ANNAPOLIS – Wandering into a room where other boys were watching a decapitation video gave her then-8-year-old son nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder, a Hyattsville mother told lawmakers Tuesday.
“I’m not even mad at them,” said Windy Cooler-Stith, 28. “I think they’re victims and that their parents are horribly irresponsible people.”
Stith testified before the House Judiciary Committee on a bill that would use a voluntary rating system created by the video and computer game industry to determine which games are appropriate for minors. Games rated “M” for mature or “AO” for adults only, would be banned for sale to minors, however parents could still purchase the games. The crime would be a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $1,000 and six months in jail.
The games, said the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Justin D. Ross, D-Prince George’s, have “come a long way from Pac-Man.”
“We’re talking about the murder of innocent people,” he said. “This bill is going to give parents back the control.”
The Entertainment Software Rating Board’s voluntary rating system states only those age 17 and older can purchase “M” rated games. However, 77 percent of 14-year-olds purchased such games and 81 percent were not asked their age at the time of purchase, according to a 2004 Federal Trade Commission report.
Cooler-Stith said she doesn’t let her son, Mac Cooler-Stith, 9, play such games. But he was exposed to graphic violence by children who had been desensitized to violence through playing violent games. The other children showed her son a clip of Nicholas Berg’s decapitation in Iraq.
Bill advocates contend research shows that children who play violent video games are anti-social. The games, they say, teach juveniles how to kill.
A lawyer said he is suing several game providers, including Sony and Wal-Mart after an 18-year-old Alabama man shot three police officers in the head after playing hundreds of hours of the game Grand Theft Auto.
The games, Jack Thompson said, “literally program an adolescent to act out in a violent fashion in a blink response.”
Devin Moore shot the officers using “precisely the plan used in Grand Theft Auto,” Thompson said.
“I can keep my child away from these games,” he said. “But another child’s parents might not.”
While many legislators expressed disgust after viewing several game segments on video — including a woman’s decapitation, a man urinating on a woman and a police officer being bludgeoned, doused in gasoline, set aflame and then shot — they said the bill presents multiple issues.
In interviews, co-sponsors Delegate Don Dwyer Jr, R-Anne Arundel, and Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, said they have trouble with the bill’s possible infringement on personal freedoms.
“There are serious constitutional issues,” Dwyer said. “Right now, I will say I will not be able to support the bill.”
Opponents, including Motion Picture Association of America lobbyist George N. Manis, said the bill is unconstitutional because use of the voluntary rating system violates due process in that the state is delegating its legislative authority to an outside entity.
The director of state government affairs for the Entertainment Software Assocation — which represents U.S. companies selling home games — agreed with Manis.
Sally Jefferson also said the bill shouldn’t be passed because there is already a voluntary industrywide program created in the last year to check on the sale of “M” rated games.
Ten other states are considering similar legislation, Ross said. Three court cases on laws banning the sale of video games to minors have been struck down, including one in Washington state where the court ruled a statute was too narrow because it referred only to violence against police.
But while Simmons said he supports the bill and praises Ross for introducing it, it can’t be passed.
He said there must be stronger scientific evidence and not merely anecdotal evidence that such games have violent anti-social ramifications.
“Everything that is patently offensive,” Simmons said, “is not necessarily outside protection of the Supreme Court.”