Ban on Video Games: Where Does It Stop?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, there has been increasing pressure to ban specific items, such as certain guns, in an effort to change the behavior of others.  This week, we’re now seeing several similar efforts that target video games.

The Escapist reported Tuesday that Connecticut has introduced a bill in its state legislature to add a 10% tax to all video games rated M for Mature or higher. Not quite a ban on such games, but certainly intended to produce a similar outcome to that of a ban.

Meanwhile, a library in Paterson, NJ has bowed to a petition from library staff members to ban direct shooter video games, citing a “a responsibility to the kids of the community.”

The National Coalition Against Censorship — with support from The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, The Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Booksellers
Foundation for Free Expression and the Association of American Publishers — has written to the library in protest of the ban.  The letter criticizes the library for trying to act as “babysitters” as public officials, and cites prior court cases pertaining to video games as protected speech.

“Video games are protected speech under the First Amendment and, as such, cannot be regulated or restricted by public officials in response to concerns about their message or content. In its landmark 2011 ruling, Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court held that state regulation of violent video games is unconstitutional and that video games “are as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature,” Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n (2011).The Court struck down a California state law restricting the sale of certain video games depicting violence to minors. The Library’s action in banning the use of certain games because some people object to their message or content is equally constitutionally problematic.” […]

Video games, like other forms of media and entertainment, do not appeal to every individual. What some may feel is perfectly fine may not be right for all. Those who do not wish to play video games do not have to, just as those who do not wish to read a particular book or magazine do not have to. The role of libraries is not to police the use of a perfectly legal form of casual entertainment, whether the user is a teen or any other patron.”

A day after Senator Jay Rockefeller called for research into the potential effects of video game violence on children, TIME magazine published a thoughtful article by an author who is a video game violence researcher.  In it, the author states that “There is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes,
even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among

The author of that article goes on to cite several other studies and makes some excellent points that caution government and the public against going into “classic moral panic mode.”

Certain types of video games may very well have a negative effect on some individuals, I will concede that reality.  But so might a book, as did Catcher in the Rye for infamous shooters Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley, Jr.  So also might movies, music, or art, or any number of other things.  Where will the bans stop?

The important point in this discussion is that responsibility for determining whether a child can handle video games of any sort should not be that of the government’s.  Much like the debate over a proposed ban on so-called “assault weapons,” cherry picking video games – or any other form of entertainment – to ban is yet another slippery slope.

Bans on video games are merely one more example in the larger scheme of things.  At some point, society needs to stop so easily relying on government to take on the responsibility for the behavior and actions of others.  That responsibility should lie elsewhere, and I believe most of us know where that is.


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