Suzanne Fields
Children can do terrible things. They can bully and maim, even murder. In our lifetime, we've seen young people arm themselves and shoot down classmates and teachers. We shake our heads in shock and wonder. How can such things happen? So we look for reasons -- sane, rational explanations for violent behavior and ways to curb it.

We gather the usual suspects. Sometimes it's parents. Sometimes it's the culture. California blames violent video games. The state with the motto "Eureka," translated from the Greek to mean "I have found it" (with credit to Archimedes), thought it had a solution in keeping violent video games away from minors. These games were not re-enactments of Bonnie and Clyde, but of terrible crimes such as the assassination of President Kennedy, and the massacres at Virginia Tech and Columbine High, and imaginary narratives of unrelenting violence, all with innocent victims.

We're not talking passive play, either. If a case can be made for video games providing skills that increase eye-to-hand coordination, then these games require more than automatic reflexes. Winning depends on brainy strategies to be vile and violent. Who could be against keeping such games out of the hands of children?

The Supreme Court, that's who. In a 7-to-2 decision, the justices struck down a California statute that would make it a crime to sell or rent particularly violent video games to minors. They didn't accept the argument from one lawyer who, in defense of the statute, said he found no evidence that "our Founding Fathers in enacting the First Amendment intended to guarantee video game retailers a First Amendment right."

The plaintiff's lawyer was right that video game retailers did not merit an ink scratch from a Founding Father's plume, but as Justice Antonin Scalia observed, writing for the majority, "Whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment's command, do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears."

The erudite justice draws our attention to some blood-curdling literary devices from fairy tales to classics. Hansel and Gretel bake the wicked witch in an oven; the Cyclops in "The Odyssey" is blinded with a fiery-pointed brand that is whirled round in his eye as blood spurts; in the "Inferno," Dante and Virgil look on as corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch lest they be skewered by devils waiting for them on the surface. (Some ideas may be worth reviving.)

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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