Violent video games and minors: Is it parents’ fault?

The controversial US Supreme Court ruling released yesterday on violent video games has opened the floor to debate on just who is responsible for violent content that minors see and interact with.

The 7-2 vote upheld a lower court’s decision that California’s law, which prohibited the sale or rental to a minor of any game that allows a player to kill, maim, dismember or sexually assault a human form, violated free speech.


(Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks)

What now? It is a fact that extremely violent and disturbing video games are being played by minors. Pew Research Center research in 2008 found “about a third of teenagers who play video games report that at least one of their three favorite games is rated Mature or Adults Only.”

We’re not just talking about 17-year-olds either. The Pew report goes on to note that “12- to 14-year-olds are equally likely to play M- or AO-rated games as their 15- to 17-year-old counterparts.”

Even Pete Hines, spokesman for Bethesda Softworks, which makes notoriously vulgar games, knows it’s a problem.

He told me he meets parents all the time who, when they find out that he works for a gaming company, tell him the names of the games their kids play. “I ask them, ‘Do you know how violent that is? Do you know what’s in that game?’”

Fallout 3 perhaps? That’s the game Bethesda Softworks is best known for. It was launched in 2008 and immediately garnered $300 million in sales, Hines said.

Fallout 3’s landscape is an alternate reality of post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. that promises players will “witness the harsh realities of nuclear fallout rendered like never before in modern super-deluxe HD graphics. From the barren Wasteland, to the danger-filled offices and metro tunnels of D.C., to the hideous rotten flesh of a mutant’s face.”

The game’s Web site, which asks for but does not verify, a user’s birth date, offers a vivid selection of images, including a scene of a player blowing apart the head and body of an adversary. The flying eyeballs have trails of blood.

Hines is a major supporter of the SCOTUS decision, as is his company. “We are very pleased,” he laughed, when I first asked his reaction.

“We don’t need to get the government involved” because the industry and retailers have already embraced a well-publicized rating system that makes it abundantly clear on the packaging if a game is suitable for a minor, he said. “There’s a fantastic system in place.”

What needs to change in the equation is the parents’ behavior, he said. “Parents need to be aware of what their kids are buying and playing.”

Hines says he knows of what he speaks. The father of two (including a 12-year-old son who enjoys video games) Hines said he monitors closely what his son plays and talks to him about why he’ll have to wait to play many of the games his own company produces.

“I’m a parent. Many of us who do this for a living are parents.”

What do you think? Should legislators have the right to regulate violent content minors use or is that solely a parental responsibility?

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