SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich today applauded the House Judiciary Committee on Civil Law for bringing Illinois one step closer to becoming the first state in the nation to ban the sale and rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to children under 18. The Safe Games Illinois Act, filed by State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia last week as House Bill 4023, was approved unanimously by the Committee, and will now move to the full House of Representatives for consideration. A top national expert on children’s health and the media joined Rep. Chapa LaVia and representatives from the Governor’s office before the Judiciary Committee today to testify in support of the bill. Currently, nothing under Illinois law prohibits children from buying or renting video games that contain excessively violent or sexually explicit material.
“Today’s Committee vote affirms that this is sensible and necessary legislation,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “I hope the House will follow the Judiciary Committee’s lead and pass the Safe Games Illinois Act. We know that violent and sexually explicit video games pose a direct risk to children’s development, and we should make every effort to help parents keep adult games out of kids’ hands.”
“I commend the Judiciary Civil Law Committee for passing the Violent Video Games bill,” said Alderman Ed Burke (D-14th Ward). “Today is a victory, hopefully the first of many, providing Illinois parents with the necessary tools to make informed decisions. I applaud the leadership of Governor Blagojevich and the efforts of the Illinois House of Representatives.”
Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health, a partnership involving Harvard University and the Children’s Hospital in Boston, provided expert testimony to the Judiciary Committee on the effects of violent and sexually explicit video games.
“Research indicates that video games are not only among the most popular activities for children and adolescents, they are also powerfully effective teaching tools,” said Dr. Rich. “When young people are exposed to virtual environments and situations and rewarded for certain types of responses, they are learning and rehearsing the ways in which they interact with the world. According to surveys, children indicate that their favorite video games are those that award points for violence against others. Seen in the context of 50 years of research associating exposure to violent media with increased anxiety, desensitization, and violent behavior, the fact that young people are spending thousands of hours improving their skills at virtual killing gives reason for concern about their physical, mental, and social health.”
Kristin Juozaitis, a teacher from the North Shore and a member of the Safe Games Illinois Task Force, provided written testimony to the Judiciary Committee. “Many of the children in my classroom, per their admission, spend numerous hours during the week and on weekends playing video games -- unsupervised. I have seen first hand in my classroom violent behavior that I believe is a direct result of violent video games,” she wrote. “How do I know? I hear them talking about specific scenarios in the games (e.g. “It’s like in that ‘x’ video game.”) and then acting it out. Some of their discussions make me shiver due to their blatant disregard for human life.”
Under the Safe Games Illinois Act, “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 Safe Games Illinois Act, in conjunction with the Safe Games Illinois website, will give parents the tools they need to effectively monitor their kids’ video games,” said Deb Perryman, Safe Games Illinois Task Force member and Streamwood, Illinois Teacher of the Year. “This legislation will help create safer communities while not overburdening the video game industry.”
“Research shows that violent and sexually explicit video games can negatively impact young and impressionable children,” said Christine Westerlund, head of the Safe Games Illinois Task Force. “Restricting and limiting exposure to the lurid, realistic content of these video games is good for the children of Illinois."
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.
“These games are really interactive, virtual reality training films on how to commit murder, rape, robbery and other serious felonies,” said Paul Caprio, Director of Family-Pac, one of Illinois’ leading pro-family organizations. “They are, in effect ‘elective High School courses’ in how to violate our most serious criminal statutes catering to young people with emotional maturity and behavioral problems.”
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 State Rep. Paul Froehlich (R-Schaumburg) and 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.
State Senator Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) will be the lead sponsor of this legislation in the Senate.