PHAI Publishes Case Study on Denver, CO Regional Transportation Districts Dropping of a Ban on Violent Video Game Advertisements

PHAI documented the 2006 decision by the Denver, Colorado’s Regional Transportation Districts to drop a ban on violent video game advertisements. In the fall of 2006, Rockstar Games launched a national advertising campaign for its “Mature”-rated video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories in advance of the holiday shopping season.

  Advertisements ran on mass transit vehicles in cities across the country including Boston, MA, Denver, CO and Portland, OR.  In response to the advertising campaign in Boston, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (“CCFC”), a Boston-based child advocacy group, successfully orchestrated a campaign to have the Mass Bay Transit Authority (“MBTA”) change its ad policy to prohibit future ads for videogames rated “Mature” or “Adult Only.”  Inspired by the policy change in Boston, in early 2007, the Parents Television Council (“PTC”) in conjunction with CCFC sought to have Denver, Colorado’s Regional Transportation District (“RTD”) amend its ad policy to prohibit future ads for “Mature” and “Adult Only” rated video games.

The RTD initially was receptive to the policy change and referred the policy recommendation to a committee, which voted to recommend the policy. When it came time for the policy to be formally voted on, the Entertainment Software Association (“ESA”), the video game industry association, sent a representative to the RTD Board meeting. At the meeting, the ESA outlined its legal arguments against the policy change. After consulting with legal counsel, the RTD Board voted down the ad policy change

There were several key differences that may have caused success in Boston and failure in Denver. The Boston campaign came first, and the ESA did not get involved. The ESA received some criticism for its failure to prevent the Boston ban and stepped in to prevent the ban from spreading to other cities. While PTC had dealt with the ESA in the past, PTC did not expect ESA involvement in Denver’s particular case. The timing in Boston also may have been a critical factor.

The Boston campaign occurred while the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories ads were still running, which may have led to greater public and media interest. By the time the Denver campaign began, the ads had already finished running and there was less public attention. PTC felt that more public outcry would have been needed to overcome the threat of legal action. Also in Boston, several local politicians and police unions signed the letter requesting the ad policy changes. CCFC and PTC did not elicit the same support from locally known groups in Denver.

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About Mark Gottlieb

Mark Gottlieb joined the staff of the Public Health Advocacy Institute in 1993 after graduating from Northeastern University School of Law. His efforts have focused on researching tobacco litigation as a public health strategy as director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, reducing the harm caused by secondhand tobacco smoke through a variety of legal and policy approaches, fostering scholarship using tobacco industry documents, and, more recently, examining legal and policy approaches to address obesity. He is the Executive Director of the Institute and lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife and three children.