Sunday, July 03, 2011

Violence (in video games and in general): It's different than sex (according to the Supreme Court)

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a California law that would prevent selling or renting violent video games to minors; violent content could not be thusly regulated, Justice Scalia wrote, like material with sexual content, in large part because there's a tradition of violence in entertainment consumed by children (citing Grimm's Fairy Tales).

Let's dispense with the obvious: That level of violence is beyond what I can imagine anyone would want to see, and I'm hard-pressed to imagine any parent would consider that acceptable for children to watch, but I do understand how in a free society this should be something decided by parents. But if parents try to deny adolescents and teens this material that will only make the young want it more.

So here's what you do, parents:
Pretend you think it's cool. The kids will deem it uncool, and stop playing such games of their own volition. No need to involve the Judiciary.


On a segment on last Tuesday's The Daily Show about the ruling, they showed an actual scene from a video game where a female character is literally ripped in half, wishbone-style, by two other characters. Jon Stewart quipped how apparently is beyond what warrants restriction from minors, but if that female had a "nip slip" that would be fine to regulate.

This brought to mind a quote I recall from George Carlin where he noted he'd rather have his children see two people making love than see two people trying to kill each other. That is, in theory, a sentiment with which I agree. However, if we're being really frank about the topic, the act of copulation (even among partners who love each other very much) can involve specific actions that are violent. Were those acts not mutually pleasurable to the people involved, it would not be too difficult for an immature observer to construe the whole thing as a fight rather than a representation of affection. (Well, some of the time it could be both at the same time, but that's way beyond the understanding of a child.)

Obviously children understand violence much earlier than they understand sexuality (at least on any conscious level). The impulse when angered for the hand to clench into a fist is nothing one really needs to learn; the training in that scenario is to restrain that fist from flying. It's easier to explain why violence (the infliction of pain and suffering… or worse... on other) is bad.

However, to explain how the ostensibly (or not so ostensibly) violent aspects of sex (among, for our purposes here, willing and consenting participants) is different than the "bad" violence is trickier. So we fall back on our Puritanical tendencies because we never figured out how to talk about it, and thus we'd rather have our laws keep sexual material out of the hands of minors. We don't have a simple answer if they ask about it like we do with violence.

Our parents didn't have one for us, nor did their parents before them, and so on. It's tradition.

But when it came to violence, it might make us uncomfortable to witness it in our immediate proximity or make us sad to hear of, but it has been something with which we are okay with explaining it to kids, and after we are convinced they know it's bad we are tacitly okay with them being exposed to simulated representations of it, because—of course—we know that know it's bad, but this isn't real.

Laudable it's not, but clearly it has been working for us as a society. And risible as that is to admit, who are the justices to pretend that's not the case?

1 comment:

  1. Points for using "risible" in a sentence.

    I think the key to keeping kids away from violent video games is to get them outside, involved in sports. Let them beat each other up physically, and they'll have a healthier respect for the damage violence can do.

    That said, it's very satisfying to blow off a Nazi's head in "Call of Duty." But that's okay, because he's a Nazi. You can use video game violence as a means to discuss morality and good versus evil. Maybe.


So, what do you think?