The Supreme Court reviewed a case in which the state of California tried to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors. They struck down the California law as an unconstitutional impingement on free speech.
The key issue in the case is the role of the state in protecting children from the damaging effects of media. Is the evidence that these games harm teens so compelling as to justify a restriction of the constitutional right of free speech? The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry think so.
Leaders within the AAP write: "Interactive media can encourage antisocial beliefs and behavior in children and adolescents...repeated exposure to mediated violence can lead to anxiety and fear,6 acceptance of violence as an appropriate means of solving conflict,32 and desensitization,33 with resulting increases in aggression and decreases in altruism."
The Harvard Mental Health Letter isn't so sure. They acknowledge that "a subset of youths may become more aggressive after playing violent video games." They note, however, that "in the vast majority of cases, use of violent video games may be part of normal development, especially in boys - and a legitimate source of fun too."
Justice Scalia, writing for the Supreme Court majority, dismisses the fears of the AAP: "These studies...do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively." Instead, "they show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game." Scalia notes that "the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner."
Justice Breyer isn't so sure. He writes: "Social scientists have found casual evidence that playing these games results in harm. Surveys of 8th and 9th grade students have found a correlation between playing violent video games and aggression."
One surprising thing about this decision was the way that it split the court. It was not the usual liberal/conservative divide. Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan joined Scalia in the majority opinion. Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Breyer all had reservations that they framed in such a way as to almost invite another test case. It is possible that, with more research, and a more specific statute, the court will uphold some restrictions on some video content.