Off Beat

Saving America's Youth One Video Game at a Time

In room 112 of the state capitol last week the Senate's Commerce and Utilities Committee screened a snuff film. It featured cops being gunned down, prostitutes performing sex acts, and carjackings. The footage was so graphic that Shoreview Republican Mady Reiter averted her eyes.

The occasion for this screening was a bill introduced by Sen. Sandy Pappas that would prohibit the sale of video games rated "adult only" or "mature" to children under the age of 17. The video was produced by the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family. After the screening, Pappas presented a slew of experts to testify on behalf of the bill: cops, members of the Minnesota Parents, Teachers and Students Association, and a representative of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The St. Paul DFLer even enlisted a high school student to play one of the more notorious games, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and report back on his experience.

Conspicuously missing from this group was Dr. David Walsh, the executive director of the National Institute on Media and the Family, and perhaps the foremost critic of violence in video games and its impact on children in the country. Although Pappas repeatedly referred to Dr. Walsh's work in her presentation, she failed to mention one key fact: He doesn't support criminalizing the sale of video games to minors. "I think the better answer is education and voluntary compliance," says Walsh. He notes that adult content in movies has long been effectively regulated through voluntary industry enforcement. "There's a reason it's all voluntary," says Shaw. "The reason is because it starts to blend into very significant First Amendment issues."

Similar statutes have been repeatedly struck down in the courts. Most recently, an Indianapolis law that prohibited minors from playing certain arcade games without parental permission was declared unconstitutional by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The state won't be wasting any money on court battles for now, however. Pappas's legislation was shot down in committee by a vote of 8-5. Minneapolis Democrat Frank Hornstein, however, is sponsoring the same bill in the House.

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