NAPERVILLE – Taking an aggressive stand to protect Illinois children from excessively violent and sexually explicit video games, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today proposed legislation that would make Illinois the first state in the nation to ban the distribution, sale, rental and availability of violent and sexually explicit video games to children under age 18. Currently, nothing under Illinois law specifically prohibits children from buying or renting video games, no matter how violent or sexually explicit they may be.
"Parents today face unprecedented challenges in monitoring and protecting their children from harmful influences. They have to worry about a lot more than bullies and bad influences outside the home. Now, because of advances in technology, our kids have easy access to information and images inside our homes that our own parents would never have dreamed of exposing us to," said Gov. Blagojevich. "Some of the popular video games on the market right now allow kids to simulate and participate in violent and sexual activities. Soldiers heading to Iraq use simulations like today’s video games in order to prepare for war. And that may all be okay if you’re a mature adult or a soldier training to fight, but is that really necessary for a ten year old child?"
The Governor will introduce two bills during the upcoming legislative session: one that bans the distribution, sale, rental and availability of violent video games to children younger than 18 and another that bans the distribution, sale, rental and availability of sexually explicit video games to children younger than 18. "Violent" games would be defined as those realistically depicting human-on-human violence in which the player kills, injures, or otherwise causes physical harm to another human, including but not limited to depictions of death, dismemberment, amputation, decapitation, maiming, disfigurement, mutilation of body parts, or rape. "Sexually explicit" games would be defined as those realistically depicting male or female genitalia and other nudity exposed in a way that, in accordance with contemporary community standards, predominantly appeals to the prurient interest of the player. Games in which the redeeming social value of the material outweighs its appeal to the prurient interest shall not be deemed "sexually explicit." The likely penalty for violating the bans would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison or a $5,000 fine.
The two bills will also require retailers to label violent and sexually explicit video games, similar to the "Parental Advisory" label found on music CDs, and to post signs explaining the video game rating system. A retailer’s failure to place proper signs would likely be punishable by a $1,000 fine for the first three violations and a $5,000 fine for every subsequent violation.
Illinois would become the first state to ban the sale and distribution of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors. Unlike attempts by the State of Washington, the City of Indianapolis and St. Louis County, the Governor’s legislation will narrowly define violent and sexually explicit video games to address concerns raised by federal courts, and is specifically intended to protect children.
A 2001 study from Iowa State University found that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors. A 2001 Stanford University study found that when the amount of time third and fourth graders spent watching television and playing video games is reduced to less than seven hours a week, their verbal aggression decreased by 50 percent and physical aggression decreased by 40 percent. Another study, completed in 2003 by four experts, including Douglas Gentile from the National Institute on Media and the Family, concluded that adolescents who expose themselves to greater amounts of video game violence were more hostile, reported getting into arguments with teachers more frequently, were more likely to be involved in physical fights, and performed more poorly in school.
The popularity of video games is widespread among children and teenagers. The National Institute of Media and the Family recently found that 92 percent of all children ages 2 to 17 play video games, and the average child spends 9 hours each week playing them. The Institute also found that 87 percent of pre-teen and teenage boys play games rated "M" for Mature by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. M-rated games often contain realistic depictions of human injury and death, mutilation of body parts, rape, sex, profanity and drug, alcohol and tobacco consumption.
Even though mature games are labeled with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board’s "M" rating, there are no legal mechanisms in place preventing children from buying them. Unlike the motion picture industry, the video game industry has not developed an effective self-regulation system that keeps adult material out of the hands of minors. A study by the Federal Trade Commission found that 69 percent of underage boys were able to purchase M-rated video games – giving them easy access to images many adults would consider offensive.
The M-rated Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, listed as one of the most violent and sexually explicit games on the market, instantly became one of this year’s best sellers, outselling every other game on the market after its October debut. Part of the Grand Theft Auto series that has sold more than $32 million since 2001, San Andreas players avenge the hero’s mother’s murder and restore glory to his gang by shooting police officers, burglarizing homes, committing carjackings and soliciting, fornicating with and beating prostitutes.
In 2003, video games recorded $7 billion in sales in the U.S. But despite numerous studies that document the negative effects playing violent and sexually explicit video games have on minors, one study found that 70 percent of the violent video games evaluated were targeted to children under 17 years old. The Federal Trade Commission also found that 10 of the 11 companies the commission studied produced at least one marketing document specifically targeting boys under 17 for a violent M-rated game