Tuesday, Dec. 21


Gov. Blagojevich meets with parents across the state, discusses plan to prohibit sale or distribution of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors

Governor visits Peoria, Decatur to explain his plan to parents; encourages parents to visit www.safegamesIllinois.org to learn more and exchange warnings about video games not appropriate for children          Send a link to a friend

[DEC. 21, 2004]  PEORIA -- Just days after he proposed legislation to 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, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, visited the Greater Peoria YMCA to exchange ideas with central Illinois parents. Right now, the governor explained, despite parents' best efforts to shield their children from violent and sexually explicit video games, nothing under Illinois law specifically prohibits children from buying or renting them.

"When we were growing up, our parents worried about us when we were outside our homes," Gov. Blagojevich said. "They wanted to know what we were doing and who we were hanging around with. But, when we were at home, we were safe. Today, it's much different. Inside the home, our children have access to a lot of new things -- including video games. And, some of these games assault each one of the values we teach our kids. When children play these games, they hold the joysticks and sit at the keyboards. They are the ones that hold the knives, axes and guns. It's the children that practice cutting heads off and rehearse shooting police officers. These games make our kids actual participants -- not just spectators. What we're doing is about protecting our children -- those in our society who grown-ups are supposed to protect."

Last week, the governor announced his plans to introduce two bills during the upcoming legislative session: one to ban the distribution, sale, rental and availability of violent video games to children younger than 18, and another to ban the distribution, sale, rental and availability of sexually explicit video games to children younger than 18. 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.

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 the legislation is specifically intended to protect children.

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.

Various studies demonstrate the negative effect playing violent and sexually explicit video games has on minors. One such study, conducted in 2001 by Stanford University, 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.

In 2003, video games recorded $7 billion in sales in the United States. 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 nine 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.

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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.

But, the FTC 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. In fact, one 1997 marketing plan obtained by the FTC demonstrated that the advertisers knew they were not supposed to market to younger audiences, but because of children's higher susceptibility to advertising, the marketing was targeted to boys between 12 and 17, despite the game being rated M.

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. It is 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.

"Today's parents are playing defense against a multibillion-dollar industry that makes more money by marketing this kind of stuff to children," the governor said. "It's not that this is out there and they are running into it -- it's being thrown at them. Just like the tobacco industry did with Joe Camel, marketing cigarettes to kids, the video game industry is marketing sex and violence and morally bankrupt behavior to children. The more they market it, the more money they make."

During his stop in Peoria, Gov. Blagojevich encouraged parents to visit www.safegamesIllinois.org to learn more about the effect playing violent and sexually explicit games has on children's behavior. The website offers parents the opportunity to report video games they feel are inappropriate for their kids and to report Illinois retailers that are selling violent and sexually explicit video games to minors. Website visitors can also register their own comments and sign an online petition in support of the governor's legislation to ban the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors.

"Let me be clear about what it is we are trying to do," the governor said. "It's all about protecting our children. We're not telling adults what they can or can't do. We're not calling for an outright ban on video games. They will still be legal for purchase for adults. But, we have certain standards in our society on what's appropriate for children and what's not. Things that will hurt kids, we don't allow. Kids can't choose to smoke until they reach a certain age. They can't choose to drink alcohol until they reach a certain age. Kids can't drive cars until they reach a certain age. We protect our children until they are old enough to protect themselves and make their own decisions."

[News release from the governor's office]

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