Indianapolis Takes on Violence in Video Games

By Campbell, Steven | Nation's Cities Weekly, November 25, 2002 | Go to article overview

Indianapolis Takes on Violence in Video Games


Campbell, Steven, Nation's Cities Weekly


In Indianapolis, city leaders no longer think of the violence on display in many video arcades as just fun and games.

Mayor Bart Peterson is leading a citywide campaign to educate parents about violent video games and encourage self-monitoring by video arcades within the city--all part of a broad effort to shield minors from exposure to media messages that many fear contribute to a culture of violence among youth.

"It simply isn't right for young children to be exposed to unfettered bloodshed and destruction," Peterson says. "By educating parents and children about the effects of media violence, our community can come together to fight negative influences, with or without a city ordinance."

Some of the initial steps taken by the mayor and Indianapolis City-County Council--including passage of a groundbreaking city ordinance to restrict minors' access to violent games in video arcades--have sparked considerable controversy and legal challenges. Even in the face of legal setbacks, however, Indianapolis has pushed forward with appeals to parents and arcade operators within the city.

A roundtable discussion on the topic of violent video games featuring a presentation by Mayor Peterson will be held during the upcoming Congress of Cities in Salt Lake City.

City Ordinance

In 2000, Peterson proposed an ordinance requiring businesses to label coin-operated games featuring graphic violence or strong sexual content and prohibiting children under 18 from playing them without parental consent. Indianapolis was the first city in the nation to pass such an ordinance.

The ordinance was passed unanimously by the City-County Council in July 2000 and was slated to take effect September 1, 2000.

However, the video game industry filed suit against the city in August 2000 and blocked the city from putting the ordinance into action.

An initial district court ruling upheld the Indianapolis ordinance, but that decision was subsequently reversed on appeal. Last fall, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, allowing the appellate court decision striking down the ordinance to stand.

City Response to Court Decision

In response to the Supreme Court's decision not to consider, the city has begun keeping tabs on "red-sticker" video games--games that feature murder, bludgeoning, graphic sex, decapitation, dismemberment and mutilation--in licensed arcades and "amusement locations." The city will make a list of these games available to parents who request it.

"I was disappointed that the Supreme Court didn't hear our case, but passing our law has raised awareness of violent video games not only in our community, but also across the entire nation," Peterson said. "I have always vowed to protect children from negative influences, regardless of the outcome of our legal effort."

The "red-sticker" system is a part of the "Coin-Operated Video Game Parental Advisory System," which was devised by the industry itself--the American Amusement Machine Association, Amusement and Music Operators Association, and International Association for the Leisure & Entertainment Industry.

How to Keep Tabs on Video Games

The mayor's office is instituting a three-step procedure to keep tabs on violent video games:

1. The city controller, the office that licenses arcades, will write to all licensees, requesting--though not requiring--a list of all red-sticker games on their premises. It will ask for responses within 30 days.

2. Then, the city will compile a "red-sticker resource list." This list will note if the operator voluntarily responded and if the operator uses the Parental Advisory System. If the operator uses the Parental Advisory System, the list will then indicate the number and names of red-sticker games. If the operator does not use the system, the list will indicate which of its games appear on the industry's own list of red-sticker games. …

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