Following on the heels of Connecticut state senator Toni Harp's bill to ban arcade games utilizing fake guns, comes this bit of amazingly bad (and of course, broadly written) proposed legislation seeking to "ban Mature-rated games in public places."
Ostensibly, the proposed bill is aimed at arcades, whether standalone operations or as part of the entertainment at restaurants, retail stores, etc. But the wording goes much deeper (and further astray) than simply banning M-rated arcade games. Before we get to the problems inherent in the proposed bill itself, let's take a quick look at one fatal flaw, as pointed out by GamePolitics.
Unfortunately for the Assemblywoman, her bill won't have any affect on games that might be found in public places because what she is referring to are arcade machines, which aren't rated by the ESRB. So banning a game with such a rating is much like banning blue unicorns - neither exists in reality.
There's that issue. Arcade games don't carry ratings. That's one strike against the legislation. But there's a lot more that's troublesome or stupid, and plenty of it is a good mix of both. NJ Assemblywoman Linda Stender has hit the jackpot, bad bill-wise, with this one. Her press release opens with a horrendously flawed assumption stated as fact
and gets worse from there.
Noting the correlation between violent video games and violent behavior, Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D- Middlesex/Somerset/Union) today announced plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit video games containing mature and adult content in public places.
If Stender's going to state this as a fact, the least she could do is offer the name of a study or two backing up this claim. But she doesn't. She simply fires off the statement that she
has "noted" a "correlation." Maybe she has, but she's not saying where she made this observation.
The next sentence tops this bit of conjecture-as-fact by throwing the First Amendment down like a doormat and announcing Stender's intention to walk all over it (with the "blessing" of other NJ officials).
The bill comes as a report from the New Jersey SAFE Task Force on Gun Protection, Addiction, released by the state Attorney General this week, listed the regulation of violent video games among its recommendations to mend the root causes of mass violence.
Regulation of violent video games isn't an option, according to the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
. But whatever, it's not as though most state legislators aren't itching for some federalist action, especially
when it's their
homegrown legislation on the line. Someone will find an angle and pursue it until shut down by higher courts. It's a shame this so-called "task force" didn't do its homework on video games and government regulation. I would imagine this isn't its only bad suggestion.
"Games that are meant for older, more mature audiences have no place in places where children can easily access them. Video games alone do not influence violent behavior, but they can play a role. Some of the most prolific mass shootings not just in this country, but in the world had links to violent video games," said Stender. "The longer a child is exposed to video games where killing is the sole objective, the greater the chance that he or she will become numb to this type of behavior and even consider it acceptable. This bill would ensure that video games with graphic adult content would not be available to children who are not old enough to make a distinction between fantasy and reality."
If by "links," she means "owned/played video games," then she's somewhat correct. If she actually means
"links," then she's right back where she started the press release -- in serious need of actual evidence. As for what
exactly the bill will "ensure," that's up for debate.
One thing is sure: the bill will rake in some cash for the state. Stender's bill would "prohibit operators of a place of public accommodation from making video games with an ESRB rating of Mature or Adults Only available for use by the public." Any violations would be punishable with a $10,000 fine (for the first offense -- up to $20,000 for any subsequent offenses) under the Consumer Fraud Act. That's a pretty steep fine for something as vague as making certain games "available." (The vagueness increases exponentially with the long list of "places of public accommodation." More on that in a moment.)
That's not the only monetary punishment, though. At the Attorney General's discretion, punitive damages can also be assessed and "treble damages and costs" awarded to the "injured" party. Nice little twist, that last part. This makes playing certain video games while underage potentially profitable.
Now, the part that's most disturbing about this proposal is the "place of public accommodation" list, which is far too long and far too inclusive.
