Blogs & Comment

Retailers no longer the gatekeepers of violent video games

Piracy aside, free games—some downloadable, some cloud-based—are everywhere on the Internet.


Video game sellers aren’t all that stand between children and violent video games. Allow me to make an analogy: Imagine violent video games as a big room with many, many doors. Well, that GameStop cashier is blocking only one of those doors—a fact no law aimed at retailers can do anything about.

But on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court had different reasons for striking down an attempt to prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors (in this instance, anyone under 18). The California law—passed in 2005 but never enacted—was ruled in violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. The Entertainment Merchants Association, which challenged the law, also argued that there’s no compelling evidence showing video games are any worse than other forms of media. Most of the judges agreed. Writing in the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia explained, “California has singled out the purveyors of video games for disfavored treatment—at least when compared to booksellers, cartoonists and movie producers—and has given no persuasive reason why.”

Nonetheless, in most provinces in Canada, sale of M-rated games to anyone under 17 is prohibited, and has been for a while. Still, for opponents of violent games, it’s a battle won in a lost war. And it’s not just because parents will still buy violent games for their kids, or because kids will still play violent games at their friend’s house. Those things have always been true. What’s changing now is the way video games can be obtained; without the retailer, without Mom, without Joey next door. Piracy aside, games—some downloadable, some cloud-based—are everywhere on the Internet.

For starters, most major computer games can be downloaded through services like Direct2Drive and Steam. Buying online sometimes means having access to a credit card—a hurdle for most, but not all, minors. But credit cards aren’t always a barrier to downloading games. Many publishers are adopting a model popular in South Korea: the free-to-play model, where profit is earned through item malls. Bypassing any retailer, players download and play the games for free. If they want, they can spend real cash on in-game items to get an edge. It’s a simple enough model: get them hooked first, and then entice them to spend. Of course, many players still don’t ever drop a dime, like children without credit cards. And while most of these free-to-play games really aren’t all that violent, there are exceptions.

But then there are the less fancy, often more gruesome, infinitely more accessible Flash-based games. Newgrounds has always been a haven for violent Flash games (and videos)—though, in its defence, that’s not its mandate. Newgrounds is simply a tabula rasa for Flash developers, home to everything from cartoon bunnies to, well, cartoon bunnies getting hacked to bits. Meanwhile, with a little help from Google, it’s easy enough to find a range of sites dedicated solely to Flash-based violence. Like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one—and those are just the first four Google turned up. 

How bad are they? Well, 666 Games sums itself up as follows:

Serves you the most violent flash games on the net. If you want horror and blood, extremely violence stickman deaths, brutal killing, snipergames all washed in a sadistic bloody sauce. You should stay in this hell. [sic]

I don’t know about you folks, but I like my sadistic bloody sauce extra bloody.