Video Gamer Blasts Illinois Governor




Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been making headlines as of late, pushing a bill that would criminalize the sale of certain video games to minors.  True, there are some video games out there that may not be appropriate for children to play without their parent's permission, but the reason behind this bill is not to protect children.  Let's look at the governor's credibility on this issue.

Firstly, Governor Blagojevich was a member of the US House of Representatives back in 1999 when a bill, very similar to the one he now supports, was proposed that would have regulated the very same video games he is trying to regulate today, but Blagojevich voted against it.  Why vote against it in 1999 but support it today?  The governor didn't have an answer to this question (and it seemed like he totally forgot he voted against the similar bill in 1999) so he had his spokespeople answer it for him instead:

"There were some good things in that amendment. The problem is there were too many bad things," said Rebecca Rausch, a Blagojevich spokeswoman. "You'd be 100 percent inaccurate if you called (the new campaign) a flip-flop."

I'm sorry, but I am 100 percent sure this is a flip-flop.  The spokeswoman went on to say the 1999 bill wasn't "tough enough" for Blagojevich to vote for it.  The irony here is that the governor voted against the bill only because it wasn't "tough enough", yet members of the Illinois General Assembly voted for the current bill even though some of them have already admitted it is unconstitutional.  So if a bill isn't "tough enough", vote against it, but if the bill is unconstitutional, vote for it.  Yup, that's politics for you!

The governor has repeatedly stated that he doesn't plan on going after the movie industry, which seems strange at first.  He says this video game bill is designed to give parents the opportunity to make the final decision as to what video games their children can and can't play.  Why doesn't the governor feel parents should also have the opportunity to make the final decision as to what movies their children can and can't watch?  Chances are, if a parent cares about the video games their children play (and I hope is every parent), that parent also cares about the movies their children watch, the television shows they view, the music CDs they listen to, the books they read, etc.  The governor thus far has given us two reasons (excuses) as to why he doesn't plan on regulating the movie industry.

The first reason (excuse) he gives is the movie industry polices itself just fine.  He points to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report that states video games fall into the hands of children easily, which is why he feels this legislation is needed.  The Commission's report says children are able to purchase M (mature) rated video games 69% of the time without parental permission, and the governor uses this number to justify the regulation of video games.  If the governor knows how to read, he would notice that the very same Commission's report states children are able to purchase R (restricted) rated DVD movies 81% of the time without parental permission (click here to see that report for yourself).  The numbers are definitely troubling, but 81% is greater than 69% (if the governor doesn't see that, he should've paid more attention in math class).  Children are also successful 36% of the time in purchasing R rated theater tickets without parent's permission, according to the same report.  This doesn't sound like the movie industry is policing itself just fine as the governor would like us to believe, so why claim the video game bill shouldn't include the regulation of movies?  No sting operation has ever been done to see if children can get their hands on R rated movies.  Illinois Representative Paul D. Froehlich (R-Schaumburg) conducted a sting operation and claimed children can purchase M rated video games, yet for some reason, failed to conduct a sting operation to make sure children couldn't get their hands on R rated movies or music CDs with warning labels on them in the same stores.  Why conduct no sting operation on movies and music CDs if you have the chance to prove to us children can't get their hands on R rated movies and music CDs with warning labels on them?  It seems like they know children could get their hands on those types of materials but they don't want us to know about it.  Not only does the Commission's report show children can get their hands on violent movies, but logically, it makes more sense for children to be able to get their hands on R rated movies more often than M rated games.  Movies cost $10-$15, while video games can cost anywhere from $40-$60.  The $40-$60 price range is much greater than the $10-$15, and thus, a game would be less affordable to the average child (once again, if the governor doesn't see that, he should've paid more attention in math class), which means if little Johnny has Grand Theft Auto, he got the game from mom and dad.  This bill doesn't stop mom and dad from purchasing a game like Grand Theft Auto for their child anyway.

The second reason (excuse) the governor gives is the old "interactive vs. passive" argument.  He says video games are interactive ("push buttons") and therefore dangerous, while movies are passive and therefore, not dangerous.  The governor must have failed to review the recent court rulings that threw out similar bills around the country.  The Honorable Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit ruled "[m]aybe video games are different. They are, after all, interactive. But this point is superficial, in fact erroneous. All literature (here broadly defined to include movies, television, and the other photographic media, and popular as well as highbrow literature) is interactive; the better it is, the more interactive. Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader's own. Protests from readers caused Dickens to revise Great Expectations to give it a happy ending, and tourists visit sites in Dublin and its environs in which the fictitious events of Ulysses are imagined to have occurred. The cult of Sherlock Holmes is well known." 

The ruling continues: "[t]here is no indication that the games used in the studies are similar to those in the record of this case or to other games likely to be marketed in game arcades in Indianapolis. The studies do not find that video games have ever caused anyone to commit a violent act, as opposed to feeling aggressive, or have caused the average level of violence to increase anywhere. And they do not suggest that it is the interactive character of the games, as opposed to the violence of the images in them, that is the cause of the aggressive feelings. The studies thus are not evidence that violent video games are any more harmful to the consumer or to the public safety than violent movies or other violent, but passive, entertainments. It is highly unlikely that they are more harmful, because ‘passive’ entertainment aspires to be interactive too and often succeeds."  Blagojevich has said he reviewed the court rulings in order to come up with a better bill that would survive a Constitutional challenge, but if he did indeed look through previous court rulings, how then did he not come across these perfectly written portions of the court's ruling?

