Illinois Violent Game Bill Ruled Unconstitutional
Judge Matthew S. Kennelly, United States District Judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, has handed down a permanent injunction halting the implementation of the new Illinois state law that would restrict video game sales.
This follows the bill's signing into law back in July
by Illinois Governor Rod. R. Blagojevich, and an immediate filing against the law by The Entertainment Software Association, alongside the Video Software Dealers Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
The Safe Games Illinois Act would have required retailers to use warning labels in addition to the existing ESRB labels, as well as post signs within stores explaining the ESRB rating system. Sale of offending games to minors will earn stores a $1,000 fine on a petty offense, while failure to post explanatory signage will draw a $500 fine for the first three violations and $1,000 for each subsequent count.
The ESA sought relief from the state’s Violent Video Games Law and Sexually Explicit Video Games Law, arguing before the court that these statutes were unconstitutionally vague and challenged the research used to support the laws. Douglas Lowenstein, president of the ESA, which represents U.S. computer and video game publishers, issued this statement in response:
“We said a year ago when the Governor of Illinois proposed this statute that the court would strike down this law, and that it would be a shame to waste the time and money of Illinois’ taxpayers on a political exercise. Today’s decision proves that prediction was accurate in all respects. It’s unfortunate that the money and time that could’ve been used to help Illinois families and children were wasted. This is the fifth decision of this type. It’s our hope that politicians will start to work cooperatively with the industry by helping parents in ways that are constitutional, effective, and sensible. We again assert that between the powerful tools of reliable ESRB ratings, parental education, and now with the recent announcement that all next generation consoles will have parental controls, there is a wealth of ways that those concerned can ensure that children do not have access to inappropriate games.”
In his decision, Judge Kennelly found fault with the state’s argument that legislation is the answer to protecting children from inappropriate media. He wrote that, "If controlling access to allegedly 'dangerous' speech is important in promoting the positive psychological development of children, in our society that role is properly accorded to parents and families, not the State."
Accprding to the ESA's statement on the matter, the court found the testimony of the state’s key witnesses, noted video game critics Dr. Craig Anderson and Dr. William Kronenberger, to be completely unpersuasive. Upon review of the science the government offered, the court ruled, “Defendants have failed to present substantial evidence showing that playing violent video games causes minors to have aggressive feelings or engage in aggressive behavior...With these limited findings, it is impossible to know which way the causal relationship runs: it may be that aggressive children may also be attracted to violent video games.”
In addition, the judge found “... that Dr. Kronenberger’s studies cannot support the weight he attempts to put on them via his conclusions. The defendants have offered no basis to permit a reasonable conclusion that...minors who play violent video games are more likely to ‘[e]xperience a reduction of activity in the frontal lobes of the brain which is responsible for controlling behavior.” Finally, the judge determined that, “the state may have a compelling interest in assisting parents with regulating the amount of media violence consumed by their children, but it does not have a compelling interest in singling out video games in this regard. In fact, the underinclusiveness of this statute – given that violent images appear more accessible to unaccompanied minors in other media – indicates that regulating violent video games is not really intended to serve the proffered purpose."
Although this win is notable for the ESA and its allies, further legal action is still pending in Michigan
and in California
, among other states, and with Senators Clinton and Lieberman introducing the Family Entertainment Protection Act
into U.S. Congress in the near future, the game industry continues to labor under significant legislation-based restriction threats.