Chicago Transit Ban on Video-Game Ads Challenged in Court

Rated-M Games Not Allowed, but R Movies Are

By Published on .

YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Chicago public-transit commuters can find out about the latest "Saw" slasher movie or serial-killing-"Dexter" TV episode in advertising on the sides of local buses, but they won't see anything for "Resident Evil" or "Halo" games there. That's because those video games are rated M for mature audiences only, and the Chicago Transit Authority has banned all advertising for mature- and adult-rated such games.

The problems in Chicago began last year when an advertising blitz on CTA buses for 'Grand Theft Auto IV,' known as a particularly violent video game, prompted local media criticism.
The problems in Chicago began last year when an advertising blitz on CTA buses for 'Grand Theft Auto IV,' known as a particularly violent video game, prompted local media criticism. Credit: AP
However, that ordinance is under fire, challenged in a lawsuit filed today by the Entertainment Software Association.

"It's about the principle here, and making sure it's understood that video games are mainstream entertainment that are fully protected by the First Amendment the same as any other entertainment," said Kenneth Doroshow, general counsel for the ESA. Mr. Doroshow said the group had been "trying mightily" for the past eight months to get the CTA to throw out the ordinance voluntarily, but to no avail.

Mr. Doroshow said it doesn't seem to make sense that "you can advertise an R-rated movie that's based on an M-rated game, but you can't advertise the game itself."

Correlation doesn't mean causation
The ESA objects in particular to the apparent reasoning behind the CTA's rule. It's not about objectionable imagery or language in the ads but rather the content of the games, i.e., violent video games lead to violent real-world behavior. While that is a much-disputed conclusion, most research makes the distinction that correlation between video-game violence and real violence is not the same as causation.

The problems in Chicago actually began last year when an advertising blitz on CTA buses for "Grand Theft Auto IV," known as a particularly violent video game, prompted local media criticism. When a TV report questioned the connection between the ad campaign and a heavier-than-usual crime weekend, the CTA pulled the ads. The maker of the game, Take Two, filed a lawsuit. After reaching a settlement, the CTA put the ads back up. However, the controversy also sparked the passage of the ordinance against mature- and adult-rated-video-game ads in January.

The pulled ads did not contain violent images; one featured a man in sunglasses and the video game's name, for example. As Mr. Doctorow pointed out, the independent Entertainment Software Ratings Board oversees the content of games ads and has established rules and regulations about what is acceptable in game advertising.

A CTA spokeswoman said, "CTA has not been served with this suit. However, we believe our ordinance is defensible." She noted the CTA does not allow advertising for alcohol or tobacco products among other things, "and this ordinance is consistent with that long-standing policy."

In this article:
Most Popular