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Posted at 02:11 PM ET, 06/27/2011

Violent video games? The Founders probably approved!


Avid gamer George Washington essays the Kinect. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.)
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors makes total sense.

This is clearly the framers’ will.

Mother Washington was always trying to prevent young George from playing “Grand Theft: Carriage,” which enabled you to run down and fire flintlock muskets at a wide range of harlots. That’s why he became such an active supporter of the Bill of Rights, specifically the part in the First Amendment about making video games protected speech. He and Martha often gamed long into the night, to the annoyance of the Marquis de Lafayette and other frequent visitors to Mount Vernon. “Can’t we have one social event that doesn’t revolve around ‘Halo,’ George?” they would ask.

“No,” George would say. “It’s in the Constitution.”

John Adams, too, was a fan of violent video games, enjoying such classics as “Black Ops: Byzantium” and “Hereditary Duke Nukem” and writing long letters about them to his wife Abigail. It turns out that when he wrote “You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction,” he was actually referring to his emotions after beating the second level of “BioShock.” I would never have guessed this on my own, but Justice Antonin Scalia strongly implies it in the ruling. Scalia has a direct line to the Founders — they often call him in the middle of the night to talk for hours about nothing in particular — so I defer to his judgment on this point.

Madison preferred card games like whist and “Magic: The Gathering,” but he understood conceptually that video games were a protected realm of speech.

Then again, Justice Thomas’s dissenting opinion makes me worry that I am not joking. He actually tries to cite the Founding Fathers’ parenting habits, noting that “In the Puritan tradition common in the New England colonies, fathers ruled children with absolute authority” and continues, “parents were not to let their children read ‘Vain Books, profane Ballads, and filthy songs,’ or ‘fond and amorous Romances....fabulous Histories of Giants, the bombast Achievements of Knight Errantry, and the like.” Thomas goes on to explain that he feels confident the Founding Fathers would have been deeply upset if they had come home after a tiring day of founding and discovered their children playing “Call of Duty: British Regulars.” “Why don’t you go out and fight a civilized, honor-based duel like the other kids?” they would have asked. “Or read some more of those fond and amorous romances?”

So who’s right?

Fathers tend to enjoy video games. Maybe the Founding Fathers were no exception. And the majority opinion notes that Thomas leaves no room for children to speak or be spoken to without their parents’ consent. That seems wrong. That’s the only way I had any conversations for years!

I’m glad that California children now have the right to have their innocent minds warped by these games. Still, I doubt the Founders specifically prepared for this eventuality when they were hammering out the Bill of Rights. But maybe I’m wrong. After all, the Supreme Court justices are learned jurisprudists, and, “Hey, it’s probably in there somewhere, and if not, just cite Erznoznik v. Jackson,” as George Mason once told Justice Scalia, according to Scalia. But to be quite honest, the Founders would probably have been a bit alarmed at their children’s ability to control the demonically possessed moving picture box, whether there was graphic violence involved or not.

By  |  02:11 PM ET, 06/27/2011

Tags:  Supreme Court, video games, Founders

 
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