SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich today introduced legislation following through on his pledge to help parents across the State of Illinois protect their children from violent and sexually explicit video games. State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) filed the measure in the House of Representatives, and State Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) will be the lead sponsor in the Senate. The legislation would make Illinois the first state in the nation to ban the sale and rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to children under age 18. Currently, nothing under Illinois law prohibits children from buying or renting video games, no matter how violent or sexually explicit they may be.
“As a society, we’ve agreed that children do not have a right to certain things that pose a risk to their health or development: things like cigarettes, alcohol, and pornography. We know violent and sexually explicit video games pose a direct risk to kids, so we should make every effort to keep them out of kids’ hands,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “If a parent believes his or her child is mature enough to play adult video games, then they should be able to rent or buy the games on their child’s behalf. But my strong suspicion – and I hear evidence of this regularly from parents I meet – is that most parents don’t know what is in the games their kids are playing. They assume that if their 12-year old can rent it or buy it without a problem, then it must be appropriate. Parents are eager to have some assistance in making sure their children don’t have access to games full of adult content.”
“For many residents of Illinois, street violence is a very real part of their daily life. It’s not a character in a video game or a fantasy on a TV screen; it’s their neighbor down the street or their friend from church,” Chapa LaVia said. “As a parent, I’m concerned about the images my children see in video games. As a legislator, I realize there must be a balance between unbridled First Amendment rights and excessive government regulation. It’s troubling to think that a 14-year old can legally buy a video game where gang members, prostitutes, and criminals are the main characters. I introduced this legislation because I believe children under 18 should not be able to purchase video games intended for adults, and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly and the Governor to see that this important piece of legislation becomes law.”
State Rep. Chapa LaVia introduced the Governor’s proposal, a bill that bans the rental and sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to children younger than 18. “Violent” games are defined as those that include realistic depictions of human-on-human violence in which the player kills, injures, or otherwise causes serious 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 are defined as those that the average person -- applying contemporary community standards with respect to minors -- would find are designed to appeal or pander to the prurient interest, and that depict or represent in a manner patently offensive to minors any of the following: an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, an actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual act or a lewd exhibition of reproductive organs. The penalty for violating the bans is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison or a $5,000 fine.
The bill also requires 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 properly label games or place proper signs is punishable by a $1,000 fine for the first three violations and a $5,000 fine for every subsequent violation.
In December, Governor Blagojevich launched a website for parents, www.safegamesIllinois.org
, where they can learn about the effects of violent and sexually explicit video games, report inappropriate video games, and report Illinois retailers that are selling such games to minors.
The Governor also created the Safe Games Illinois Task Force to gather information on the impact of violent and sexually explicit video games, develop strategies for parents, and give recommendations to the Governor. The Task Force includes a Parents Advisory Committee, made up of parents from across Illinois, which identifies areas of concern regarding violent and sexually explicit video games in their communities and advises both the Governor and the Task Force.
Various studies demonstrate the negative impact playing violent and sexually explicit video games has on minors. One such study, completed in 2003 by four experts, including Task Force member 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 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. In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission found that 69 percent of teenagers were able to purchase M-rated video games – giving them easy access to images many adults would consider offensive. The FTC also found that not only are minors easily purchasing violent and sexually explicit games, 10 of the 11 companies it studied produced at least one marketing document specifically targeting boys under 17 for a violent, M-rated game. An independent investigation by the Illinois State Crime Commission found that a 15-year-old boy could purchase “Mature” rated video games (recommended for children 17 and older) at 11 of the 15 stores he visited.