If an Illinois lawmaker has their way, then Grand Theft Auto and other violent video games could soon be “banned” in that state. Why? Well, along with the usual moral panic excuses, it seems that Rep. Marcus C. Evans, Jr. believes GTA could be partially responsible for recent Chicago crime waves.
This proposal (House Bill 3531) is actually an amendment to a 2012 law that prohibits the sale of certain video games to minors. Under the new bill, restrictions would be expanded to prevent all sales of what the documents refer to as “violent video games.”
In the bill, a violent video game is described as a game that “allows a user or player to control a character within the video game that is encouraged to perpetuate human-on-human violence in which the player kills or otherwise causes serious physical or psychological harm to another human or an animal.” As you have probably gathered, that’s a vague definition that covers a lot of ground and a lot of games.
However, there is one game that Rep. Marcus C. Evans, Jr. has referenced most often as part of his ongoing push to get the amendment passed.
“Grand Theft Auto and other violent video games are getting in the minds of our young people and perpetuating the normalcy of carjacking,” Evans says. “Carjacking is not normal and carjacking must stop.”
Why is Evans so focused on the “not normal” (thanks for clarifying that one, Mark) crime of carjacking? Well, it seems that auto theft is on the rise in Chicago. CPD reports from January claim that police in the area responded to 218 carjackings in January 2021. For what it’s worth, 2020 was also a banner year for carjackings in Chicago as the number of auto theft cases that were reported that year more than doubled the previously reported 2019 figures.
The amendment is supported by Chicago’s Early Walker who started Operation Safe Pump: a program designed to protect gas stations, shopping centers, and other highly-targeted areas from carjacking attempts. Much like Evans, Walker, believes that banning sales of GTA and similar titles could help slow the rising crime numbers.
“I feel like this game has become a huge issue in this spectrum,” Walker said. “When you compare the two, you see harsh similarities as it relates to these carjackings.”
Does this amendment have a chance of being passed? Well, you should never say never, but if previous attempts at passing similar laws are any indication, then it’s highly unlikely that this bill will gain much traction. Beyond the many, many, many, studies we could point you to which find that the correlation between violent video games and real-life violent acts is thin at best, the fact is that widespread media like this one almost never get passed. Here’s what former Supreme Court Justice Scalia wrote in response to a 2011 attempt to restrict the sales of violent video games in California:
“Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”
While you may wonder if the specific rise in carjackings could make it easier to identify GTA as a “problem,” that doesn’t seem likely. Reports regarding the rise of crimes in Chicago and other major cities across America in 2020 and early 2021 point to a variety of factors and video games are not among them. Furthermore, there’s actually been a decrease in certain major crimes across Chicago (and elsewhere) over that same time period.
As is typically the case when these things come up, though, most people can’t help but focus on the fact that we’ve been dancing this same dance ever since Jack Thompson waged war against Mortal Kombat in the ’90s and got more people talking about the impact of video games on the youth of America. Ultimately, though, the conversation never amounted to much more than a bunch of noise.
Speaking of conversations, the internet is having a field day with the idea of GTA being banned in Illinois:
We’ll keep you updated if we learn anything else about this story, but based on what we know now, you’re probably better off holding your breath for the release of GTA 6 than holding your breath for a GTA ban in Illinois.