Massachusetts Video Game Legislation is Stalled

Video game legislation proposed by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino – and authored by Jack Thompson – has stalled in the Massachusetts legislature.

In March legislators heard testimony on HB1423, a bill which would equate violent video games with pornography.

However the Boston Business Journal now reports that the measure has been “sent into study,” which essentially means it is on life support. From the Business Journal story:

Menino’s proposal, which would make it illegal for minors to buy video games with graphic content, was sent into study in March — a big win for the state’s burgeoning video game industry…

But the mayor, seeing a link between violent content and violent behavior, still is in favor of the proposal, and plans to continue to push for it on a grass-roots level, said Larry Mayes, chief of human services for the city of Boston. “To get this through, we’re really going to have to do a statewide push. We want to go to the communities, particularly to the parents and sit with them and show them the material.”
Mayes said members of the mayor’s office plan to hold community meetings starting this summer to educate parents about such violent video games.  
The hope is those parents will then advocate for the ban.

Scary Words: Boston Mayor Wants to Lay Down the (Video Game) Law

Boston news radio station WBZ-1030 has a disturbing interview with Mayor Thomas Menino (left) conducted by on-air personality Laurie Kirby (GP: I can’t refer to her as a “reporter” based on the softballs she’s tossing to Menino here).

The interview took place on March 17th on the eve of the Massachusetts Legislature’s consideration of HB1423. The measure, a video game bill based on the Jack Thompson-authored Louisiana legislation which failed so miserably in federal court in 2006 (see: Judge Trashes Louisiana Government Over Failed Jack Thompson Law, Orders State to Pay Legal Fees), would seek to classify violent video games as “harmful to minors” in the same legal sense as pornography.

Here’s the text of the interview (as transcribed by GP). Note that Menino speaks of the proposed law as a “ban” throughout the interview and, amazingly, expresses a desire to enforce a lifestyle change on game players.

He also seems to be bothered by the image of kids playing handheld systems, as he references it at several different points in the interview:

Mayor Menino: …these video games and violence. And uh, ya know, kids – they play with them, they see them on TV all the times. You know, we gotta take some measures to restrict access to this violence. And everybody’s well, the First Amendment, uh, you can’t do it because this.

We always can’t do something. My measure, let’s do something to restrict young people from glorify- from being glorified with this violence. As I look at this, I watch little kids out there with these little video games. There’s shootings, there’s killings and all that. We’ve got to do something. Everybody says we can’t. I’m saying we can and let’s start now. Because there’s too much violence on the streets of America, presently, to uh, that is happening.

And so, as Mayor, I just want to put something out there, and let’s have a discussion about this. Everybody has a responsibility. I’m taking some of that responsibility, I know it’s controversial. But you gotta do something about banning the violence that young people are accustomed to today. And it’s a tough battle because they say, it’s a First Amendment. But we also have… rights in America to have a safe neighborhoods, safe streets, and safe world. And that’s what my discussion will be about – is about safety in our homes, safety in our streets, safety in our worlds.

Announcer: Well it’s interesting, because they are bringing up the First Amendment issue here, but what about pornography? I mean there are some – obviously, minors can’t buy pornography, so it’s not as if there aren’t some restrictions  already in place.

Menino: That’s right. They put pornography in the back of a room or someplace. Kids can’t buy it readily. But you can buy those video games right off the counter without showing any identification at all. And that’s part of our efforts is to try to restrict the access to these video games.

Announcer: So… what are you going to do, exactly here, and what woud the language be? You would ask for all Boston stores…?

Menino: Well I have a piece of legislation that will be heard up in the legislature tomorrow. My staff will be testifying on the ban and asking the legislature to put restrictions on the availability of these games and other activities that may enhance a young person’s ability to see these, uh, this violence and put it in their hands with the little video games they have there’s violence always happening. And it has to be restricted. I mean it’s just another way of saying, hey, we all have a responsibility and the video game industry also has a responsibility.

