Warning: Above Image Causes Violence

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), an association of computer and video game publishers, won an injunction against the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The ESA sued the CTA in July 2009, challenging the CTA’s recently enacted Ordinance 008-147. The ordinance prohibited any advertisement that markets or identifies a video or computer game rated “Mature 17+” (M) or “Adults Only 18+” (AO).

In granting the injunction, Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer stated that “the advertisements the CTA wishes to ban promote expression that has constitutional value and implicates core First Amendment concerns.”Judge Pallmeyer explained there is a disconnect between the results of the ordinance and the CTA’s goal of restricting expression that indirectly encourages violence. The ordinance is both too broad and too narrow. It is too broad because, according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the regulatory body that assigns computer and video game content ratings and enforces industry-adopted advertising guidelines, video games may be rated “M” or “AO” for a variety of reasons unrelated to violence. For example, a game may be rated as “M” because it has “mature themes” or “strong language,” but it may contain no violence at all. Thus, the ESRB’s rating system is too broad for the CTA’s stated interest.

The ordinance is also too narrow to effectuate the stated purpose in Judge Pallmeyer’s eyes eyes. “Video games consist of only a tiny fraction of the media violence to which children are exposed….Yet the CTA’s ordinance singles out only video game advertisements for regulation, while granting carte blanche to a wide range of advertisements for other forms of media that may depict similar violence….” For instance, a violent R-rated movie would be allowed to advertise on a Chicago bus, but merely the name Grand Theft Auto IV would be prohibited.

Michael D. Gallagher, President and CEO of the ESA was ecstatic: “This ruling is a win for Chicago’s citizens, the video game industry and, above all, the First Amendment.”

The CTA of course can appeal the injunction. Until then, Mr. Gallagher’s association has bravely defended the First Amendment for all of the United States.

— Joe Cesta

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