WASHINGTON, D.C. — The governor of Illinois on Dec. 16 proposed legislation that would make it a crime for retailers to sell violent or sexually graphic videogames to minors. It is the first state bill ever to try policing videogames to make sure those with mature themes don’t fall into the hands of kids.
The introduction of two bills by Gov. Rod Blagojevich follows the recent release of two particularly violent “M” or mature-labeled titles, “Grand Theft: San Andreas” and “Kennedy Reloaded.” Both games have raised the stakes in an ongoing debate that pits parents’ groups and state and federal lawmakers against the videogame industry.
In “San Andreas,” the “hero” vows to avenge his mother’s murder and restore glory to his neighborhood gang. Players rack up points by gunning down police, committing carjackings, burglarizing homes and dealing in other underworld activities. Released in October, it instantly became the year’s best-seller, part of a series of “Grand Theft Auto” games that has sold more than $32 million over the past few years.
The “Kennedy” game allows players to participate in a recreation of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Sen. Edward P. Kennedy, D-Mass., and longtime videogame critic Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., have both called the game “despicable.”
If approved by the Illinois Legislature — and upheld in the courts — the bills would make it a misdemeanor to sell or rent sexually graphic or violent games to anyone younger than 18, punishable by as much as one year in prison and a $5,000 fine per offense.
Neither Blagojevich nor federal lawmakers say they want to put the chains of censorship on adults who are drawn to such dubious fare, but they say they’re fed up with lax selling practices at outlets that put such product in the hands of children.
The Entertainment Software Assn. (ESA) is against the bill. The trade group quotes Federal Trade Commission data that put the onus of policing content on parents, not retailers.
In a written statement, ESA president Douglas Lowenstein says: “The proposal outlined by the governor is almost certainly unconstitutional, as virtually identical laws have been struck down by several federal courts, including the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals which covers Illinois.
“The governor has also misrepresented the effectiveness of industry self-regulation. The fact is that the Federal Trade Commission reported that parents are involved in the purchase and rental of games 83% of the time. In other words, when kids get mature-rated games, it is usually from mom and dad. The governor’s proposal is therefore a bill searching for a problem.”
The statement adds, “What we need is not a law regulating game sales but a concerted, cooperative effort to ensure parents make informed purchasing decisions for their families.”