Announcer: Okay, so you would ban the outright sale of any kind of violent video game to what – anybody under the age of 17, or what?

Menino:  18. I’d restrict the sale of video games to anyone under the age of 18.

Announcer: So the store could still sell them, you’re just trying to protect the kids.

Menino: That’s right. I mean, you start early on. Kids start at 5, 6, 7 years old watching those video games. They think it’s a way of life and I’m trying to make them understand there’s a different way of life (emphasis GP’s) and, uh, as you go about your daily chores, you’ll see these kids with the video games in their hands. They’ll see it on the TV, see it everyplace you go, there’s violence that’s out there. If you watched one of our major sporting events last year, every video that was on there, every advertisement had violence in it. Our life is full of violence.

Announcer: You’re absolutely right. Now what would the penalty be for a store that didn’t card a kid and sold a kid a game?

Menino: We haven’t determined what the violence would be, I mean the penalty would be, but we’re looking at some serious, serious restriction on the sale of these video games.

Original WBZ audio here: (you’ll need to scroll down a bit for the March 17th interview).

Author Stephen King Slams Massachusetts Video Game Legislation

Stephen King, best-selling author of scary novels, has taken a swipe at video game legislation currently under consideration in Massachusetts.

In a guest column for Entertainment Weekly, King writes:

I’m no fan of videogames… But when I heard about HB 1423… I still hit the roof. HB 1423 would restrict or outright ban the sale of violent videogames to anyone under the age of 18. Which means, by the way, that a 17-year-old who can get in to see Hostel: Part II would be forbidden by law from buying… Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

According to the proposed bill, violent videogames are pornographic and have no redeeming social merit… Now, what does and doesn’t have social merit is always an interesting question… But what makes me crazy is when politicians take it upon themselves to play surrogate parents. The results of that are usually disastrous. Not to mention undemocratic…

King notes that video games have a rating system in place and adds:

The most effective bar against what was called ”the seduction of the innocent” when this hot-button issue centered on violent comic books 60 years ago is still parents…

Could Massachusetts legislators find better ways to watch out for the kiddies? Man, I sure hope so, because there’s a lot more to America’s culture of violence than Resident Evil 4.

What really makes me insane is how eager politicians are to use the pop culture… as a whipping boy… it allows legislators to ignore… the ever-deepening divide between the haves and have-nots… [also, there is] America’s almost pathological love of guns…

Boston Globe Columnist’s Dream World Doesn’t Include GTA

In today’s Boston Globe, columnist Alex Beam zings Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto series:

What if there was one day a year when people all over the world decided to behave in a manner worthy of the species? What would they call that day?

…It’s bracing to imagine the day when video-game manufacturer Rockstar announces: “We don’t want to make money off a game that encourages elementary school students to kill ‘hos’ and assassinate grand jury witnesses. We’re taking Grand Theft Auto off the market.”

…What if there were one day a year when everyone behaved in a manner worthy of the species? What would they call that day? They would call it April Fools’ Day.

The Massachusetts Legislature, of course, is currently considering a proposal which would treat violent video games in a manner similar to pornography.

Mass. Effect: Game Design Student, Game Developer Offer Insights from Massachusetts Game Bill Hearing

It’s always great to see members of the game community – not just the industry lobbyist types – involving themselves in the politics of gaming.

Thus, we were pleased to find student Josh Diaz’ first-hand report of the Massachusetts’ Legislature’s recent hearing on HB1423, the Jack Thompson-authored bill which treats violent video games similarly to pornography. From Josh:

Earlier this month, I went to the Boston State House to witness a hearing on House Bill 1423… The first mention of the video game bill came from Rep. Dianne Wilkerson [who] offered a few points. First, she said that the bill wasn’t going to limit access to these games’ intended audience, adults. Secondly, she pointed to a recent rise in violent youth crime in Boston neighborhoods and a need to stop the exposure of these “images and acts” to children.

