Are violent video games the same as fairy tales?

Today’s Supreme Court decision throwing out California’s ban on selling “violent” video games to people under 18 contains an unintended invitation to News Cut readers. What children’s book contains violence akin to the video games in question?

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion delivered today, said video games are no different from books, plays, and movies and, thus, are deserving of First Amendment protection. “Our cases have been clear that the obscenity exception to the FirstAmendment does not cover whatever a legislature finds shocking, but only depictions of ‘sexual conduct.'” Scalia wrote in explaining why laws against obscenity cannot be used in this case.

Besides, Scalia argue, kids’ books are violent, too, and we’re not banning them…


Certainly the books we give children to read–orread to them when they are younger–contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 198 (2006 ed.). Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. Id., at 95. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven. Id., at 54.

High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops bygrinding out his eye with a heated stake. The Odyssey ofHomer, Book IX, p. 125 (S. Butcher & A. Lang transls.1909) (“Even so did we seize the fiery-pointed brand and whirled it round in his eye, and the blood flowed about the heated bar. And the breath of the flame singed his eyelids and brows all about, as the ball of the eye burnt away, and the roots thereof crackled in the flame”). In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they beskewered by devils above the surface. Canto XXI, pp.187-189 (A. Mandelbaum transl. Bantam Classic ed.1982). And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island. W. Golding, Lord of the Flies 208-209 (1997 ed.).

Scalia’s interpretation of the application of the First Amendment led to an unusual dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas, who is usually on the same side Scalia’s on.

Thomas said the freedom of speech does not include the freedom to speak to children without their parents’ permission…


Adults carefully controlled what they published forchildren. Stories written for children were dedicated to moral instruction and were relatively austere, lackingdetails that might titillate children’s minds.

. John Newbery, the publisher often credited with creating the genre of children’s literature,removed traditional folk characters, like Tom Thumb, from their original stories and placed them in new morality tales in which good children were rewarded and disobedient children punished.

Thomas noted the doomed California law did not prevent a child from getting violent video games with the assistance of his/her parents.

Here’s the entire opinion from the Supreme Court.

Update 3:51 p.m.Here’s a really great review of the decision from the always-informative ScotusBlog.