Age of the Geek

Breakin' the Law! Breakin' the Law!


     As I'm sure we were all reminded this weekend, everybody loves sports. This weekend we all drew our attention toward football. Soon we'll be watching the Olympics.

     We love contests of any kind really. Remember when watching celebrities play poker became huge for a while?

     Well, e-sports are chugging along that same path. Professional gaming is becoming a real thing. There are people out there that make their living playing "Starcraft 2" and "League of Legends."

     The U.S. Government has even opened up these players to the same kind of visas that more traditional athletes get. E-sports are a bona fide contest.

     Except in Iowa, where, by law, only "video machine golf tournament games using a trackball assembly" are considered bona fide contests.

     Yes, it's apparently illegal to have a video game contest with a prize, unless the game is trackball golf.

     Fortunately State Representative Chris Hagenow has introduced a bill to update the law to reflect modern sensibilities.

     House File 2072 amends the current law by striking out the golf specific exemption and replacing it with a legalese version of "any video game ever."

     This bill opens up a slew of incredible questions, starting with, "Why does this law exist in the first place?" Which state official looked at the emerging video game market and said, "Pong tournaments? Oh no. Not in the Hawkeye State!"

     And this law singles out video games specifically. Not card games or miniature strategy games. Just video games. So while it was perfectly okay for me to play in Pokemon card game tournaments when I was a kid, playing the Pokemon video game would have been against the law.

     Is this why my friends and I had to drive to Minnesota to play in the video game contest so many years ago?

     I'm sure there must have been some reasoning for it at the time, but I can't for the life of me imagine what kind of thought process went into somebody deciding that video games needed to be specifically legislated against.

     And then there's the golf exemption. How did that sneak in? Did virtual golf have a big lobbying presence in Des Moines? What makes trackball golf okay, but not something else of the time, like trackball bowling? Who comes up with a blanket ban on an entire medium and then decides to single out one wholly unremarkable exception to the rule?

     And who exactly was supposed to be enforcing this law? Who was even aware of it to enforce it? I participated in a video game contest at Blockbuster where I played a timed game of "Donkey Kong Country" and a "NBA Jam" right out in the open. There was no secret speakeasy behind a false wall and we didn't use code words to get in. In brazen defiance of the law, Blockbuster heavily advertised the event and yet no police offers came to shut down those renegades.

     Even today, if I were to organize a local video game tournament, what is there to stop me?

     Other than, of course, lack of local participants.

     Had I more time this week I would have loved to get in touch with Representative Hagenow to get to the bottom of some of these questions. There must be a fascinating story behind them, starting with how Hagenow even found this law to amend it.

     Until then, I'll just have to cross my fingers and hope the amendment passes through the legislature without incident.

     Meanwhile, on the net neutrality front, AT&T has just filed a patent for a transfer-based bandwidth allocation system which, in their words, would "restrict the use of a channel in accordance with the type of data being downloaded to the user."

     In other words, a way for them to decide what you get from the Internet and charge you again for something you're already paying for.

     How about we get some legislation against that?

     Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and would happily organize an illegal Pokemon tournament if there was a demand for it.