Regulate Video Games? Americans were shocked and searching for answers when Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 20 children, six Sandy Hook Elementary School staff members, his mother, and himself in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. One of the initial areas of concern was the video game industry. Lanza reportedly was “enthralled” by violent video games, including one called School Shooting, although the state’s official investigation of the shooting was unable to establish a motive for his behavior.1 Even though video games are subject to an industrywide rating system, a number of states have also legislated restrictions on minors’ access to violent video games. California, for example, approved a 2005 law forbidding the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.2 The video game industry sued to block the law; that challenge reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 where the California law was struck down as a violation of free speech rights.3 The Court ruled that the statute was a contentbased restraint on speech requiring California to establish a compelling reason for the law; a standard the state could not satisfy. Studies linking violent video games and harm to children have not established a clear causal relationship between the two. The majority further reasoned that video games are like books, plays and other forms of protected expression. Video games, they said, communicate ideas and even social messages. While the state has the power to protect children, that power does not extend to restricting the ideas children can receive. Some justices pointed specifically to the vagueness of the law that left uncertainty about which games would have been restricted by the law.4 Video Game Addiction? Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s conclusion that California was unable to show a sufficient link between violent video games and damage to children, some of the evidence about video game use generally is disquieting. For example, a 2009 Iowa State University study found that almost one in ten American children, ages 8 to 18 are addicted to video games (the study was not limited to games) in much the way some people are addicted to drugs or gambling.5 And a 2013 Io wa State University study of 227 juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania found a strong association between violent video game use and juvenile violence and delinquency, even when controlling for a history of violence and for psychopathic traits among those studied.6 [For the Entertainment Software Rating Board, see www.esrb.org/index-js.jsp] Questions 1. In your judgment, are violent and sexually explicit videos harmful to children? 2. Ethics expert Chris MacDonald said that the video game industry should not be proud of selling “gory games” to kids. He has argued that video games are “fertile terrain for industry self-regulation. . . .” “Such a move toward social responsibility might go some distance toward proving that the video game industry is worthy of the constitutional protections it enjoys.” See Chris McDonald, “In Praise of SelfRegulation,” Canadian Business, July 14, 2011 [www. canadianbusiness.com/]. a. In your judgment, has the video game industry breached its social responsibility to American consumers? Explain. b. Would an ethical, socially responsible video store owner decline to sell violent or sexually explicit videos if evidence revealed that those videos often reach children? Explain. 3. a. Will the free market and industry ethics satisfactorily protect society from any harm that may emerge from video game playing or is legal intervention necessary? Explain. b. Should the First Amendment protect video games from government oversight? Explain. 4. a. Do we need to protect children from video games, whether violent or not? Explain. b. If so, would government intervention be the most effective way of offering that protection? Explain. 5. Daniel Akst asks, “Part of the fun of video games is the chance to inhabit an exciting fictional world. So do people who play these games feel free to behave immorally toward the characters on screen?” Answer Akst’s question. See Daniel Akst, “In Playing Video Games, Morality Rules,” The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2012 [http://blogs.wsj.com/].
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