Video Game Censorship in New York City?

Video game censorship’s making New York news again.

The always-vigilant folks at GamePolitics have the scoop on another legislative attempt to prohibit “the sale to minors of certain rated video games containing a rating that reflects content of various degrees of profanity, racist stereotypes or derogatory language, and/or actions toward a specific group of persons.”

The act would “amend the general business law” and prevent minors “under the age of 18” from purchasing games that “have a mature or violent rating.” The latter language is both ambiguous and disturbing, as it’s possible to have “violent” sub-ratings right down to the ESRB’s baseline “Everyone” sticker, which can include supplemental tags like “fantasy or mild violence.”

If the bill passes, could legal hawks conjure suits on behalf of parties offended by the “illegal” sale of an “Everyone”-rated, mild-violence-tagged game to someone under 18?

The bill raises a couple familiar questions:

1. Do you believe minors need to be “protected” from potentially offensive (but otherwise legal) material?

2. Are you okay with the government legislating what is or isn’t potentially offensive? Should age-based censorship of material that’s legally acceptable for adults to purchase be executed by the government? Or parents?

3. Is there actionable consensus science showing how certain kinds of “offensive” (but legal) material causes specific or general developmental harm to minors?

4. Regardless, are bills like this even necessary? Last May, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that only 20 percent of 13 to 16 year olds were able to purchase M-rated video games from eight retailers. More importantly, the number was down 42 percent in 2006, and 85 percent since 2000, when these particular surveys started.

In May 2007, a Peter D. Hart Research Associates study reported that nearly 90% of American parents with kids who play games are aware of the ESRB's ratings, and use them.

The facts are compelling: Retail sales to minors have dropped without government intervention, and the overwhelming majority of parents are both aware of the ESRB’s ratings and using them.

Case of “a solution in search of a problem” by “a politician in search of job security”?

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