Illinois Governor Seeks Stricter Video Game Laws

Jeff Berg
NAPERVILLE, Ill. — Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed new laws before the Illinois legislature on Thursday that would outlaw the sale or rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors.

The new rules would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to distribute, sell or make available games that depict human-on-human violence or male or female genitals to individuals under the age of 18, punishable by up to one year in prison or a $5,000 fine.

“Parents today face unprecedented challenges in monitoring and protecting their children from harmful influences,” said Blagojevich. “Some of the popular video games on the market right now allow kids to simulate and participate in violent and sexual activities. Soldiers heading to Iraq use simulations like today’s video games in order to prepare for war.”

Among the games targeted by Blagojevich are best-selling “Halo 2” and second best-selling “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

The governor listed several games on his recently launched website, SafeGamesIllinois.org, and explained why each game was objectionable. For example, Blagojevich finds Midway’s “Shadow Hearts” inappropriate because it features sexual innuendo and Eastern mysticism, and “Postal 2,” because the main character suffers from a sexually transmitted disease.

In a written statement Thursday, Blagojevich’s office clarified that games with a redeeming social value that outweigh its prurient appeal would not be deemed “sexually explicit.”

Similar laws have been struck down by courts in the past. In mid-November, a federal judge overturned an Arkansas state law that barred any public venue from shelving material that could be considered “harmful to minors” because it was overbroad and unconstitutional. The court ruled that material inappropriate for a 5-year-old could not necessarily be said to be inappropriate for a 17-year-old.

In 2001, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also struck down an Indianapolis law that restricted minors from accessing violent arcade games, finding that video games are also protected under the First Amendment.

“To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming,” wrote Judge Richard Posner. “It would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.”

The court also noted that fairy tales and classic literature are also often filled with violent images.

According to press reports, the Naperville school district had been asked to arrange the governor’s initial press conference for Wednesday, but then requested to postpone it until Thursday, partially in order to accommodate more national media coverage. Blagojevich’s office denied the claim.