetime or even to be worthy of discussion.” Junot Díaz, Wall Street Journal, 6/28/08

“Call of Duty … is faster and more thrilling than its Hollywood competitors…. [G]ames might converge on art … through the beauty and detail of their imagined worlds, combined with the freedom they give the player to wander around in them.” John Lanchester, London Review of Books 1/29/09

Grand Theft Auto IV “turns narrative into an active experience, which fi lm is simply unable to do in the same way.” Tom Bissell, The Observer, 3/21/10

“Red Dead Redemption [is] a convincing, cohesive and enthralling reimagination of the real world … Like our own, this is a complex world of ethical range and subtlety where it’s not always clear what the right thing is.” Seth Schiesel, NY Times, 5/16/10

Video games “arrest the eye and they occupy the mind…They are more consuming and intellectually interesting than a lot of novels I’ve read. There’s no question they’re art. The way they pay homage to the real world thrills me. It’s very similar to my own desire to describe something in words.” Nicholson Baker, The New Yorker, 8/2/10

“At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, video games are taken more seriously as a form of entertainment than ever before, even by the priests of high culture.” Chris Suellentrop, NY Times Magazine, 9/12/10

Food for thought…

“Violence isn’t learned from mock violence. There is good evidence – causal evidence, not correlational – that it’s learned in personal violent encounters, beginning with the brutalization of children by their parents or their peers…. Violence is on the decline in America, but if we want to reduce it even further, protecting children from real violence in their real lives – not the pale shadow of mock violence – is the place to begin.” Richard Rhodes, NY Times, September 17, 2000

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