Videogames-Fun? Or Serious Threat?

In town after town, local officials are struggling to cope with a craze that has swept the country: Arcade videogames that gobble up the time and money of America's teenagers.

The village of Bradley, III., on February 8 barred children under 16 from playing colorful and fast-moving games that have cropped up in local stores. "Children are putting their book fees, lunch money and all the quarters they can get their hands on into these machines," said Bradley Mayor Kenneth Hayes, who reported seeing "hundreds" of teenagers smoking marijuana in a video arcade in a nearby town.

On the same day that Bradley cracked down, the city of Marlborough, Mass., prohibited youths under 18 from using the arcades late at night and during school hours. Mayor Joseph Ferrecchia said youths in other towns in Massachusetts were breaking into parking meters to get quarters for videogames and many youngsters were gambling in game competitions.

The issue may come to a head this spring, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on the constitutionality of a Mesquite, Tex., law limiting use of coin-operated games to persons 17 or older unless accompanied by a parent.

Game owners told the Court that the devices "provide wholesome entertainment" and "opportunities for enhancement of physical skills as well as for stimulating mental exercise."

The fast-growing videogame industry has plenty at stake in the outcome. Industry executives estimate that the tens of thousands of electronic arcade games now operating from Maine to Hawaii take in up to 8 billion dollars' worth of quarters a year.

Photo by Darryl Heikes--USN&WR
Playing the game-a teenage mania

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