Censoring video games

Minnesota is considering whether to make it illegal to sell or rent “mature”-rated video games to minors. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, poses more problems than it purports to solve.

Currently, most retailers require parental consent for minors to purchase video games rated “mature.” The legislation does not mention consent. Instead, it seeks to impose a new state control on selling or renting certain games. By eroding parental consent, the legislation recalls long-standing efforts to wrest responsibility away from the parents and censor video game content. While the intention might be good, the legislation is ill-conceived and should be opposed. Government bureaucracy is no substitute for legitimate parental control.

Additionally, the legislation does not acknowledge that the enforcement of the warning labels is already under way. Retail chains such as Kmart, Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us already prohibit the sale of restricted video games to minors. These self-enforcement policies have already proven successful and have even fueled protests against retailers who do not have them. They have also been successful in other areas. The Motion Picture Association of America rates movie content and, according to the National Association of Theater Owners, the vast majority of theaters enforce these movie ratings. Contrary to popular belief, the ratings system is strictly voluntary and does not carry the weight of law, indicating that the video game legislation is unnecessary.

Moreover, the legislation opens other avenues of limited state-sponsored censorship. It could set a precedent for movements to enact laws restricting television, music, books, software and even evolving forms of media such as the Internet. In the early 1980s, activists charged against the popular arcade game “Pac-Man” for its “violent nature.” More recently, an Italian activist led a campaign against the seemingly innocent “Minesweeper” computer game because it “re-victimized land mine victims.” Government censorship, in any form, is a dangerous impulse that must be resisted. In this case, the notion of government restrictions on video games is odious. The Legislature should reject it.