This is an open letter in response to a story in the January 28th 2005 San Francisco Examiner, about a proposed plan to require identity checks in game parlors. Feel encouraged to write to them about it yourself.
Greetings. I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to the recent proposal that San Francisco require people to identify themselves before playing video games. While the motivation seems well-meaning, the practice will be harmful.
First of all, it's an intrusive invasion of our civil liberties. Why should the fact that I look like I could be under eighteen mean that I have to show an ID to play video games?
Secondly, it's an invasion of our privacy. My relationship with the gamecafe staff is economic, not necessarily personal. To identify myself as 'over eighteen', I would have to display a card containing my address, my birthday, my signature, and an identity number that enables people to look up additional information about me (what, I'm not sure, but I'm reasonably sure it includes my social security number.). Just because I trust someone enough to play video games at their establishment and eat their food does NOT mean that I want them able to follow me home or break into any accounts I may posess with financial institutions or utilities that are stupid enough to believe that only I know my birthday. And there ARE utilities that are that stupid; my cellphone provider comes to mind.
Thirdly, school hours VARY. Public schools have one set of vacations. Catholic schools have another, slightly different set. Other private schools may have their own bizarre schedules. For that matter, Lowell, last I heard, allowed a weird system of flexischeduling; there were students who actually got off school at 1:30 PM and others who stayed until around 5 PM, if I recall correctly. Presumably, many of the off-at-5 crowd either had their first class late or had long breaks during the school day. In the former case, staying out after 11 may not harm their studies; in the latter, they may well have enough time to get to a gamecafe and back on their lunch break. A homeschooled kid may well have many of his or her classes at any hour; since most homeschooled kids have one parent who works, anything taught by that parent will have to be after work, leaving a block of free time when most kids are at school. If the system is flexible enough to accomodate all this variation, then it will be a logistical nuisance to verify which kids are violating the law and which are not. If it's inflexible, then it will either have large loopholes or penalize kids needlessly. And if we require gamecafe operators to keep track of which kids have what school schedules, we wind up encouraging kids to give personal information to strangers.
Fourthly, the fact that much of the variation is related to the schedules for religious schools may make the law unconstitutional, as either it will respect the establishment of religion by providing a loophole for students at religious schools, or it will penalize them for the free excersize thereof.
Fifthly, it will be detrimental to the very children whom the law is intended to address. You don't need to show an ID to join a street gang. You don't need to show an ID to deal drugs. You don't need to show an ID to go off in cars with attractive members of the desired sex and get drunk in their private apartments. I'd rather see a pack of juvenile delinquents playing video games at a netcafe than walking around the streets looking for someone to beat up. And I suspect that a kid is safer playing video games at 1AM in a netcafe than they are hanging out on the street corner.
Sixthly, to the extent that it succeeds in deterring class-cutting, it may actually prove detrimental to the education of the other kids. The bored kid who cuts class all the time is not necessarily going to be turned into a model student when they're a bored kid with nothing better to do than go to class - some of them will just entertain themselves by making school unpleasant for everyone else.
Seventhly, it is entirely possible for someone to get a complete high school education before they are eighteen. (I'm not sure what California's laws on the GED are at the moment, but I know in at least some states one can graduate early.) Why shouldn't someone who's already graduated be allowed to play video games while the other kids are at school? Given how attractive gaming is, the promise of "free time for games" might even be an incentive for kids to get BETTER educations than they would otherwise.
Eighthly, this proposal would cost taxpayers money. Hiring spies to verify that gamecafes are verifying IDs costs money. Prosecuting violators costs money. Paying victims' legal fees in the event that an accused violator of the law is found innocent costs money. If any part of enforcement involves sweeping game parlors for suspected kids and verifying whether or not they are kids, that costs money. (Potentially a LOT of money, given that a kid caught in a sweep for unlawful gamers may well run, and any force used to restrain said kid is liable to be taken in the worst possible light by kid, lawyers, and public.). And the enrollment-linked state payments *also* come out of the taxpayers' pockets; just because it's spread out over the whole state does not mean that we aren't paying for it.
Thank you for reading this,