Violent video games: Do parents want help from a nanny state?

Parents weigh in on Monday's Supreme Court ruling, which struck down, by a 7-2 vote, a California law that prevented the sale of violent video games to minors.

Mike Blake / Reuters
Mature video games are shown in this photograph from Encinitas, Calif., June 27. The Supreme Court struck down on Monday a California law banning sales or rentals of violent video games to minors as a violation of free-speech rights, its first ruling in a video game case. By a 7-2 vote, the justices upheld a ruling by an appeals court that declared the law, which also imposes strict video-game labeling requirements, unconstitutional

The US Supreme Court has spoken, declaring unconstitutional a 2005 California law that would have prohibited the sale of extremely violent video games to anyone under 18.

But what say parents?

At the food court at the Fashion Square Mall here in Sherman Oaks, there is a wealth of opinion, ranging from “It would have helped,” to “Government, stay out of it, and let parents be parents.”

Interviews via email and in person from here to Boston – with decidedly unscientific samples – seem to indicate that parents, by a ratio of about 3 to 2, prefer to do their own policing.

“I looked over my son’s shoulder as he played a game with young girls being struck by a shovel as they beg for mercy … then the player can pour gasoline over them, set them on fire and pee on them,” says Gladys Stone, a single mom with a 14-year-old son. “That’s disgusting. I would love to have a law that I could point to and say, ‘Sorry Zeke, it’s against the law,’ ” she says.

“It’s a parent’s job to watch their children and decide what is allowed or not,” says Edie Hagmaier, mother of three boys, ages 9 to 14. “Who wants to live in a nanny state? Not me.”

Likewise, Lisle and Jim Stigler – head of a middle school and a UCLA psychology professor, respectively – think parents should be able to control their minor child’s activities without a law being in place. “I don’t allow my kids to purchase any game that includes rape, theft or violence toward women/children,” writes Lisle, mother of five boys and one girl, in an email. “Even when they are over 18, I don’t allow them to play such games in my house.”

Scott Miller, father of a 16-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter, carves out a middle ground. “Self-image is highly fragile and peer pressure intense during this [age] period,” he writes in an email. “The issue here is really about determining the boundaries of parental discretion and jurisdiction.”

Several parents highlight incongruities in the government’s position. Justice Stephen Breyer noted one in his dissent: “What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with … a nude woman, while protecting a sale … of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?”

Sam Singer, who runs his own public relations firm in San Francisco, says, “It's ironic that the government can put warning labels on cigarettes and ban their sales to minors, but it cannot do the same with overtly violent and dangerous video games.”

Carol Meerschaert, a communications marketer in Paoli, PA. and mother of three, says, “It feels very hypocritical for government that approves war – and may someday send my son to war – to pretend to protect him by banning a video game. “

Walking around Boston’s Jamaica Pond, Omar Lopez says he doesn’t need the government’s help. He holds up his 7-month-old son and talks directly to him: “That’s my job, to say, ‘You can’t get “Grand Theft Auto.” ’ ”

Chloe Stepney in Boston contributed to this report.

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