"The bill's tortured effort to end run the First Amendment by punishing kids directly fails under the Constitution because children have rights under the First Amendment, like all other citizens. The State is attempting to impose liability on children because they know that courts have consistently held that they cannot penalize retailers. We believe that the courts will agree that fining children violates the First Amendment as well," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the ESA, the trade group representing U.S. computer and video game publishers. "If this law is implemented, it will not only limit First Amendment rights for Minnesota's residents, it will create a huge amount of confusion for retailers, parents, and children. I'm confident the court will affirm our position given the rulings on similar statutes in other jurisdictions."
The bill would fine children under age seventeen $25 for buying or renting video games rated M for mature or AO for adults only. Stores would also have to post signs in large font drawing attention to the restrictions. Attempts were made, but ultimately not included in the bill, to penalize retailers who sell or rent such video games to young people.
The ESA argues that this bill is an unenforceable effort to substitute the government's judgment for parental supervision. Lowenstein said that the industry's products were being unreasonably and unfairly singled out, saying that parents, not government or industry, must be the gatekeepers on what comes in the home.
"Legislators in the state of Minnesota have enacted a video game restriction law that they apparently do not want enforced and understand cannot constitutionally be enforced," noted Bo Andersen, President of the Entertainment Merchants Association. "Unfortunately, as a result of the legislature threatening to impose penalties on the children of Minnesota, it will be the taxpayers of the state who pay the penalty when this law is overturned, as it must be."
"In 2005, the average game buyer was 40 and the average game player was 33," said Lowenstein. "When you take that and the fact that this bill is virtually unenforceable into consideration, there is no question in my mind that this bill will be thrown out. How is it possible for retailers to collect $25 from children? The fact is that it would be far more productive for all parties -- industry, retailers, government, parent groups, health groups -- to work together to educate parents about the ESRB ratings and content descriptors and the parental controls available in all next generation consoles."
The ESA noted that both parents and retailers are already doing a good job in monitoring what games kids purchase. According to the ESA, parents are involved in the purchase or rental of games 89% of the time, and 87% of the time children receive their parents' permission before purchasing or renting a video game. Moreover, with the strong support of ESA, leading retailers have already implemented systems to prevent the sale of Mature-rated games to persons under 17. In fact, the National Institute on Media and the Family found, prior to full implementation of these new enforcement systems, that retailers prevented the sale of Mature-rated video games to minors 66% of the time.
All games are clearly rated with both age and content information through the Entertainment Software Rating Board system (www.esrb.org).