Mortal Kombat - if mom's there
Indianapolis sets strictest rules yet for what arcade games kids can play
Clad in an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt, 10-year-old Colton Chojnacki squeezes a plastic pistol and dispatches attackers charging across a video-game screen. While his mother shops elsewhere in a multistory downtown mall here, Colton's cyberfoes burst and perish, despite their bulletproof vests and powerful weaponry.Skip to next paragraph
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Although similar scenes are played out daily in arcades across the country, come September 1 they'll be history in Indianapolis.
A city ordinance passed this week will severely restrict children's access to violent arcade games - including a mandate that Colton's mom or a parent would have to stand by. "No way that will happen," he says as "game over" flashes on the screen.
With a stroke of his pen, not a joystick, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has turned this middle-America city into a national test bed for a unique assault on the scourge of youth violence.
Believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the action has pushed a decades-long debate over violence and video games beyond academia and talk radio and into lawbooks and the living rooms of the 750,000 people of this heartland city. It has also set the stage for a battle with the booming video-game industry, which decries the presumed link between their fare and acts of real violence.
"People need to understand, we're not proposing to ban these games," says Mayor Peterson, in an interview in a 25th floor conference room with a panoramic view of the city. "We're doing nothing more than what we as a society do with regard to restricting children's access to tobacco, liquor, and pornography."
What the ordinance does
The ordinance, which passed the city council 27 to 0, will force coin-operated video-game vendors to put warning labels on violent and sexually explicit games, separate such games from others by a wall or curtain, and forbid people under 18 from playing without a parent present.
It mandates a $200 fine for each violation. Three violations in one year risks revocation of an arcade owner's license. At least six other states and a number of cities are considering similar legislation.
Critics - including the video-game industry - consider the new stricture unnecessary and unconstitutional. They believe it will do nothing to address the underlying causes of youth violence. Some say the city has no right playing the role of parent.
"The men and woman of this industry are extremely upset at the singling out and targeting of their livelihood," says Elliott Portnoy, legal counsel for the coin-operated video-game industry.
He and others believe the ordinance is unnecessary because the industry has had its own rating system for six years and already provides parental advisories on new coin-operated video games. The system is modeled on a traffic light: Red is for strong violence, yellow for mid-range, and green means the game is OK for all players.
Mr. Portnoy says no decision has been made yet by the industry to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance.
But he says such a case could be won.