A Philosopher's Blog

Video Game Ban

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on June 28, 2011
Arcade Video Game

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I have been using my budget-cut based summer break from teaching to do various home improvements. The point of mentioning this is that I have been alternating between baking in the Florida sun and being exposed to “second hand paint fumes” (as opposed to directly huffing the stuff) as such, my writing might be a bit off. I have checked for any obvious weirdness (well, weirdness beyond the usual sort), but I apologize in advance for any heat/paint induced lapses in logic. I blame the flying frogs that seem to be infesting my house now. In any case, down to business.

The United States supreme court recently ruled that California’s law banning the sale of  video games to minors that “depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.” The ruling was, of course, based on the first amendment.

Being both a gamer and an ethicist, I have thought (and written) a fair amount about the banning video games. On the one hand, a very reasonable case can be made for placing age based restrictions on video games. While studies of the impact of virtual violence on children are hardly conclusive, it seems reasonable to accept that exposure to virtual violence can have an impact on how the child thinks. As Aristotle has argued, people become habituated by what they do. Children are, of course, even more likely to be influenced. They are more receptive than adults and tend to lack the cognitive resources that adults are supposed to possess. As such, it seems reasonable to keep young children away from violence-even the virtual sort.

On the other hand, there are reasonable grounds for rejecting such bans. First, there are reasons for doubting that such games have a significant impact on children. The psychological studies are open to question and, of course, humans seem to be naturally prone to violence ( the stock “we like violent games because we are violent, we are not violent because of the games” argument). When I was a kid, long before violent video games, we spent a lot of time playing war. While the effects were not very special (cap guns), we certainly did act out killing each other. When violent video games came along, they simply allowed me to do what I had done as a kid (play at killing) only with ever better graphics and effects). As such, banning violent video games to protect children from the influence of violence seems like something that simply will not work, thus making such a law unnecessary.

Second, there is the matter of freedom of expression and consumption. While minors do have a reduced right of freedom of consumption (they cannot but alcohol, tobacco, guns or porn), imposing on their freedom only seems justified when it protects them from a significant harm in cases in which they lack the judgment to (in theory at least) make an informed choice. Even if violent video games have a harmful impact, it can be contended that the harm is not on par with that of adult vices such as alcohol or tobacco but rather on par with junk food. So, just as it is sensible to think that children should not eat junk food, yet also think there should not be laws banning children from buying candy bards, it seems sensible to think that although young kids should not buy violent video games, there should not be laws against doing so.

Third, there is the matter of what is fit for the state to control and what is fit for parents to control. There are, obviously enough, matters that should be handled by the state and those that should remain a matter of parental choice.  Alcohol, guns and tobacco are so dangerous that it seems reasonable that the state has a interest in keeping children away from these things by force of law. There is also a category of things were the state should aid parents in making choices, such as diet and exercise, but where the state should not intervene except in extreme cases. As noted above, I am inclined to put violent video games in the category of junk food. As such, parents should be informed about what the games contain (which is already done by the rating system) and the choice of whether or not their children play the games or not should be up to them. Naturally, children who lack parents or whose parents are dangerously incompetent will fall under the domain of the state, but these would be relatively rare cases.

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8 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on June 28, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Critics tend to forget that violent video games are not just about killing, but about getting killed as well.

  2. Equus said, on June 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Parents who detest video games are usually women, mothers, who have never actually played a video game before. They just glance at it from afar and assume that it’s violent which, therefore, makes it unfit for a child. Ignorance breeds intolerance I always say.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm

      Some games, even I will admit, are excessive and gratuitous. But, the reason I usually don’t play them is that they are often bad games trying to hide their badness behind all that excess.

  3. ex-sell69 said, on June 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    What, do some people still think we’re in the 80’s? Even if the law passed, kids would just download videogames [just like porn]! All it would do is make it harder for some to buy games, and justify piracy [I'm going to be king of the pirates].

  4. magus71 said, on June 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    As you know, Mike, I’m a gamer. But I’d never let my kids play Grand Theft Auto.

    But in many ways I believe that gaming has pacified the military age male in America. MAMs are a scourge to society and they used to be kept in check with lots of work and sound beatings. Then the 60s arrived….

    Then again, once the MAM is forced into the real world, many of these men now seem devoid of of any ethics whatsoever. Perhaps it’s always been this bad, but I don’t think so.

  5. [...] Video Game Ban (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) [...]


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