Senior Advisor to Governor Responds to My Concerns

Awhile back I had sent a letter to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. I received a generic form letter that didn’t address any of my concerns. I sent a second email to Safe Games Illinois asking someone to answer my questions. I figured I would receive a response from someone other than the Governor, but not the Senior Advisor!

Anyway, here’s the content of the letter (misspellings or other typos are likely mine):

Mr. Berardi:

Thank you for your two letters concerning the Governor’s Safe Games Illinois initiative. Although this administration may disagree with many of the arguments in your letters, we appreciate your interest in the issue.

You outline four broad concerns in your letter and I will try to address them one at a time.

Your first question deals with existing laws that limit minors’ access to materials such as books or movies with violent or sexually explicit content. Illinois law already restricts minors’ access to certain harmful material, as dictated by the state’s Harmful Material Statute (720 ILCS 5/11-21). This law prohibits minors from buying a broad range of sexually explicit material – materials such as pornographic books or magazines. So laws do in fact exist that prohibit children’s access to media other than video games.

Your second concern questions why the Blagojevich administration is singling out violent and sexually explicit material in video games and not in other media that may be potentially harmful to children. It has become painfully apparent that video game retailers are not self-regulating and that they continue to sell adult-rated video games to minors. In October of 2003 the Federal Trade Commission released a study which found that underage teens were able to purchase M-Rated games 69% of the times they tried. A press release for this study is available on the web http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2003/10/shopper.htm. Last January State Representative Paul Froehlich (R-Shaumburg) sent a 15-year-old boy to 15 retail stores in the Northwest Suburbs and found that this boy was able to purchase M-rated games at 11 stores. Whether such inappropriate purchases are part of a widespread problem or not, this administration thinks that no child should be able to purchase these types of video games without his or her parents’ supervision.

Your third concern is regarding the administration’s efforts to educate parents about inappropriate video game content. One of the critical components of the Safe Games Illinois initiative is to educate parents about the harmful effects that violent of sexually explicit video games have on children. A large portion of the Safe Games Illinois website is dedicated to providing parents with information on particularly violent or sexually explicit video games as well as with links to organizations that consistently monitor and rate the various video games that are arriving on the market. Here are three Safe Games links that you might find useful:

Also, one of the mandates of the Safe Games Illinois Task Force, a body comprised of many individuals who are parents, is to educate parents on the harmful effects that violent or sexually explicit video games have on children. It is the opinion of this administration that if parents are educated about the dangers of these video games and their children cannot legally buy these games without parental permission, then violent video games are less likely to be played by an inappropriate audience.

Your final concern dealt with the wording of the propose Safe Games Illinois legislation and the legislation’s definition of violent. The legislation’s current definition of “violent” video games include those games with:

Depictions of or simulations of human-on-human violence in which the player kills, seriously 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.

I don’t think any reasonable interpreation of this definition would exclude children from purchasing age-appropriate games – such as Super Mario Bros or Donkey Kong.

If you have further questions about the bill, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the web site for House Bill 4023, maintained by the Illinois Legislature:

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=4023&GAID=8&GA=94&DocTypeID=HB&LegID=20889&SessionID=50

Thank you again for your letter.

Sincerely,
Sheila Nix
Senior Advisor to the Governor
State of Illinois

I’ll admit that I am ignorant of the laws regarding materials deemed harmful for children. According to Sheila, this law prohibits children from being sold pornographic books or magazines. So, where’s the analogous violent content law that does the same, which is what I was mainly concerned about?

The statistics they were using were presented in a way to insinuate that children are buying violent video games in droves or that it is an epidemic. For example, in this letter “underage teens were able to purchase M-Rated games 69% of the times they tried”. Ok, but how about commenting on studies that say that it isn’t happening that often in real life? That children DO tend to get their parents’ permission or have their parents present when they buy these games?

Another choice quote: “Whether such inappropriate purchases are part of a widespread problem or not, this administration thinks that no child should be able to purchase these types of video games without his or her parents’ supervision.” Ok, and because the motion picture industry is so effective at self-regulation, we won’t pass a similar law to stop the one or two instances when a child CAN get into an R-rated movie? I mean, even if it isn’t part of a widespread problem, doesn’t this administration think that no child should be able to view such movies? Perhaps I’m being petty, but I think the example is analogous.

And regarding the wording of the law in question, I’ve played games where the main character dies as a result of non-human characters or where the main character isn’t human. Are those allowed to depict death or dismemberment without falling under this law?

Someone in the ASP games newsgroup pointed out that if a law like this is passed, who pays for the rating system? How much would it cost to get a rating on a game to sell it in Illinois? How long will it take to get the rating? A mainstream game might have a million dollar budget and so the publisher might consider the cost to be a drop in the bucket, but an indie title does not usually have the means. Whatever the cost is, it will be significant to the indie. In any case, such a requirement would be harmful to the industry while having only dubious arguments to support it at the most.

Looks like I have another letter to write.

3 comments to Senior Advisor to Governor Responds to My Concerns

  • Although it took you some effort to get an answer, the answer you did receive, seems to take your concerns seriously and does a fair job of clarifying the standpoint of the Safe Games Illinois Task Force. Somehow, I never expected that.

    I think you are right in pointing out that the task force selected only statistics that benefit their view; such is the nature of statistics, sadly. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the initiave itself is a good one. The people behind it seem to genuinely want to raise awareness for this issue with parents and other parties. Your goals aren’t that different, it’s just that you disagree on the way to get there.

    I agree that forcing developers/publishers to pay for a rating is very bad for indies. Since you didn’t mention that in your previous letters, it might be worth pointing it out to the Safe Games Illinois Task Force.

  • Maybe I’m confused here, but is the proposed legislation (or I guess what has just been signed into law by Gov. Blagojevich) meant to enforce the retailers into enforcing the M-Ratings? Is it simply meant to provide a disinsentive to prevent retailers from breaking the rules? That seems redundant to me, but on another hand, if that disinsentive wasn’t included in the original legislation requiring the gaming industry to label things “mature” in the first place, then I guess this is just the next step to making it work.

    Personally, I dislike the government’s labeling of any kind of artform as “harmful” simply because they don’t like its content. (There is no quantitative research linking video game violence directly to violent behavior in children. Those cases in which video games did have an effect involved already severely disturbed children who never got the psychological treatment they needed in the first place that could have prevented their violent tendencies.)

    Anyway, way to get your voice heard by those in power. I’m glad people who are intelligent enough to argue their points are getting their letters through to the right people. Keep up the good work!

  • […] Last week I learned from GamePolitics.com that the Illinois Governor has raided welfare funds to help pay for the ESA’s legal fees after his video game legislation was ruled unconstitutional. I’ve written previously about this law, and I was unsurprised to find that this law was merely pandering to fear. […]

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