Youth Access to Violent Video Games on Trial: The U.S. Supreme Court Takes the Case

Article excerpt


This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that promises to affect the lives of many children. Up for debate is whether a law aimed at curbing children's access to violent video games violates their constitutional right to free speech. Signed 5 years ago by Governor Schwarzenegger, the California statute, which has yet to take effect pending legal review, would prohibit the sale or rental of violent video games - games that include images of physical or sexual assault to humans - to anyone under the age of 18. The law would include a fine of $1,000 to be assessed to retailers violating these restrictions and add labeling requirements regarding video game violence.

Video games have been increasingly available to children and adolescents for more than 3 decades (Carnagey, Anderson, & Bushman, 2007). They were introduced to the American, Japanese, and European publics for home use in the early 1970s (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). Commercial viability was established with the advent of Atari and its premier game, Pong (Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004). In the almost 40 years since that slow paced, tennis-like game attracted the attention of teenagers across the globe, the availability and appeal of video games have skyrocketed. Video games have gone from very simple sport-oriented games to the current state of virtual reality, war, and avatars. Video games are now in the homes of most American youth (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005), and tne social, realistic, and futuristic caliber of the games is alluring to children and adults alike.

REBEKAH S. BiCKFORD is a doctoral student in school psychology at the University of Southern Maine.

As video games have become more engaging, children have become more engaged, spending ever-increasing amounts of time playing them (Gentile, 2009). The negative impact on children's academic lives with increased time spent playing video games is two-fold: school performance can suffer, and children can become more aggressive (Gentile et al, 2004). Concern about the effects of video games centers on both the time spent playing video games and the time not spent in more constructive activities, as well as the ever-increasing violence witnessed in video games.


As the availability and quality of video games has risen, so has the amount of time that children and adolescents spend playing them (Wight, Price, Bianchi, & Hunt, 2009). Time spent playing video games has been inversely correlated with the ways past generations of children and adolescents spent time: reading, doing homework, interacting with family, and playing outside. The suspected impact of this replacement in time expenditure, known as the displacement hypothesis, is that, regardless of the content of the video game, children's learning and health are impacted by the loss of time spent on other activities (Gentile et al, 2009; Gentile et al., 2004). It is worth noting that the inverse relationship between time spent playing video games and academic performance is specific to gaming; time spent using computers to do schoolwork is associated with improved school performance (Gentile et al., 2004). The difference in these relationships demonstrates that it is not screen time per se that results in poorer grades, but how that screen time is used.

The shift in the way time is spent has meant a corresponding shift in the cognitive socialization of our youth. Whereas media such as the written word and radio promote such qualities as "reflection, inductive analysis, critical thinking, mindful thought, and imagination," video games tend to penalize those qualities and promote impulsivity (Greenfield, 2009, p. 71). Likewise, video gaming is a largely sedentary activity, and time spent playing video games rather than in outdoor play is implicated in the national, and burgeoning global, childhood obesity epidemic (Gordon-Larsen, Nelson, & Popkin, 2004). …