Do People Need Protection from Mobile Games? One State Thinks So.

March 23, 2018

by Terry Schilling


This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

In her Liberty Minute titled “Serve Yourself,” Helen Krieble discusses an example of two states’ governments overstepping their bounds in the name of protecting their citizens:

I can remember when gas stations had both self service and full service islands, and many drivers enjoyed the full service choice. Attendants would run out to the car, pump the gas, air up your tires, wash the windshield, and check the oil. When consumers found that self-service resulted in cheaper gas though, most of us abandoned full-service stations, so today, they’re a nostalgic thing of the past.

But not in New Jersey and Oregon, the two states that legally ban people from pumping their own gas. They claim it’s about safety, but years of history in the other 48 states prove otherwise. It’s about protecting higher prices, and that is not the government’s job. Citizens there should look through the lens of liberty and tell the state it’s none of their business how we decide to fill ‘er up.

Krieble is absolutely correct when she argues that individuals should be able to make their own choice as to how they would like to have their cars filled with gas, rather than the government stepping in to keep prices high in the name of consumer safety. When the government imposes such regulations, it keeps the free market from properly functioning.

A similar scenario of government overreach is currently playing out with regard to mobile games. Free mobile games with in-application purchases have been a point of contention as of late. In essence, these free-to-download games often have options to buy “loot boxes” that can give gamers who purchase them a competitive advantage over those who do not want to spend the money.

These “microtransactions” have come under fire by those who would classify them as gambling, fostering addictive behaviors, or both. In Hawaii, for example, the state’s House of Representatives is even considering legislation which would ban anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing these games, require these games to have a warning that it may cause addictive behavior, and even create a new government department overseeing the gaming industry.

Those who support these bills in the Hawaii legislature are sending a clear message that they do not believe adults can make responsible decisions with their phones. Because some gamers have become upset with games that make you pay to win, government has decided that they need to step in to protect grown men and women. Apparently, in Hawaii, one needs to be more mature to download a simple phone application than to drive or vote.

In the present culture of unnecessary regulations, government has forgotten that, given a chance, the market will often police itself. In this case, if there are a significant number of gamers who are unhappy with the current system, the natural free-market outcome would be for games to incorporate a system of purchases with which both gamers and game companies are happy. As is the case with gas regulations in New Jersey and Oregon, the efficient market outcome is being impeded by big government.

If citizens would heed Krieble’s advice and stand up to overzealous regulators, perhaps the regulation culture would begin to change into one where markets are allowed to self-correct. People in states that have overreaching legislators like New Jersey, Oregon, and Hawaii should send a clear message to their state officials that they don’t need protection from every conceivable harm.


Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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