This is the ESRB’s image for games rated “Mature”:
You might have noticed that’s in the corner of the game covers we’ve featured so far, and it’s pretty up front about it. Right there. Big black and white box. In the corner. Lays it right out.
Unless a parent is functionally brain-dead, it’s impossible to miss that most games inappropriate for children are, in fact, inappropriate for children. Because it’s right there. On the box. With a big M on it!
OK, so let’s take the parent out of the equation for the purchase. Let’s even assume the parent doesn’t hand their kid large sums like $60 on a regular basis (hey, I have a day job, and I think carefully before spending $60), but the kid has saved up $20 in allowance, which seems reasonable. So, let’s say Junior does an end run around Mom and Dad and goes straight to…
Unlike most media, video games are actually pretty scarce. Let’s assume an eight-year-old doesn’t have a credit card, and rule out the Internet. That leaves pretty much only big box stores and GameStop, which, by the way, controls almost the entire used games market. Odds are pretty good if you’re buying cheap games, they’re coming from GameStop.
So the retailers have carding policies in place; no M-rated games without ID. Sure, there are methods to get around them, and how heavily they’re enforced depends on who you talk to.
And, in fact, that’s what Yee’s law was originally designed to target; the idea is that if you sold a minor an “obscene” game, you’d get whacked with a $1000 penalty. Unfortunately, the law as written was so incredibly broad it basically meant anybody could be punished for this. All of which misses the point.
How are kids able to pull off these little stunts in the first place?
Where is the parent in all of this? They never talk to their kids about what they’re doing? They don’t notice packages from Amazon or GameStop showing up at the door? People who freak that little Johnny might see a bunch of polygons get fake stabbed and ooze fake blood can’t be bothered to ask their kid why they’re buying a GameStop gift card? Or what they’re doing with a prepaid Visa? Aren’t parents legally required to know this stuff? Isn’t that why we’re paying for schools and crap, so kids know right and wrong and don’t turn into flim-flam artists?
Sure, kids have been pulling end runs around their parents since the beginning of time, but stop and think about this for a moment. It’s understandable parents would be worried about their kids playing violent video games, but we’ve got to ask how far that concern extends when kids can pull end runs that involve packages delivered to the door purchased from the Internet using prepaid cards bought from convenience stores. That’s a fairly elaborate scam to pull off under a parent’s nose…you know, unless the parent isn’t really paying attention.
Secondly, we’ve really got to ask how fair this law is, faced with methods like that. How, precisely, is Amazon supposed to verify the age of somebody with a prepaid Visa card, again? Will GameStop refuse to allow children to buy gift cards? Are we really going to rewire capitalism so kids can’t punch characters who don’t even exist?