AURORA- Surrounded by parents and pre-teens in a public library in Aurora, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed the landmark Safe Games Illinois Act, making Illinois the only state in the nation to ban the sale and rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to children. HB 4023, sponsored by State Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) and State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), won final legislative approval in May. The governor first proposed the Safe Games initiative in December.
"It’s tough being a parent these days. It’s much more difficult than it was when my parents were raising my brother and me. When I was growing up, my mother spent a lot of time worrying about what my brother and I were doing outside of the home – who we were you hanging around with and making sure we weren’t hanging around with the wrong kids. Nowadays, it’s a lot tougher. While the values parents are teaching their kids are very similar, the demands on parents are greater – they’re spending more time outside of the home and there are more dangers coming into the home," said Gov. Blagojevich.
"Parents don’t need government to raise their kids. That’s their job. But government can help them protect their children from influences they may not want their kids exposed to," added Gov. Blagojevich. "This law makes Illinois the first state in the nation to ban the sale and rental to children of violent and sexually explicit video games. This law is all about empowering parents and giving them the tools they need to protect their kids. And giving them the ability to make decisions on the kinds of games their kids can play."
"I introduced this legislation because these games are graphic, offensive, and intended for adults, not children," said Rep. Chapa LaVia. "We are now the only state in the nation to protect our children from these games, and I am grateful to the governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly for showing leadership on this issue."
The Safe Games Illinois Act, House Bill 4023, bans the rental and sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to children younger than 18. Retailers who violate the ban commit a petty
offense and face a fine of $1,000. 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 $500 fine for the first three violations and a $1,000 fine for every subsequent violation.
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.
The danger in giving minors easy access to mature video games was highlighted recently when the Entertainment Software Rating Board changed the rating of the popular Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas from "M" (for mature) to "AO" (Adults Only) when it was discovered that players can acquire software over the Internet that unlocks hidden X-rated material within the game. Under the Safe Games Illinois Act, only adults will be able to purchase Grand Theft Auto and similar mature-themed video games.
"Parents today are up against a multi-billion dollar industry – that peddles violent and sexually explicit video games to children. And when a kid plays the video game, he’s not a spectator – he’s a participant. He’s the one who uses the joystick and the keyboard. He’s the one who takes crack cocaine and feels the video controller simulate what it’s like to be on drugs. He’s the one who engages in simulated sex. He cuts someone’s head off and makes blood spurt from the neck. He’s the killer who laughs at the victim and makes crude sexual comments after being with a prostitute. And, incidentally, he gets extra credit for doing it," the Governor said. "For the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy pornography, for the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy cigarettes, for the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy alcohol, we shouldn’t allow them to go to stores and buy violent and sexually explicit video games – games that teach them to do the very things we put people in jail for."
Under the Safe Games Illinois Act, "violent" games are defined as those that include depictions of or simulations of human-on-human violence in which the player kills or otherwise causes serious physical harm to another human. "Serious physical harm" includes 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.
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 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.
"Our goal has always been to provide a greater measure of protection for our children," said Sen. Demuzio. "I want to thank legislators from both sides of the aisle who have worked extremely hard to implement legislation that will place safeguards on violent video games."
"Until this measure became law," said Parent’s Television Council Executive Director Tim Winter, "retailers had no legal obligation about selling graphic, harmful and severe video games to minors. A ten year old could purchase an adult oriented video game. Many of these games portray the most graphic destruction imaginable, images of violent, sexual, racist and sexist behavior that young, impressionable children just should not see. When games award points for murdering policemen and having sex with prostitutes, our children are receiving a dangerous dose of negative values. We applaud the leadership undertaken by Illinois and know that many other states will soon follow their example."
In December, Governor Blagojevich launched a website for parents,
"With the realization that pornography is now available on popular video games, efforts to educate parents, create policy to protect children, and fund research about children and media have become more important than ever," said Dr. David Walsh, president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family.
"The people of Illinois have acted with compassion and foresight by choosing to protect the physical, mental and social health of children," said Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School. "Research shows that children become anxious, desensitized and aggressive when they use violent media. Video games are effective teaching tools and we need to decide what we want our children to learn. As a pediatrician and a parent, I applaud the governor’s efforts to give parents and responsible adults the tools to raise healthy and safe children in the Information Age."
"Parents are concerned because kids can easily get their hands on these violent and sexually explicit video games. This commonsense, bipartisan bill will prevent that," said Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media. "The video game industry has clearly not done enough to stop the marketing and sales of "M" rated violent video games to kids and I applaud the Governor of Illinois for helping to protect our kid’s future."
HB 4023 is effective January 1, 2006.