Ill. Explicit Video Game Law Declared Unconstitutional

Steve Javors
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a lower court’s ruling that Illinois’ Sexually Explicit Video Game Law (SEVGL) was unconstitutional and too broad.

The Entertainment Software Association, among others, filed suit against the state of Illinois the day after the SEVGL was enacted July 25, 2005, claiming that the law violated the First Amendment. A district court permanently enjoined enforcement of the law, and the state of Illinois sought review. On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the statue was not narrowly tailored.

The Illinois state Legislature enacted the SEVGL, which criminalized the sale of sexually explicit video games to minors, and required vendors of such games to label any sexually explicit game with a four-square-inch label reading “18,” and provide relevant signage within the stores where games are sold.

Critics of the bill felt the definition of content that is deemed “too violent or sexually explicit” for minors is not clearly defined and will be left to the discretion of possibly discriminatory store owners.

The court exposed flaws in the law using the game God of War as an example of the type of content that could have been unfairly categorized as sexually explicit.

“Because the SEVGL potentially criminalizes the sale of any game that features exposed breasts, without concern for the game considered in its entirety or for the game’s social value for minors, distribution of 'God of War' is potentially illegal, in spite of the fact that the game tracks the Homeric epics in content and theme,” the 7th Circuit said. “As we have suggested in the past, there is serious reason to believe that a statute sweeps too broadly when it prohibits a game that is essentially an interactive, digital version of the Odyssey.”

States and communities that have so far considered and then rejected similar legislation include Washington state, Indianapolis, Ind., and St. Louis County, Mo.