Violent video games, your children and your right to free speech

Halo Wars
What “Space Invaders” looks like today

The Supreme Court has struck down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children because, they decided, it would violate the free-speech clause of the Constitution. You can read about the reasoning behind that decision elsewhere. What I’m thinking about today is just how far video games might someday go in depicting violence and allowing players to participate.

Already, parents need to realize that there’s quite a range of violence in today’s video games, that may go from cartoon characters that pound each other in Mario Smash Bros. Brawl, to war games involving shooting down enemy combatants, with bloodiness but not a lot of gore, to the opportunity to rip the heads off enemies with one’s bare hands, all in realistic high-def graphics.

Now picture a leap of technology similar to the one that took us from the original Space Invaders to the killing of aliens in Halo, where you move, virtually, through a three-dimensional world of brilliant and highly detailed graphics. Imagine that the technology advances so that you actually enter the game and the action takes place all around you. That technology is already under development. What if the action becomes so realistic that you can actually touch and feel the opponent as you rip its head off? Feel the blood splatter on your arm? Such video games may not be far off.

Many parents will decide that is too violent and realistic for their children. And some of those children will go and play the game at the home of a friend whose parents think it’s just fine. We are entering a world of technology that is getting more and more difficult for parents to navigate. There is evidence that exposure to images of violence in video games is harmful to children, and can influence them to do violence to others. It’s impossible to know what level of exposure to violence is going to lead to violent actions in individual children until after the fact.We may need to start thinking more broadly about how to protect our children and ourselves from the effects of violent images, while still protecting our constitutional rights.


  1. […] fact is, the quantity of media violence is extreme, likely to get more so, and, furthermore, is […]

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