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A Push to Restrict Sales of Video Games

Illinois Governor Seeks to Prevent Minors From Purchasing 'Adult Material'

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page A08

CHICAGO. Dec. 15 -- Decrying violence in fast-selling video games, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) wants Illinois to make it illegal for anyone younger than 18 to buy violent or sexually explicit games. Among the targets would be the Grand Theft Auto series, Halo 2 and Mortal Kombat.

Blagojevich criticized the $7 billion video game industry for failing to find better ways to keep "adult material out of the hands of minors" and cited evidence that many production companies in the intensely competitive business marketed violent games to boys younger than 17.

"This is all about protecting our children until they are old enough to protect themselves," Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) said of planned legislation. (Randy Squires -- AP)

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"This is all about protecting our children until they are old enough to protect themselves," said Blagojevich in a written statement. "There's a reason why we don't let kids smoke or drink alcohol or drive a car until they reach a certain age and level of maturity."

Blagojevich said the legislation would define "violent" games as those in which characters physically hurt one another. "Sexually explicit" games would be those featuring nudity that "predominantly appeals to the prurient interest of the player."

The video game industry counters that it sets its own standards and informs buyers -- overwhelmingly parents and other adults -- about the content of the games. Efforts by St. Louis County and Indianapolis to regulate various kinds of video games have been rejected as unconstitutional by federal appeals courts.

"We think as an industry we can regulate ourselves," said Gail Markels, general counsel of the Entertainment Software Association, who asserted that the industry is "voluntarily making great strides."

Blagojevich, who intends to announce his plans formally on Thursday, is the latest in a long line of politicians to challenge violence and sexual content in the audio and video world. Others include Tipper Gore, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael K. Powell.

The focus on video games is relatively recent. Their growing popularity and the ever-intensifying competition for market share among adolescent consumers have prompted producers to create more complex narratives and more dramatic flourishes. Many include sex and death.

"The games are getting more and more violent every year. Now the kids can, in Grand Theft Auto, visit a prostitute and then kill her if they don't want to pay her," said Joanne Cantor, professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "I'm convinced that violent video games do contribute to adolescents becoming more violent, having more hostile feelings and more desensitization."

"I don't believe in censorship, but I do believe it's appropriate to make it difficult to acquire certain harmful things," added Cantor, author of a children's book about coping with media violence.

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