Her argument provided the backbone for the bill’s ostensible purpose: stemming a tide of rising youth violence in Boston and surrounding neighborhoods by removing violent media from the hands of children.

Josh then chronicles the various game industry figures who testified:

Next up was a panel of entertainment industry folks. Gail Markels [of ESA] opened the panel by laying out the industry’s self-regulation… [and mentioned] that nine similar laws that passed in other states were struck down as unconstitutional, as video games had been time and again declared ‘protected speech’, and therefore covered under usual First Amendment protections. This, although may seem common-sense, is apparently not…

[Another witness] was the owner of a video retail store in the Dorchester area, who argued that the ESRB system in effect in his store was more than enough; they carded everyone and no child was allowed to purchase content rated ‘M’; they offered something like like 67% ‘denial of sales’ rate.

Developer Kent Quirk of Linden Lab (Second Life) also testified and blogged the experience on Boston Post-Mortem:

The hearing at the State House was a bit confusing. There were a number of bills up for consideration, and a couple of hundred people who were there to support and/or protest one or another bill. After about an hour and a half of presentations on other laws, I was suddenly called as part of a panel of speakers…

In his prepared remarks, Quirk stressed the economic benefits which video games bring to Massachusetts:

The average [game development] salary… is over $77,000 a year. We’re quiet, and we don’t pollute. We take the best, the brightest, and the most creative art, music, and technology students from Massachusetts universities and give them reasons to stay in Massachusetts…

Game development is a significant, creative business that we really should promote in this state… A bill like HB1423 sends a strongly negative message to a growing but fragile economy that Massachusetts does not want to be a friendly place to run a digital game business. This is exactly the wrong message to send.

For his part, Josh Diaz seemed to feel – if I’m interpreting him correctly – that the assembled game industry opponents did not do enough to dispute the so-called evidence that violent games are harmful.

There was a second loss in our silence. We accepted the framing that there is something dangerous here, and the only debate to be had is whether the industry is doing enough or if the government should do more… By conceding that that [anti-game] studies have spoken, we ignored a discussion about why the results of all these conflicting studies might be more complicated than either side makes them out to be, and what role education, cultural and family discussion and media literacy play in how children participate in the world around them.

CNN Looks at Massachusetts Video Game Legislation

In a video report, CNN Boston Bureau Chief Dan Lothian takes a well-balanced look at the Massachusetts video game legislation, a much-discussed topic on GamePolitics last week.

New ESA VP Rich Taylor, formerly of the MPAA, appears in the segment on behalf of the video game industry.

A rather maddening quote in Lothian’s report comes from an unnamed staffer for Boston Mayor Tom Menino:

[Violent video games] can be as harmful to minors as pornography and should have the same level of restrictions.

As reported by GamePolitics, HB1423 is a games-as-porn bill just like the one that failed to pass constitutional muster in Louisiana.

GP: Big thanks to comment mod E. Zachary Knight for pointing this CNN coverage out.

Rape in Video Games? Top Aide to Boston Mayor Says Yes at Legislative Hearing

Last Month, British Parliamentarian – and frequent video game industry critic – Keith Vaz sparked a bit of controversy by claiming that interactive rape is depicted in video games.

A top aide to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (left) apparently offered similar commentary at yesterday’s hearing by the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary concerning HB1423, a proposal designed to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors.

As reported by the Boston Herald, Larry Mayes, Mayor Menino’s director of Health and Human Services, claimed that gamers score points for, among other acts, raping women:

Larry Mayes, Menino’s director of Health and Human Services, urged lawmakers to view for themselves some “Mature”-rated games, many of which award players points for shooting people, raping women or setting people on fire. Mayes pointed to several researchers who have found a correlation between such games and aggression.

“I’m sure you will conclude Mayor Menino is in fact right to do all he can to protect children, even if it means pushing back on a multi-billion-dollar industry.”

