The Many Issues With Senator Josh Hawley’s Call for New Video Game Legislation

Todd Mitchell is an independent journalist, game developer, studio founder, and coincidentally, an independent voter in Hawley’s state of Missouri.

When Hawaii Representative Chris Lee (D) set out to have loot boxes regulated like gambling in his state, we didn’t need much time to point out a few seemingly disingenuous aspects to his aggressive stance toward the game industry, nor the inconsistencies in his statements to the press. The argument didn’t sound any better today coming from U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R) here in my home state of Missouri.

In a press release you can read here, Hawley’s office announces his intention to introduce “landmark legislation” titled The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, outlined here, which ignores a variety of real issues in the industry in favor of constructing Disney villains out of game designers wielding imaginary gems apparently hoping to hypnotize all of our children. From the press release to the one-pager available at his site, there are common sense disconnects in nearly every sentence his office has released.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley stated, per the press release. Early problems with Hawley’s stance are no different those we discussed when Chris Lee set his sights on the issue: games designed for children too young to understand microtransactions are already categorized as such by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and such microtransactions are already forbidden in those games in the marketplace. Games for teens and adults accept credit cards for payment, typically belonging to an adult player, or a young player’s parents. If the concern is about players misspending their parents’ money, we probably need no stronger law than those prohibiting theft or fraud. Instead of inviting parents to participate in their child’s online activities, Hawley seeks to dump parental responsibilities into the laps of game developers.

“When kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions,” Hawley states. “Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.” Logically this isn’t possible, of course, as we’ve established developers can’t market microtransactions to children, and young players would need to bypass safeguards available on *all platforms* to spend someone else’s money on virtual goods. A developer who set out to exploit a child through microtransactions (which can be refunded in nearly all circumstances) would be out of business long before the law caught up with them.

The press release closes with a look at “one notorious example,” Candy Crush Saga by developer King, now a part of Activision Blizzard, in a clear effort to establish a hostile corporate machine, eager to victimize defenseless children–despite the fact that 97.7% of Candy Crush players play free in perpetuity, in a genre where the typical player is a woman around age 43–but the individuals most impacted by such open-ended and misinformed legislation are small business owners in the game industry, like the growing number in Hawley’s own state.

Childhood obesity is a serious issue, too. Should a Taco Bell shift manager face the Federal Trade Commission every time an unattended teenager buys tacos or can we rely on the parents to get involved at some point?Make no mistake: laws further integrating government oversight into this already-tumultuous industry will do nothing to hamper the agility of the game industry’s top earners, but small and midsize developers who can’t release free-to-play games will be left with no way to compete, and jobs will vanish immediately thereafter. This is a stunning attack on American businesses from the GOP, and an unfathomable intrusion into the home to replace active parenting with government regulation. Voters would be wise to pay close attention to the forthcoming bill and how Hawley proceeds between now and election time.

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