Earlier today, US Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri released his intentions to propose new legislation to ban “manipulative video game features aimed at children.” In a post on his website, Hawley describes his reasons for proposing the legislation which revolve around their addictive nature and how that is used to exploit young users. This comes as no surprise since he is already a staunch opponent to social media practices which he also views through the lens of their addictive nature.
The Senator proposes the legislation on a platform revolving protecting children from video games that use pay-to-win and other similar systems. “Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits,” says Hawley. “When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction.” The Senator also believes that games targeted at adults should have a feature that blocks inevitable young players from purchasing anything in-game. Hawley also believes in “legal consequences” for game developers who knowingly include features that exploit children.
The Senator points to one game in particular as an example of these predatory practices: Candy Crush. Candy Crush, a mobile game designed and published by King, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, uses cartoon candy pieces and arguably kid-friendly graphics. The game, while free, will block you from playing for a short time when you lose all your lives. Players are able to purchase in-game packs for real money that allow you to play past this point, some bundles costing up to $150.00.
Pay-to-win games are not the only type targeted either; Hawley also mentions games with loot boxes as another problem area. “Loot boxes, incorporated both in free and paid games, offer players randomized rewards for spending money, combining the addictive properties of pay-to-win with the compulsive behavior inherent in other forms of gambling,” reads Hawley’s website. Hawley is not the only one with issues about them either. Belgium, as well as Hawaii, are just two who have taken some form of action against loot boxes, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced earlier this year they were planning a public workshop about them.
Hawley released a one-page outline about his bill proposal, “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act.” In the outline, Hawley references the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) as a guideline for determining which games would fall under regulation. The bill would prohibit loot boxes and pay-to-win games, with violations punishable by lawsuits for unfair trade practices.