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Judge zaps state law on video games

Illinois- Dealing a defeat to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, [pictured] a federal judge on Friday struck down a state law that would ban the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors.

In a ruling the video-game industry had said was inevitable, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled that the law, which was to take effect Jan. 1, violated constitutional protections on freedom of speech.

The governor said the ruling would be appealed.

State efforts to ban sexually explicit games went too far, Kennelly wrote in a 53-page opinion. The judge said the state came “nowhere near” proving that a ban on violent games would help prevent real-world violence by children.

Industry officials praised the ruling and ripped Blagojevich, who engaged in a high-profile campaign for the law’s passage.

“We said a year ago when the governor of Illinois proposed this statute… that it would be a shame to waste the time and money of Illinois’ taxpayers on a political exercise,” said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, which sued to overturn the law.

But Blagojevich said, “This battle is not over.” In a prepared statement, he said “parents should be able to expect that their kids will not have access to excessively violent and sexually explicit video games without their permission.”

The law would have made sales of violent or sexually explicit video games to minors, such as the wildly popular “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. The video games still would have been available to adults.

The Democratic governor proposed the measure almost a year ago.

The legislature overwhelmingly approved it earlier this year, even though some supporters said they believed it was unconstitutional.

Blagojevich on Friday continued to compare the targeted video games to pornography, alcohol and tobacco, which cannot be sold to minors.

“It only makes sense to keep video games that are full of graphic violence and sex out of their hands as well,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich said new research shows the games have a detrimental impact on children’s development.

But the judge agreed with industry lawyers who said the evidence was slim. At most, he said, research showed that minors who played violent games had a “slightly increased level of aggressive thoughts and behavior,” compared to those who did not.

Still, Kennelly said that, based on the studies, it was “impossible to know” if the games caused those thoughts or if “aggressive children may also be attracted to violent video games.”

The judge also said the law was too vague in defining what forms of violence were banned, especially when the fictional victims included “aliens, zombies [and] mutants.”

David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said retailers are doing a better job of making sure youths aren’t able to buy video games rated for mature gamers. Vite also promoted the industry’s voluntary rating system.

“We want parents to know about the rating system and help us police the brothers and nephews and cousins who are buying these games for younger kids,” he said.

Vite also said it was obvious the law was unconstitutional, but that legislators voted for it because of its potential political benefits.

“It’s a great day for the Constitution,” Vite said.

“What was done here was very good politics but very bad law. And it’s just unfortunate that the taxpayers had to pay the bill for this.”

 

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