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November 2010

Court Considers Minors’ Access
to Violent Video Games


As parents of a 12-year old child, my wife and I have found it challenging to monitor the video games my son and his friends are watching. We have had to step in several times to tell our son that a certain video game is not appropriate because it contains inappropriate sexual images or violence.

We research video games to determine their content and closely look at the ratings on the video cover. One video example among several that we have kept out of our house is “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” which the Federal Trade Commission has criticized for having sexually explicit content. Another example is “Postal 2,” a video in which players go on murderous rampages.

Several states, including California, Illinois, and Michigan, enacted laws prohibiting minors from buying violent video games. However, the Wisconsin Legislature did not consider similar regulations. The Illinois and Michigan laws were struck down in 2005 by federal judges on the grounds that the laws violated a child’s First Amendment right to free speech. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar California law last year on free-speech grounds as well. However, in a surprise, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in early October to review the California federal appeals court decision.

The California law authorized a $1,000 fine for any merchant who sells or rents a “violent video game” to a minor. “Violent” was defined by the law as a game in which players have the ability to: “kill, maim, dismember, or sexually assault an image of a human being.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide either later this year or early in 2011 whether minors have the right to purchase violent or sexually explicit video games and whether videos receive the same First Amendment free-speech protections as newspapers, books, and magazines.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a supporter of the law, argues that the state should be allowed to place “reasonable restrictions on the distribution of extremely violent material to children.” Opponents of the law argue the state is attempting to extend obscenity regulations to computer software and that this is an issue better left to parents to regulate rather than the government.

My wife and I will continue to closely monitor what our son is watching and keep out those video games we consider inappropriate. No doubt he will argue that other kids are buying and watching those videos. No matter what the Supreme Court decides, it is not easy being a parent given today’s technology.

Congress Seeks to Regulate Volume of Commercials

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed legislation that would require commercial advertisers on television to limit the sound volume of the commercials to no more than that of regular programming. The Senate and House bills differ slightly, so a conference committee will be called after the November elections to resolve the differences and the bill is expected to be on President Obama’s desk before Christmas.

Some observers are criticizing Congress for spending time on what they believe to be trivial legislation, but my guess is that the law will prove to be popular—and it will not cost the U.S. Treasury anything.


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