Update: Lamar Advertising removed the “Duke Nukem Forever” ad after being contacted by the office of City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, which had gotten complaints about it.
Any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors without parental permission. In the meantime, advertisers continue to use L.A.’s public spaces to market such games without apparent concern for the proximity of schools and other places where young people congregate.
The “Duke Nukem Forever” video game marketed on the Lamar Advertising billboard across the street from Westminster Elementary School in Venice has been the target of complaints about its depictions of violence, particularly against woman. In a mode called “Capture the Babe,” game players can kidnap a scantily-clad woman and are encouraged to slap her on the behind if she resists.
In 2005, the California legislature passed a law requiring parental permission for minors wanting to purchase video games deemed to have a high level of violence. That law was immediately challenged in court by the video game industry, and the state has been enjoined from enforcing it while appeals worked their way to the supreme court.
Justices heard arguments in the case last fall, and are expected to issue a ruling before the current court term ends at the end of this month.
“Duke Nukem Forever” is labeled “Mature” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which is defined as suitable for those 17 and older. The following is the board’s description of the game.
This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of Duke Nukem, an action hero who must save Earth from invading aliens. Players use pistols, rail guns, shotguns, explosives, and Duke’s bare hands to attack and kill the alien enemies. The majority of gameplay involves destroying these enemies in frenetic gun and laser battles in order to move on to the next section. Aliens are often decapitated or dismembered when hit, sending large splashes of blood across the ground, surrounding walls, and players’ screen. Some sequences depict more ‘over-the-top’ instances of violence: aliens getting stabbed in the head or impaled; a human soldier bursting into bloody gibs after being tossed through propeller blades. In one sequence, players have the ability to shoot human characters that are trapped in pod-like alien webbing; bodies explode into pieces upon impact. During the course of the game, players enter a strip-club level and view several topless dancers and receive lap dances. A couple of missions within this level require players to recover sex toys and pictures of topless women. A few sequences strongly imply sexual acts: two women appear to perform fellatio on the central character (e.g., raising their heads from his lap)—though there is no actual depiction of the sex act; Duke moans and leans up against the wall of a bathroom stall (furnished with a hole)—it is implied that a sex act (not depicted) occurs. The game also contains several sexual references and innuendo in the dialogue (e.g., ‘I have hungry—you have big egg ro’ for me, Duke,’ ‘If you supply the dancing, I’ll supply the pole,’ and ‘I’ll need something naughty to play with.’). Duke’s comments range from jokes about colon cleansing to several one-liners about sex and female body parts. Bathroom humor includes the ability to urinate in toilets or urinals and/or pick up feces from toilets and throw it against walls. Players can use both steroid pills and beer as power-ups; when beer is consumed, the screen temporarily blurs. The words ‘f**k,’ ‘sh*t,’ ‘c*ck,’ and ‘a*shole’ appear in dialogue and on-screen text.
The Outdoor Advertising Association of America, of which Lamar Advertising is a member, has a voluntary code of practice that bar ads for products illegal for sale to minors from within 500 ft. of schools. Lamar, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, owns the largest number of billboard structures in Los Angeles. Many of those structures bear the name, “Vista” or “Vista Media,” the name of the company bought out several years ago by Lamar.
Any complaints or other communications regarding Lamar billboards should be e-mailed to Ray Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.