Opponents of the spread of video games won a resounding victory Tuesday night at the Marshfield town meeting.
Residents of the South Shore town voted to prohibit the use, operation, and possession of the games, and to fine violators $200 for each offense.
The amendment to the town’s bylaws does not apply to home video games for private use, juke boxes, pool or billiard tables, bowling lanes and athletic training devices, but does include pinball games.
The vote came at a time when other area cities and towns, including Boston, are attempting to cope with the proliferation of the games. Most, however, wish to regulate and license the games, not outlaw them entirely.
The passage of the bylaw reflected strong sentiment among Marshfield residents against the games, according to Tom Jackson, author of the bylaw and chairman of the town’s vandalism committee. He said parents in particular objected to the amount of time and money their children spent on the machines.
“I’m a former narcotics officer, and I’ve seen what these machines do to kids and the amount of money that is wasted on them,” he said, adding that the games contributed to a “honky-tonk atmosphere” in the town.
Supporters of the measure defeated residents who wanted to regulate the machines instead of banning them.
Selectman Richard Levin said, “I personally think the machines create problems this town doesn’t need.” He noted that many residents feared the machines would encourage rowdiness and drug dealing.
Operators of the games, however, reacted angrily to the bylaw. Mitch Snyder, manager of the Marshfield Sport Center, which has eight video games in addition to bowling lanes and pool tables, said he believes the decision was forced on the town by a vocal minority.
“It was about 150 ultra-conservative people trying to legislate policy for 2000 people. A lot of the people who voted for the law probably don’t even know what a video game is,” he said.
Richard Roper, owner of R and J Associates, a local video game distributor, said he believes parents are shirking responsibility when they blame the machines for their children’s ills.
“I have children, and I know where they are and how much money they spend. I don’t allow them to do anything in excess. Video games by themselves are perfectly all right; the blame should be on parents for not knowing where their children are and what they’re doing.”
The strongest opposition, however, came from young people, who are the biggest users of the 200 video games in the town. Adam Hessler, 16, of Marshfield, said he also blames parents who don’t monitor the activities of their children. “I don’t think it’s fair. . . . It’s my own money, and I don’t spend all of it (on the games). No one does,” he said, adding, “I don’t know what I’m going to do when they pull the machines out. I’ll probably be walking the streets causing trouble.”
Mark Dimitri, 13, who said he plays the games at the center every night, looked up from the game he was playing intently to admit that “I’ve been spending a little too much on the games, but I can control myself most of the time.” He said he spends much of the money he makes delivering newspapers on the games, “but not all of it.”
Stamping her feet in frustration as she played a “Ms. Pac-Man” game at the center, Tina Coffin, 16, said she thinks the machines are a good way of passing time. “We come down here when we have nothing to do,” she said, adding that “the games get a lot of people off the streets.”
Jackson said he expects town officials to enforce the law strictly. “The people supported it, and they gave the town the authority to make sure it is obeyed,” he said.
The law will not take effect for three months, and video game operators will have until the early fall to remove the machines from their premises. Although Levin said he believes the law is legitimate under Marshfield’s home rule statute, Snyder said he and others may attempt to get a legal injunction against enforcement.
“Without video games, we [the center] are going to have a dificult time staying alive,” he said.