Illinois Governor Rod. R. Blagojevich has signed into law the Safe Games Illinois Act, which prohibits the sale of violent and sexually explicit games to minors. The act was approved in May
by the legislature, and has now been made official.
Like the similar bill
proposed by California Senator Leland Yee, the Safe Games Illinois Act would require retailers to use warning labels in addition to the existing ESRB labels, as well as post signs within stores explaining the ESRB rating system. Sale of offending games to minors will earn stores a $1,000 fine on a petty offense, while failure to post explanatory signage will draw a $500 fine for the first three violations and $1,000 for each subsequent count.
"This law makes Illinois the first state in the nation to ban the sale and rental to children of violent and sexually explicit video games," said Gov. Blagojevich. "This law is all about empowering parents and giving them the tools they need to protect their kids. And giving them the ability to make decisions on the kinds of games their kids can play."
The governor is technically incorrect in one respect; other states such as Indiana and Washington have previously banned access to violent and sexually explicit games for minors, but the laws are no longer in effect due to court rulings that the bills were unconstitutional.
Immediately following the bill's passing, The Entertainment Software Association, alongside the Video Software Dealers Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association announced that they will be challenging the Safe Games Act in court.
"I'm confident the court will affirm our position," said ESA President Doug Lowenstein. "There is already a precedent-setting ruling from the Seventh Circuit, which includes Illinois, establishing the unconstitutionality of this type of statute - and the facts, the science, the law, and the U.S. Constitution have not changed since that decision."
Lowenstein continued: "This law will have a chilling effect on free speech. It will limit First Amendment rights not only for Illinois’ residents, but for game developers and publishers, and for retailers who won’t know what games can and cannot be sold or rented under this vague new statute."
The ESA's statement also contends that supporters of the Illinois bill have ignored the effectiveness of industry self-regulation and the already high levels of involvement by parents in deciding what games are right for their children. The trade body cites FTC and other internal studies indicating that 90% of parents parents say they always or sometimes pay attention to the video games their children play, showing that, in the ESA's words: "When kids get Mature rated games, it is usually from Mom and Dad."
Until the outcome of the pending case is resolved, the Safe Games Act is scheduled to become effective January 1, 2006.