Another reason why the "interactive vs. passive" argument has no merit is because the governor has stated violence in video games should be regulated and treated like pornography.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but when we regulate pornography, do we care if the pornographic material is interactive or not before regulating it?  A Playboy magazine is not interactive (according to the governor's definition of interactive), but it is still regulated.  If we adopted the governor's views, pornographic magazines, movies, and other passive pornographic materials would all be accessible to children.  If he wants violence to be treated like pornography, he should be willing to go after violence regardless of where it is found (movies, books, literature, magazines, newspapers, etc), which is what we do with pornographic material.  The governor has chosen not to go after other violent material, opting only to attack video games, and claiming it is equal to regulating pornography.  Nonsense.  The funny thing is Rebecca Rausch (his spokeswoman) said that in 2001 "Blagojevich co-sponsored legislation requiring violent TV programming be shown late at night when children would less likely be watching", but the governor must have flip-flopped (once again) because now he says only interactive material is "harmful" to children.  If he feels only interactive violence is bad for children, then why did his spokeswoman brag about the governor wanting to regulate violence on TV, which the governor considers passive and, therefore, harmless to children? 

The governor is extremely misinformed about video games, and you can clearly see this in his State of the State Address where he says "[f]or the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy pornography, for the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy cigarettes, for the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy alcohol, we shouldn’t allow them to go to stores and buy video games – video games that teach them to do the very things we put people in jail for – pick up prostitutes, join street gangs, kill police officers, even assassinate President Kennedy."  The game he is referring to at the end there is JFK Reloaded, an offensive game created by a Scottish firm in the UK and posted up on the internet.  The governor doesn't want children to go to stores to buy an offensive game where you assassinate President Kennedy, yet he doesn't realize this game is not even sold in stores.  How can children buy this "game" in the stores if the game isn't even sold in stores?  What is most troubling is that the same statement the governor has made in his State of the State Address (and made himself look foolish) has also been echoed by other politicians, like California Assemblymember Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), as well as legislators in North Carolina, when justifying the regulation of video games.  If a game that was created and posted on the Internet is good enough for the governor to regulate the video game industry, I can't imagine what he would do if he reads this article (maybe he will wind up regulating the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune newspapers). 

Another example of the governor's ignorance is found on his new website (  The governor has a top 10 list of the most violent/sexually explicit games, and ranks Doom 3 as the number 1 most violent game on the market today.  The irony here is that the bill the governor supports only targets "realistic human on human violence", but Doom 3 involves shooting at aliens.  The number 1 most violent video game on the governor's website will not even be regulated according to the bill he supports.  Why place it at number 1 when it won't even be regulated anyway?

The ignorance doesn't end there.  Recently, Illinois Senator Deanna Demuzio (who sponsored the Senate version of the bill) claimed "[v]ideo games are not art or media.  They are simulations, not all that different from the simulations used by the U.S. military in preparation for war."  Pac-man, Super Mario, and Tetris are used by the military to prepare for war, apparently.  The last I checked, the military uses simulations to work on teamwork and decision-making skills, which doesn't seem to warrant government regulation.  I don't know what Ms. Demuzio is implying here, but I think she doesn't want children to do things the military does.  I'm sure members of the military go through vigorous exercises to get in top shape for battle, which means Ms. Demuzio doesn't want children to exercise because that is something "used by the U.S. military in preparation for war."  Hear that, boys and girls?  Stop exercising because that is something the military does.  If Ms. Demuzio feels video games are not art, and thus, they don't convey any message or idea, then she should not be afraid of children who play video games.  It is the very messages and ideas that the games convey, which Ms. Demuzio doesn't like and approve of, that made her sponsor this legislation.  So video games are not art, they don't convey anything to the player, but we need to regulate the games because they convey something to the player that we don't like.  That makes sense.  It might interest you readers to know that the sponsors of this bill took a lot of time and effort in making the bill's scope as narrow as they can.  Now, why would they care to do that if they already felt video games are not art and are not forms of free speech?

This bill, unfortunately, will be signed by the governor soon.  Courts all across the country have thrown out bills identical to this one, ruling it is a violation of First Amendment rights, and of course, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.  But the good news is that this bill will definitely be thrown out as well.  The governor's job approval rating has been down the drain.  He wants to raise it up a bit.  This is why he attacks video games.  It is easy to see what is behind the governor's crusade against video games.  Politicians found out in the last presidential election that morality and family values were important to many voters.  Attacking video games shows the voters that the governor considers morality and family values important (isn't it ironic that he proposed this legislation weeks after the presidential election?).  If the purpose of this bill is to give parents the opportunity to decide what games their children play, as the governor states, there is no reason (or excuse) the governor can give that would justify why he thinks parents shouldn't have the opportunity to decide what movies their children watch.  Illinois legislators have already said this bill is a publicity stunt and the governor is only interested in the polls.  I couldn't agree more.

I sense a governor who not only wants to be re-elected governor of Illinois, but a person who is strongly considering a run for the presidency.  Attacking the movie industry (Hollywood) may end up costing him campaign contribution and fundraiser money if and when he decides to run for president.  A bill that is nothing more than a headline grabbing publicity stunt, based on pathetic, correlational studies that don't prove video games are harmful to anyone, based on a group like the National Institute on Media and the Family which isn't very trustworthy (read my letter to this group here), based on a senate sponsor who doesn't seem like she knows anything about video games, costing taxpayers tons of money once this bill is thrown out of court, will hopefully cost the governor future elections, rather than help him win any.

Illinois residents should do themselves a favor and make sure to vote against Rod Blagojevich if he runs for re-election.  The rest of the public should also do themselves a favor by voting against Blagojevich if and when he decides to run for president.


David Polus is a graduate student and a long time video gamer.  He has played video games for almost 20 years, and has developed his own video games (independent/personal projects).

UPDATE! - A second article on this topic has been posted. Click here to read it.