Some of the top trending video games on the market today have a few things in common – blood, gore, violence, sex, and nudity. Concerningly, many of these video games are being played by children.
In 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 97 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds played video games, with two-thirds of those playing action and adventure games with violent themes. According to a separate study, more than half of all video games approved by the ESRB had violence, including more than 90% of those classified for children aged 10 and up.
The risks of violent video games
The computer video game industry is fast becoming more profitable than the movie industry but developers are creating gaming content with graphic violence, sex, and political innuendo. The increase in popularity across the globe has resulted in video game developers pushing the envelope in respect of the content of these games and while this business has become increasingly more profitable, it has also attracted much controversy.
According to Preeta Bhagattjee, director and national practice head of the TMT Practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr business law firm, some states in the United States had enacted state laws to restrict minors from being able to purchase violent video games.
Implications for South Africa
The question then arises as to what the implications within South Africa would be, particularly given the large number of South African video game developers.
“Under the South African Constitution, the provisions of section 16 would have application. This section enshrines the freedom of expression which protects the media, artistic creativity, and the freedom to impart and receive ideas as well as freedom of artistic creativity, which would allow video game developers the freedom to create video content as they wish,” says Bhagattjee. She says the South African Constitution does however provide for certain exceptions, with the protection not extending to content which constitutes “propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
Do violent video games lead to violence in children?
Statistics show that there is an increase in the number of violent attacks by teenagers who play violent video games and as a result, many countries have enacted or are considering enacting laws to protect children in this regard. In the United Kingdom, for example, certain games are subject to classification, and some games are even banned in that country.
In South Africa, the Films and Publications Act of 1996 already contains within its ambit the ability for video games to be classified with the aim of protecting children from exposure to disturbing and harmful materials and premature exposure to adult experiences. “However, if the prevalence of explicit video games is proliferated, it may become necessary for the government to consider enacting legislation to ban certain video games in South Africa,” says Bhagattjee.