Testifying for the video game industry were ESA VP Gail Markels and Sean Bersell, VP of the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), the trade organization which represents video game retailers. As reported by the Herald:

Markels… said the industry has a board that rates games’ appropriateness for youngsters, and it is up to retailers whether to sell or rent to minors, based on a game’s rating.

“While the state may regulate minors’ access to materials defined as harmful under state law,” [Markels] said, “such restrictions are limited to depictions of sexually explicit conduct that is obscene to minors.”

GP: As we asked Keith Vaz when he made similar remarks, can Larry Mayes name even a single game which features rape as a playable option?

UPDATE: PopMatters offers an analysis of the Massachusetts bill.

Boston Herald: Video Game Law is “Low-Hanging Fruit”

As GamePolitics reported yesterday, elected officials will gather in Massachusetts today to consider HB1423, a law that would restrict the access of minors to violent video games in the same way in which they are blocked from purchasing sexually explicit material.

This morning’s Boston Herald has weighed in with an editorial urging legislators and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (left) to drop the measure and focus their energies on more tangible problems:

We know of no direct link between violent video games and… actual violence… This one is, shall we say, constitutionally problematic. Other states have been stopped cold in their efforts to ban the sale of violent video games to kids – as recently as yesterday

While we appreciate the mayor’s concern over the truly horrifying material in question… the idea has more than a few holes. Is the mayor going to deploy a Video Game Task Force to patrol local stores?

…Other states have spent a fortune defending their bans – and losing… [Mayor Menino] needs to make better use of his time than going after such low-hanging fruit.

GP: Game industry nemesis Jack Thompson apparently will not be involved in today’s hearing, even though he drafted the wording of HB1423 for Menino’s office in early 2007. Thompson denies that he’s out of the loop, however, and apparently was interviewed about the video game law on a Boston radio station this morning.

UPDATE: Thompson’s 24-minute WAAF interview here.

Massachusetts Will Consider Video Game Legislation This Week

The Massachusetts legislature will hold a hearing on Tuesday to consider House Bill 1423, a video game measure introduced last year but not acted upon.

In its current form the bill closely resembles the Jack Thompson-authored Louisiana video game law, which was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge in 2006 (see: Judge Trashes Louisiana Govt. Over Failed Jack Thompson Law, Orders State to Pay Legal Fees). Indeed, Thompson was involved in drafting the original version of the Massachusetts bill, as GamePolitics reported in January of 2007.

Although Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has been an advocate of HB1423, the main legislative sponsor is Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D, left).

HB1423 is a “games-as-porn” bill which would seek to restrict minors from buying violent video games under the same rationale used to block them from buying sexually explicit materials. That is, HB1423 would define violent games as harmful to minors in the same legal sense as pornography. From the bill:

Matter is harmful to minors if it is obscene or, if taken as a whole, it… depicts violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community, so as to appeal predominantly to the morbid interest in violence of minors; is patently contrary to prevailing standards of adults in the county where the offense was committed… and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.

Given the history, it is unclear why Massachusetts is pursuing a bill of this sort. Last year an aide to Mayor Menino told GamePolitics that officials were aware of the failure of the similarly-worded Louisiana law, but would were hopeful a Utah bill – also authored by Jack Thompson – would succeed.

It didn’t – after contentious deliberations in which Thompson called for Utah’s Attorney General to be impeached, the Utah legislature dropped the bill over concerns about its constitutionality.

At this point it is unclear whether Thompson has been participating in the recent activity surrounding HB1423. In an e-mail sent to GP following the publication of this story, Thompson writes, “Of course I’m involved, today even.”

UPDATE: The Entertainment Consumers Association has issued an alert regarding the Massachusetts legislation to its members via the ECA website. By way of disclosure, we note that the ECA is the parent company of

UPDATE: This morning’s Boston Herald has more, including comment from Larry Mayes, Mayor Menino’s human services director:

Children aged 17 and under should not be sold this stuff, so they are not getting into the hands of 9- and 10-year-olds. Is it going to be an uphill battle? Sure. But it’s absolutely a battle that the mayor feels he should take on.