Minnesota Legislature moving toward video game ban

Border patrol screen shot
This screen capture shows the title page of the Internet video game "Border Patrol." The online video game, in which the player shoots immigrants crossing the border, has sparked outrage over its racist content. Since this is an online game, it wouldn't be covered by Minnesota's proposed ban on sale and rental of video games to minors. It's an example, however, of the sort of recreational games that they say leads to a violent mindset, especially among children.
Photo by Getty Images

For the uninitiated, the images commonly seen in some popular video games can be shocking. Players shoot their targets with blood-splattering realism. Some games feature the killing of police officers and prostitutes, and their bodies are dismembered and burned.

Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, sponsored the bill to keep the games away from kids. He says one game allows players to open fire on a gay pride march or a minority community celebration.

"We're not talking about R-rated slasher movies here. We're not talking about cops and robbers," he said. "We're talking about absolutely disgusting stuff in at least some of these games."

Under the bill, children under 17 could not rent or buy games that are rated "M" for Mature, or "AO" for Adults Only. The legislation also establishes a $25 civil penalty for violations.

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But Johnson, who's running for attorney general, says the violation wouldn't appear on someone's record. He says he's not trying to criminalize video games.

"My purpose is to have the stores put the signs up, and make sure that at least some of the painfully oblivious parents in this state who are letting their kids play this garbage maybe take a little bit of note before they do that," Johnson said.

The legislation requires all video retailers or renters in Minnesota to post clearly visible signs in their establishments about the age restriction. But those stores face no penalties.

Rep. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to hold retailers accountable. Goodwin says fining children is unjust, "because it's the retailers that know what these games are. It's the retailers that buy the games or rent the games that know what they've got there. If they choose to rent those to children then they ought to pay the fine. They are the ones profiting off of it."

The bill's author says retailers were intentionally excluded. Rep. Johnson says narrow definitions are needed in the law to survive potential legal challenges.

Sen. Sandy Pappas
Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, says violent images have a negative influence on youth.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

The Minnesota Senate passed a similar video game bill last year. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, says violent images have a negative influence on youth.

"They start out copying things that are going on TV, these young children. And then by the time they're seven or eight they graduate to video games. And at some point, they're graduating to these exteremly violent video games. And we just want to say with our legislation that that point should not be before they're 17," according to Pappas.

Pappas says she's willing to accept the minor differences in the House bill. She expects the full Senate to pass the bill again and send to the governor before the end of the session.