That iconic black-and-white parental advisory sticker you see on CDs containing violent and/or sexually explicit content may soon be appearing on video games, if the governor of Illinois has his way.
Governor Rod Blagojevich proposed legislation on Thursday (December 16) that would require mature-themed video games to carry warning stickers, while making it illegal for retailers in Illinois to sell or rent those games to minors, according to the governor’s spokesperson. Stores that allow children access to games such as “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” “Halo 2” and “Mortal Kombat: Deception” would face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Likewise, stores that don’t clearly label violent and sexually explicit video games as such would be subject to fines of $1,000 for the first three violations, and $5,000 for future infringements. Stores would also be required to post signs that explained the ratings system already in use by the video-game industry.
The content warnings issued by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board — E for everyone, T for teens and M for mature — are merely parental suggestions. So it is not a criminal offense for stores to sell M-rated games to minors, a practice that a July 2003 report by the Federal Trade Commission determined to be commonplace. Seventy-eight percent of children ages 13 to 16 could buy mature titles easily, according to the FTC study.
The Illinois bills — one for violence and one for sexually explicit content — define violent games as those that realistically depict human-on-human violence and sexually explicit ones as realistically depicting male or female genitalia.
Should the bills pass when lawmakers consider them in mid-January, Illinois would be the first state to prohibit the sale or distribution of violent and sexually explicit games to children. Other states have tried, however.
In July, a judge squashed a Washington state ban on violent games because it exclusively targeted games that depicted violence against police officers, which was ruled a violation of free speech. Last year, courts struck down laws in St. Louis County, Missouri, and Indianapolis that required minors to have parental consent before buying or playing mature titles.