By Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich
A gang member drives through a city, shooting police officers, stealing cars, soliciting prostitutes and then having sex with them. He's awarded extra points for beating them up, urinating on them, and throwing them from his car. As a parent, it's one of the last things I'd want my 8-year-old exposed to. Yet, every day, millions of young children spend their afternoons at the controls of video games like this one, simulating acts of murder, dismemberment, decapitation and sexual seduction.
When I grew up, my parents used to worry if I was hanging out with the wrong kid in the neighborhood. Now, our children are spending their free time practicing the same acts that if committed in real life would send them to prison. Touch football and street hockey have been replaced by the Xbox and the joystick. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Halo 2 use many of the same techniques that the United States military uses to train soldiers before they depart for Afghanistan or Iraq -- to help prepare them for hunting and killing the enemy. With reports showing that 92 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 17 are playing video games, as one parent told me the other day, we're competing with video games for the "minds and souls of our children." The video games are winning.
In fact, an Iowa State University study found that exposure to violent video games increases a child's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior. A similar study at Indiana University Medical School tied playing video games with an area of the brain that's directly linked to extreme behavioral disorders. And another recent study found that kids who play violent video games have lower test scores, are more hostile, and get into more arguments with their teachers and other students. It's time we did something about this.
That's why I recently proposed legislation to make Illinois the first state in the nation to prohibit selling and renting excessively violent and sexually explicit video games to children under 18. Right now, there is nothing under Illinois law that prevents our children from going into a store and buying or renting games like Grand Theft Auto, no matter how violent or sexually explicit they may be. And while retailers may argue that they do not sell violent or sexually explicit video games to children, a recent study by the Federal Trade Commission found that 69 percent of teenage boys were able to buy these games without permission from their parents. Video game manufacturers and retailers are putting profits ahead of what's best for our children, and that has to change.
We don't let our children buy cigarettes. We don't let them buy alcohol. We don't let children purchase pornography. So why would we put them in harm's way by allowing them to walk into a store and purchase violent and sexually explicit video games -- games that we suspect can cause them long-term harm?
Parents have enough to worry about already. Making a living, running a household, and doing all of the hard work it takes to raise a family is exhausting enough. Being expected to know the content of each and every video game is too much to ask.
My wife Patti and I both have jobs, and we're doing our best to raise our two young daughters. Our 8-year-old is already more technologically sophisticated than I am. But just because she knows how to download software or program the VCR doesn't mean she has the judgment and maturity to know which video games are appropriate -- especially when video game manufacturers spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year marketing violent and sexually explicit video games to children.
Children need to be taught right from wrong. And telling them they can purchase these video games -- and spend their free time practicing the very things we teach them not to do -- sends exactly the wrong message and reinforces the wrong values.
I know that some interest groups like the ACLU don't like the idea of placing limitations on anything, but when it comes to our children and their well-being, it seems to me that common sense should govern. Parents deserve a fighting chance. This legislation gives it to them.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.