GOP Sen. Josh Hawley Announces Bill to Ban ‘Manipulative’ Features of Video Games

Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley waves as he comes onto the stage during a rally hosted by the American Conservative Union Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo. Hawley is challenging Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/AP Photo
NATE CHURCH

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation banning common game-industry practices that “prey on user addiction.”

“Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits,” said the former GOP attorney general. “No matter this business model’s advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: there is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices.”

The bill is not a blanket measure, however. It has been crafted specifically to target content clearly marketed toward minors, which will be identified by “subject matter, visual content, and other indicators.”

Of course, the Entertainment Software Association — a lobbyist group that acts on behalf of the industry — disagrees. In a statement, Stanley Pierre-Louis, the group’s acting president and CEO, reiterated that “numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling.”

He further maintained that measures already in place were adequate: “We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands,” Pierre-Louis said. “Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”

But child exploitation is a bipartisan issue, and after years of trying to skirt the controversy, it seems that the video game industry has missed its chance to self-regulate its more exploitative practices. Hawley has reached across the aisle to partner with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) to reinforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) with more robust protections.

Hawley is quickly making a name for himself by holding tech companies’ feet to the proverbial fire. “Users’ attention is bought by the tech giants and then immediately sold to advertisers, for the highest price of course,” Hawley said at a Hoover Institution event last week. “Social media only works as a business model if it consumes users’ time and attention day after day after day.”

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