Oblivious to a Federal Trade Commission report released this week that said that only 13 percent of under-age secret shoppers it deployed (as part of a Secret Shopper Survey program in 2012) were able to buy video games from national retailers (see the story here) New Jersey Assemblyman Sean T. Kean (R-Monmouth and Ocean) has proposed a bill that would fine retailers for selling "mature" or "adults only" to minors and another that would allow minors to buy those same games with parental consent. Wait, what?
The first proposal prohibits the sale of any video game with an ESRB rating of “mature” or “adults only” to a person under the age of 18. Violating this law would carry a fine of up to $10,000 for a first offense and up to $20,000 for each subsequent offense. In addition, the Attorney General would be given the legal authority to issue cease and desist orders against the retailer and award punitive damages to the minor.
A separate bill would permit minors to purchase video games containing mature and adult content only if their parent or guardian is present during the purchase and gives their consent verbally or in writing at the time of the sale. Penalties for any violations are the same as with the first bill.
The second bill actually undermines the first bill in a lot of ways because you don't want children bringing notes to retailers saying their parents said they can buy an age inappropriate game because there is a LOT of room for children to bend the truth in order to get what they want. Also parents can currently buy any games they like for their children – they don't need another law to cover that.
"The ESRB’s ratings are designed to alert parents to the content of the games, however, they do not preclude a retailer from selling them to minors," said Kean. "The bottom line is games rated ‘mature or adults only’ should not be sold to minors. The [games] are often very violent, sexually explicit and deal with themes not appropriate for children."
Assemblyman Sean T. Kean should probably spend more time reading the ratings system and understanding the high levels of enforcement video game retailers have (compared to other entertainment industries) selling products at retail before rushing to write two bills that are worthless.
One is clearly meant to generate income and to create a solution where there is no problem. The other creates confusion and a loophole to get minors games they shouldn't be buying by themselves. If Assemblyman Keen is your elected representative in Trenton, you may want to drop him a note letting him know that his confusion on the issue of video game retail makes him look kind of silly.