Do Video game designers have a responsibility to constrain their depiction of acts of interpersonal violence?

Video games are a very big business these days, and ever more “realistic” (at least in terms of depictions of graphic interpersonal

violence) — and also more accessible to more and more children of indeterminate age. As we said in the introduction, Call of Duty 2:

Black Ops is something entirely different from Parcheesi; even though both games involve going around and around and doing things

of varying degrees of unpleasantness to your opponent’s game tokens, your Parcheesi pieces seldom deliver realistic-looking innards

onto the game board, for one thing. There’s a whole cottage industry sprung up around this as a social phenomenon; if you doubt it,

try googling something like “effects of ultra violent video games sale to minors -Supreme –Court” and see what a range of material

you can turn up.

This isn’t just an academic or a parental concern; it’s made it all the way to the Supreme Court:

Totilo, S. (2010, November 2). Specter of censored fairy tales, rap music raised in supreme court video game case. Kotaku.

Retrieved from

In fact, in June 21011 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the state of California could not ban the sale of certain violent games,

largely on First Amendment grounds:

Totilo, S. (2011, June 27). First amendment trumps California in supreme court battle over violent video games. Retrieved from

Of course, as in any significant court case involving debatable ethical issues, the losing side regards the issue as one still in play

(courts are a notoriously bad venue in which to play out ethical debates, although people keep trying):

Donovan, C. (2011, July 5). Game on, not over, for Parents. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved from


Even the kids can get into the ethical debate here; see this surprisingly level-headed assessment of the case from an affected junior

(BTW, in its use of references and citations, this essay could be a useful model for many of our students!):

z3r0uch1h4. (2011). Video games rights. Arashiboards. Retrieved from

You can find a wide variety of other discussions of this topic through simple Google searches; give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how

many different kinds of points of view you’ll find. Some will probably agree with your initial perception, some won’t. But by examining

all of these points of view in light of the ethical principles we discussed thus far, you should be able to reasonably answer the

following question in a short paper:

Do Video game designers have a responsibility to constrain their depiction of acts of interpersonal violence because

of their possible effects on some members of society?


Your paper should be between three and five pages. Take a definite stand on the issues, and develop your supporting argument

carefully. Using material from the background information and any other sources you can find to support specific points in your

argument is highly recommended; try to avoid making assertions for which you can find no support other than your own opinion.

Make sure to spell out the utilitarian and deontological considerations involved, and distinguish between them.

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