The Supreme Court of the United States is about to hear arguments, starting in November, on the Cailfornia Games Law that restricts sales of certain video games to minors. The champion of the bill in California, Democratic State Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco, has defended the bill prior to the arguments.
“Parents – not retailers or game makers – should be able to decide whether or not their children can play in a world of murder and violence that often degrades women and racial minorities. The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”
Mr. Yee, a child psychologist by nature, is a dignified man whom I respect greatly on a number of issues. However, without turning this into a full-out Unbranding the Sheep column, he’s wrong on a few things. Parents already have the power to determine for their children what to purchase. It’s called the ESRB, and every major retailer self-enforces the ratings on pain of termination of anyone that violates it. Anytime I see a parent buying a game for their child at Gamestop, the clerk tells the parent what the game contains, and on a few occasions, I’ve heard the parent go “… Oh. Well, then”, and put the game down. No, that doesn’t stop kids from playing the game at the house of someone that does have the game, but no law is going to stop that. All the law would do is add punitive damages for anyone that violates it, which would in turn raise costs for consumers.
Secondly, who’s going to determine what is inappropriate? Is the government going to absorb the ESRB and ESA into itself, therefore raising taxpayer cost? Who’s going to be the determining factor? What is going to determine a game that’s acceptable for kids and what isn’t? Will it be the ESRB, or another offshoot of the government? There’s no real clarity on this. And despite Senator Yee’s statement that there’s a major difference between watching an R rated movie and playing an M rated game due to the interactivity of it – he is a child psychologist – there are so many people in his field that disagree with him on the destructiveness of this. In short, though Mr. Yee, in his statement, said that the government should regulate games the way they do pornography, gambling, abortions and the like, in reality, games have been regulated the same way that movies and music have been for years. It’s a self-policing system, and as Gamasutra points out, it’s remarkably effective.
The CA Games Law is redundant and only adds red tape and bureaucracy to a process that already works just fine. At best, it’s unnecessary. At worst, it’s an unwelcome intrusion into the private lives of Americans which is horribly unfair to our industry.