Saving Indianapolis


Is Indianapolis safe yet from the menace of arcade video games? Certainly, the town is doing everything it can to protect itself. As of September 1, any coin-operated game that featured sexual content or graphic violence was supposed to be labeled accordingly. In addition, such machines were to be kept at least 10 feet from games suitable for families (if there are any). The sex-and-violence machines would be separated from their G-rated brothers by a curtain or a wall, so as to make them completely irresistible to minors.

OK, the part about making them irresistible was a joke; the city wanted the machines to be hidden so minors wouldn't be able to see them. That's a joke, too, but at least it's Indianapolis' joke.

The punch line, of course, would come at the expense of arcade operators. They could be fined $200 per day for violating this ordinance. If a business is cited for three violations in a year, the city lifts its license.

Before this ordinance was able to save Indianapolis, however, the game industry sued. Although the city won the first legal skirmish, the industry has asked for an injunction. Hearings were set to begin after Thanksgiving, with a stay in effect until then.

This is a remarkably late battle in the 20-year-old video game wars, and it is taking place just as Sony's PlayStation2 is beginning to sweep the country. PlayStation2 allows people to engage in video game mayhem in their own homes, with impressively realistic graphics, and to do so without labels or intervening curtains or walls.

It's a miracle, or at least a wonder, that Indianapolis has survived this long, given that arcade games have been threatening the nation's youth for decades. Pinball, for example, may not have had graphic-violence problems, but any time one or more people are observed enjoying themselves, officeholders understand that it is their grave duty to do something about it.

Thus, pinball was often banned because it was perceived as a mob-controlled game of chance. Indeed, it was "a vicious racket" that "bleeds millions of dollars each year from youngsters." It "fleeces children of their carfare, their lunch money, their allowances, and in some cases drives them to crime to obtain the funds for their craze." Or so said Better Homes and Gardens magazine back in 1957.

Such insights got pinball banned in many communities over the years, at least for a while. Which probably explains how the country survived at all.