At a family restaurant not far from her home, 15-year-old Danielle Shimotakahara recently watched an adult and child playing a violent video game.
“When they played it,” says Shimotakahara, “they seemed to be having the best time of their lives. But it’s basically killing people. Why would you enjoy that?”
That’s an insight into this determined teenager who is waging a campaign against violent video games being available in public places where youngsters can watch them. Her efforts were fueled by a senseless catastrophe involving kids and violence when she was 12—the April 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School.
“My mom helped me write a petition (after Columbine), and I asked my principal if I could put it up by the library in my elementary school to see how many people actually felt the same way I did,” says Shimotakahara. The petition asked businesses serving young people in her hometown of North Bend, Ore.—including restaurants, skating rinks, and bowling alleys—to restrict access by minors to violent video games.
“We got a lot of signatures from kids and parents,” she says. “Then we put the petitions up around the community and we got thousands of signatures.”
Soon after faxing her petition to state and national legislators, Shimotakahara was invited to speak at the state Capitol, where she testified twice. Oregon Sen. Ken Messerle says the North Bend student “brought this issue to the forefront locally, statewide, and nationally. She helped to get an Oregon state resolution passed by the Legislature in 2001. It strongly urges the video-game industry to separate the violent games for young people’s use and code them as we do for movies.”
Shimotakahara also took her cause to the city councils of North Bend (pop. 9,544) and Coos Bay (pop. 15,374). By January 2000, each town had passed resolutions restricting minors’ access to violent video games.
“I was impressed that a girl of her age was so concerned for the future of children,” says state Rep. Joanne Verger. “I think she’s made a real difference in Coos Bay.”
Shimotakahara didn’t stop with the city resolutions. She also campaigned from door to door.
“When she came into my store,” says Teresa Sherwood, co-owner of Dave’s Pizza in North Bend, “she said, ‘I hope you will listen to me because nobody else has been willing to remove the violent video games.’ I was so amazed with her spunk that I was glad to support her. Now we have racing car and sports video games. My vendor scratches his head—the majority of video games are violent.”
When violent games are removed, Shimotakahara awards businesses with a “Cool-No-Violence” sticker she designed in the form of a no-smoking logo, showing a violent video game with the crossed-out sign running through it. During her campaign, she also produced materials that assailed violent video games, including a video, T-shirts, and buttons. When the Prudential Spirit of Community honored her in 2000, Shimotakahara distributed her award—$13,000 worth of books and clothing—to Coos County children and schools.
She has given presentations in a variety of venues, including schools, Rotary Clubs, the Million Mom March in Portland, the United Methodist Western Conference, and a U.S. Senate committee hearing on interactive media violence. Though not particularly fond of public speaking, Shimotakahara’s poise and matter-of-factness help her in spreading the word. She says she is educating people “about what’s really out there, because a lot of people don’t know.”
Nicholas Fowler, 14, a freshman at North Bend High School, where Danielle now attends, attests to her courage and impact. He says many kids don’t agree with her. “But she sticks to what she says. She tries to convince them and does a good job of it.”