For the purposes of this bill, "place of public accommodation" means any inn, tavern, roadhouse, hotel, motel, trailer camp, summer camp, day camp, or resort camp, whether for entertainment of transient guests or accommodation of those seeking health, recreation or rest; any producer, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retail shop, store, establishment, or concession dealing with goods or services of any kind; any restaurant, eating house, or place where food is sold for consumption on the premises; any place maintained for the sale of ice cream, ice and fruit preparations or their derivatives, soda water or confections, or where any beverages of any kind are retailed for consumption on the premises; any garage, any public conveyance operated on land or water, or in the air, any stations and terminals thereof; any bathhouse, boardwalk, or seashore accommodation; any auditorium, meeting place, or hall; any theatre, motion-picture house, music hall, roof garden, skating rink, swimming pool, amusement and recreation park, fair, bowling alley, gymnasium, shooting gallery, billiard and pool parlor, or other place of amusement; any comfort station; any dispensary, clinic or hospital; any public library; any kindergarten, primary and secondary school, trade or business school, high school, academy, college and university, or any educational institution under the supervision of the State Board of Education, or the Commissioner of Education of New Jersey.
Stender is overstepping her bounds and seeking to regulate the actions of private entities by casting an impossibly wide net. "Taverns" and "roadhouses" aren't normally associated with drawing crowds of children, but now they'll have to worry about what sorts of games they have available in their establishments, just in case
. Normally, they cater to adults but now they have to treat their entertainment as "appropriate for all ages." Again, the games on hand at these locations (including tabletop touchscreen game systems featuring a wide selection of titles) would not
be rated by the ESRB, but would still likely be subject to Stender's law. (And don't forget that bars/taverns/roadhouses would fall under "where any beverages of any kind are retailed for consumption on the premises" wording as well.)
"Any retail establishment
" dealing with "goods or services of any kind
?" That covers a whole lot of ground. This could conceivably cover adult-oriented businesses like smoke shops, liquor stores and adult bookstores. Should they be required to clean up their selection of "available" games just in case?
What about your normal retailers, like Wal-Mart or Gamestop? If they aren't keeping mature titles under lock and key, are they making these games "available?" (Never mind the fact that 87% of the time
, minors are unable to purchase M-rated games from retailers.) Or does this refer to what's loaded in demo stations? Or are we still pretending this targets in-store arcades only?
"Summer camps, day camps, resort camps
" -- are these entities responsible for any games their guests bring in and "make available" for anyone to play? The camps may provide nothing but E-rated games but anything involving the public makes this a risky situation. Is there some form of IRL Section 230 that can protect businesses from the actions of their guests, like a camper setting up a console and a selection of M-rated games for other campers to enjoy? Or does this responsibility fall on the operators, forcing them to police the "content" of their campsites in order to avoid paying hefty fines?
"Any public library
?" Really? If a minor uses a publicly accessible computer to access M-rated games, the library is at fault?
"[A]ny kindergarten, primary and secondary school, trade or business school, high school, academy, college and university
?" This list starts where children are reasonably expected to be the majority and not exposed to "adult-oriented" entertainment, but it quickly goes off the rails and includes establishments where adults are the majority, if not 100% of the attendees.
GamePolitics suggests Stender's proposed law is aimed at arcade games, but nothing in this press release indicates it's limited to only those. The "places of public accommodation" language suggests arcade games, but there's nothing in here strictly defining the platform
. The word "arcade" is never used.
It doesn't even seem to be limited to preventing children from "accessing" prohibited games. Her exact wording is: "prohibit video games containing mature and adult content in public places
." She also throws in "access" and "available," but the broad wording and long list of "public places" suggests her ideal ban would prevent offending games from ever leaving people's homes -- about the only location the list doesn't
This is a bill Stender plans
to introduce, so it's likely to be more narrowly defined before it's opened up for debate. The large chunk of "public place" language feels borrowed from somewhere else, but if that's what she's actually intending to target, this proposal is very worrying. She's clearly made her mind up about the negative effects of video games and it looks as if the Attorney General's task force is willing to ride shotgun (so to speak...).
There will be some people who will wonder why anyone would care what a plans a NJ assemblywoman may have for video game regulation. The problem is this: politicians have to start somewhere. Some fall off the lower rungs while others keep climbing. Either way, they tend to keep their head full of bad ideas with them. At some point, they're in the big leagues, able to do real
Stender's proposal is a wreck -- an all-encompassing dragnet built out of baseless suppositions. It creates perverse incentives for the enforcers and ignores the Supreme Court's decision on the regulation of video games. This should never have made it as far as an internal dialog, much less a press release. If someone's aiming to top the list of Bad Video Game Legislation, they've got their work cut out for them.