Timothy F. Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council.
Ultraviolent video games are harmful to children, and children should not be able to purchase them without a parent involved in the sales transaction. Unfortunately, the very industry that profits from selling such adult entertainment products to children has successfully waged legal battles across the country. The industry’s arguments are logically and morally bankrupt. Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will see through the smokescreens and uphold a carefully worded California statute prohibiting the sale of ultraviolent video games to unaccompanied minor children.
For parents and grandparents, most of whom have never seen or played one of these explicit games, the notion of video game violence is likely to conjure up an image akin to a Tom & Jerry or Road Runner cartoon. That is not what we’re talking about. What we are talking about is a video game where the child is able to:
Shoot a police officer and urinate on him as he tries to crawl away;
Brutally beat and rape a woman, or decapitate her with a shovel;
Shoot a man, pour gasoline over his wounded body, set the man on fire, and listen to him scream in agony as he burns to death.
The courts have repeatedly held that such speech is constitutionally protected. That’s why the California Legislature, led by San Francisco Bay Area Democrat Leland Yee, set out to craft a state measure that would not interfere with the creation of violent video games, nor interfere with adults who wanted to play or purchase a violent video game for themselves or for their child. The legislation would only prevent a video game retailer from selling an ultraviolent game to an unaccompanied child.
The overwhelming weight of scientific research suggests that these games can be harmful to children. The Parents Television Council has found more than 3,000 studies linking a child’s consumption of violent media to a child’s behavior, yet we’ve found less than two dozen that conclude differently.
Video games are uniquely problematic in that the viewer isn’t simply sitting back and watching the violence. Rather, he or she is actively engaged in the undertaking of the violence, choosing whom to kill, beat, rape, maim, or urinate on. Yet opponents say they’re not convinced that there is any harm, much like the tobacco industry executives who testified to Congress that they weren’t convinced their products were unhealthy.
If you have either purchased a video game or seen one advertised on TV, you know that games are age-rated, much like movies are. The industry should be applauded for having one of the most robust content-rating standards of all the various types of media. The problem lies in the retail sales. In recent “secret shopper” efforts, grassroots members of the Parents Television Council demonstrated that an underage child was able to purchase an adult video game 36 percent of the time. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission conducted similar “secret shopper” investigations and found still-disappointing failure rates, in the range of 20 percent.
The California legislation is not a 100-percent solution. It will not govern online games, which are not purchased at a retail store. Nor would it prevent games purchased by adults from falling into the hands of children. But with an issue that is so vital to protecting the health and welfare of children, it is wise not to let “the perfect” become the enemy of “the good.” And this measure is good.
Read why banning the sale of violent video games to kids is a bad idea, by Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association.