Should You Really Need a License to Run a Video Arcade?

by on August 3, 2009 · 26 comments

CCI’m not sure how I missed this, but someone just pointed out to me that in late July, the city of Amherst, NY, “failed to approve a game license for [Chuck E. Cheese’s] the kids-themed food and entertainment venue… citing concerns about violent video games and bad behavior by patrons that require police intervention.”  That is according to this article by Sandra Tan in The Buffalo News.  Tan reports that the Amherst Town Board deadlocked 3-3 when considering the license for Chuck E. Cheese’s, apparently meaning that the pizza and arcade hot spot for kids will no longer be able to offer games at their Amherst venue. According to her article, game content considerations drove the move:

Council Member Shelly Schratz said she was disturbed by several “action-packed shoot-and-kill games” that were accessible to children as young as 4.  “When I see 6-year-olds, 8-year-olds playing those games, when all the time we’re opening the paper and seeing those stories on youth violence, do we need those games to make money?” she said.  Schratz was one of three board members who voted against renewing the establishment’s game room license, which is necessary for the business to legally run its arcade games, a major draw for families that patronize the chain’s 500-plus locations from coast to coast.

I find the actions of Amherst in this case to be quite troubling. Here are a few quick thoughts about this incident:

(1) What in the world are local city councils doing licensing video arcades? It’s not like we are talking about riverboat gambling enterprises here (although I personally don’t think they need to be licensed either). Of course, there’s a tax angle in it for the local towns. Tan notes that “Licensing brings in revenue for the town, including a $100 application fee, an additional annual license fee of $200 for up to five games, and $40 more for each additional game, according to the town code.”  Essentially, towns like Amherst are taxing young kids’ quarters to fill city coffers!  But that doesn’t necessarily make it right, especially in light of #2…

(2) When lawmakers use an occupational licenses as a tool of content regulation it raises profound First Amendment issues. Unfortunately, as the comments cited above suggest, that seems to be what is going on in the Amherst case. If occupational licensure can be used as a tool of censorship in cases like this, where else might public officials seek to use it? Can licensed doctors or lawyers be told what they can say or print?

(3) I have to wonder if the proponents of such a video arcade ban ever visited a Chuck E. Cheese’s and really spent time examining the games. You won’t find many slasher games there. In fact, you’ll mostly find the games from the exact opposite end of the video game spectrum: many of the same mindless games we grew up with a generation ago, some of which aren’t even video games (like skee ball and mini-basketball).  Most of the actual video games found there are quite mild in nature. [Incidentally, I know this for a fact because I visit Chuck E. Cheese outlets with my kids far more than I care to admit!]

(4) At some point parental responsibility has to enter the picture. Where are the parents or guardians? Are they just dropping young kids off and hoping the Chucky the mouse will be their babysitter?  If so, those are some bad parents. But that doesn’t mean that the city council should be playing nanny and taking over those responsibilities for parents by shutting down arcades that the vast majority of kids frequent without incident.

(5) Finally, speaking of parental responsibility and less-restrictive approaches to the issue, did you know there is an arcade rating system for games?  The “Coin-Operated Video Game Parental Advisory System” is administered by the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA), the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA), and the International Association for the Leisure & Entertainment Industry (IALEI). It uses a color-coded, “traffic light” approach so that parents can review the green, yellow, or red sticker labels on arcade games and decide whether to let their children play. I’ve embedded that rating system and its various designations below. [I wrote about this more in my big “Parental Controls & Online Child Protection” book.]

In light of these concerns, I fail to see why Amherst or any other city should be in the business of licensing video arcades. And even if they are doing so for tax purposes, they shouldn’t be using that power to censor arcade games or shutting down businesses that offer such games.

Coin-Operated Video Game Rating System

  • eee_eff

    I am glad they denied them their license. My daughter once went to a birthday party at one, and she wanted to play a video game.

    The video game had all nice colors and a title something like African adventure.

    Guess what they game was?

    Run over animals with blood on the windsheild and a horrible laughing sound every time an animal was run over. My daughter was shocked. there was no warning whatsoever on the video game re this type of content.

  • cufflinks

    Yeh but all these games are available to play in your own home!

    I can undertstand gambling needing licenses.

    The only factor they should provide is age limits to the games – similar to buying the games for your XBox etc

  • andyinsdca

    The puritans have been saying the same garbage about pinball/arcade machines for…say, 100+ years?

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  • Name

    Just think what Whack-a-mole teaches kids (hitting with a stick good).. the point and roll an token to knock more off the shelf teaches gambling.. African safari teaches to capture wild animals (or eve neighborhood ones) for money… All video games are bad in one way or another.. IF YOU LOOK HARD ENOUGH… Better the kids should bully the other in the ball pit or the climbing tubes and eat the fattening pizza and pop then do nothing but play those dreadful video games…

    …(hint this IS sarcasm)…

  • Name

    the licence is being denied not because of violent video games, but because of the constant police presence at the location becuase parents are getting info figts, getting drunk, and on and on it goes. this being a mid-high $ community, they dont want to see this type of activity at a business, especially when its in a plaza with othe businesses, and might be effecting them negatively, as well as he residence leaving near by who are constantly seeing these things.

    so by rejecting their licence and having the business go somewhere else, they are potentially preventing other businesses from leaving who are in the same vacivity as well as residence.

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  • DJ

    What kind of parents are letting 4 year olds play shoot 'em ups? What 4 year old plays video games period? They aren't even in kindergarten yet. At 4 I was still coloring outside the lines.

  • DJ

    What kind of parents are letting 4 year olds play shoot 'em ups? What 4 year old plays video games period? They aren't even in kindergarten yet. At 4 I was still coloring outside the lines.

  • DJ

    What kind of parents are letting 4 year olds play shoot 'em ups? What 4 year old plays video games period? They aren't even in kindergarten yet. At 4 I was still coloring outside the lines.

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