Two weeks ago, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley announced he was going to propose a bill to Congress that would ban loot boxes and gambling mechanics at games aimed at kids – because, you know, kids are the only people worth protecting from predatory practices. But that was a mere announcement, because now, the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, or PCAGA, has been formally filled… which means not only will Congress have to debate and vote on the bill, but it also means we, the public, get our first actual look at the contents of the bill itself.
The bill kicks off by describing what constitutes a loot box, and it’s pretty logical: basically saying that it’s a randomized process that unlocks a feature or enhances the base product, and it only “counts” if the user had to buy it and the content is unknown to the user until after it’s opened.
But when it starts trying to explain what a “pay-to-win’ mechanic is, things get a bit less clear. It can include anything that “eases a user progression through content”, “assists a user in accomplishing an achievement”, “assists a user in receiving an award”, or “permits a user to continue to access content in the game that had previously been accessible to the user but has been made inaccessible”. Broad words that could, in theory, apply to DLC weapons in single-player games, if someone were to make that argument.
And then things get even messier when it tries to define what a “minor-oriented video game” is, which means: anything for general audiences, anything with celeberties that are under the age of 18, any game with cartoon characters, “music or audio content” that appeal to children, or the subject of the game itself. And there’s not a single mention of the ESRB in determining what these games would be: so basically anything from Spyro to Mortal Kombat could qualify.
Ugh. You can see the text of the bill yourself, but there’s probably not much point now: if it’s approved to take to the floor, it’ll be edited and butchered by congress before any real votes are made, so this is very much not going to be the final product. But if the final product looks anything like this, well… there are gonna be problems if it passes.