Violent Video Games: The New Generation

High-Tech Entries Raising Concerns

NEW YORK, FEB. 1, 2003 ( A new generation of sophisticated and violent video games is rekindling old concerns.

Among the new entries is Kaboom, an online game that allows players to guide a suicide bomber as he runs along a crowded street, right up until the moment of detonation. The more people killed or wounded, the higher is the score, the New York Times reported Dec. 5.

Kaboom’s designers were “unapologetic,” the Times noted. The Webmaster of the site, Tom Fulp, said the game had been played more than 875,000 times. Other games by the same company include a sniper adventure based on the recent attacks around Washington, D.C., and a game that mocks the killings at Columbine High School.

Video game revenues last year totaled around $10 billion, the New York Times reported Dec. 16. A staggering 145 million Americans now play video games regularly. And the numbers are expected to increase, as companies such as Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft recently released a new generation of video game players. The new games are far more realistic than previous ones and offer a high degree of intensity and player involvement, the Times said.

Video game designers are also aiming at the older market, with games rated M for those over 17, the Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 17. One of these games is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, whose protagonist is a criminal trying to re-establish himself as a cocaine dealer by driving around killing rivals and whoever else takes his fancy. These adult games are so popular that they frequently end up in the hands of younger children, the Journal noted. Released in November, Vice City was expected to sell around 4 million copies at Christmas.

The National Institute on Media and the Family condemned the violence and the exploitation of women in video games in its recent annual report card on the industry, Reuters reported Dec. 19. “Video game violence is now an epidemic, and violence against women has become a black mark on the entire industry,” the report’s author and the institute’s founder, David Walsh, said in a statement.

The report was released at the Washington offices of U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who called for hearings on the retail industry and their policies for restricting access by minors to violent video games. The senator also admonished parents to take responsibility for their children’s access to violent games.

Responsibility to society

Other countries are worried as well. As of next April, all computer games sold in the European Union will be classified according to age, the British newspaper Observer reported Dec. 29. In the United Kingdom, the British Board of Film Classification will regulate and even ban those games that are deemed excessively violent.

Computer games are a fast-growing industry in Europe, with production valued at over $6.5 billion last year, and a forecast of $9.8 billion for this year.

The article noted that arguments continue over whether evidence exists of a direct link between violent video games and aggression among children. At any rate, critics insist that better technology has made the simulated violence much more realistic.

Research in Japan has found that the parts of the brain that control aggressive behavior were less developed in children who played violent video games. In England, studies at Middlesex University found that children became more aggressive the longer they played violent computer games.

UK Culture Minister Kim Howells criticized the producers of “blood-spattered” video games, the Independent reported Jan. 13. He charged that the games are spreading acceptance of violent crime.

A father of teen-age sons, Howells added: “I don’t think a child is going to be a killer or more violent as a consequence of playing those games, that is not what I’m saying. But it’s the acceptance of that heartlessness that is at the center of all those kind of games, the kind of joy of shooting innocent bystanders or running them over in the car.”

Howells called on games manufacturers and film directors to face up to their responsibility to society. He lamented the lack of humanity and virtues, both in video games and films. “It’s always playing to the lowest common denominator, which is a kind of vicarious pleasure in spilling blood,” he said.

Defenders of traditional morality aren’t the only ones concerned about video violence. Henk Krol, editor of the leading Dutch homosexual newspaper, is trying to prevent a new game, Postal 2, from going on sale in the Netherlands this March, BBC reported Jan. 23.

The game lets players shoot a variety of people, including homosexuals. It is a new version of the earlier Postal, which has been banned in Australia but is widely sold in the Netherlands.

Krol described the game as “disgusting” and said that, while it wasn’t feasible to stop people from buying the game, his campaign would at least raise public awareness. “A lot of these games are being bought by parents and grandparents and one of our goals is to get people to understand what they were buying,” he said.

Constructive alternatives

Meanwhile, alternative video games are being developed, the Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 17. Among the games with a Christian orientation is Jarod’s Journey, which deals with the adventures of a youth in the Holy Land in Roman times. Another game, Charlie Church Mouse, features a mouse acting out Bible stories. Catechumen is an action game about Christians during the Roman persecution.

Industry executives quoted by the Journal estimate that sales of Christian games might have reached $200 million in 2002. So far, the games are limited to those designed for use on personal computers, because the smaller Christian-oriented companies cannot afford the costs involved with developing and licensing games for the consoles built by Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo.

The Catholic Church in recent years has addressed the problem of media violence. In its “Ethics in Communications,” the Pontifical Council for Social Communications said: “It is no excuse to say the media reflect popular standards; for they also powerfully influence popular standards and so have a serious duty to uplift, not degrade, them” (No. 16).

Consumers also have a responsibility to fulfill, the document points out in its first section: “People choose whether to use the media for good or evil ends, in a good or evil way.” This is the choice facing video game designers and consumers alike.

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