Video Game Industry Gets Failing Grade

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Update - includes quotes from Kohl and Lowenstein

Washington (CNSNews.com) - Video and computer games have become some of the most asked for children's Christmas gifts, says the National Institute on Media and the Family. Unfortunately, according to NIMF, many electronic games meant only for mature audiences, with graphic depictions of amputations, decapitations, and pedestrians getting run over by cars, will end up in the hands of youngsters this holiday season.

Some members of Congress have joined forces with the NIMF to warn parents that the popularity of the games has continued to rise, despite increased publicity associating the products with youth violence. At a press conference in Washington Tuesday, sponsored by Senators Herb Kohl, (D-WI), and Joe Lieberman, (D-CT), the NIMF released its Annual Report Card on the video gaming industry, and found it failing to make the grade.

"In 1990 the Video and Computer Game Report Card showed us that millions of children between the ages of eight and 15 have easy and frequent access to violent video electronic games and spend a significant amount of time playing them," NIMF President David Walsh told CNSNews.com.

At the conference, Walsh showed clips of several gruesome video games, including Mortal Kombat IV, which illustrates one combatant pulling another's head off, and Carmageddon, where drivers score points by killing pedestrians. He added that promotional messages in magazine ads used by the distributors include phrases such as "Your motto? Just kill baby," for Carmageddon, and "I'm going to cut off your arm and beat you senseless with it," for a video game titled Die by the Sword.

"The most violent games still find their way into the hands of millions of children and teens," said Walsh.

"In the wake of the Littleton tragedy and the other school shootings, which have traumatized our nation this past year, and in light of new scholarly research, public interest groups, public officials and the press are giving the video game industry a long close look," Kohl, (D-WI), told CNSNews.com.

At Kohl's insistence, a member of his staff recently performed a "spot-check" of Washington, DC area video game retailers by using a trio of 14 and 15 year-old boys to purchase games meant only for viewing by people over the age of seventeen.

"Without a hitch, the boys purchased some of the most notorious games on the market - Duke Nukem, Grand Theft Auto, Quake and others," said Kohl. "These games are rated "M," meaning, 'Mature, not appropriate for those under 17," he added.

Video violence is now so sophisticated that games such as Quake allow shooters to superimpose digital photos of real people on their video victims; a process that Lieberman said was reportedly used by the teenage killers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. "This may be constitutionally defensible, but it is morally reprehensible, and underscores the need for a code of minimum standards, which I hope the industry will consider adopting soon," said Lieberman.

"I want to appeal to the nation's retailers, arcade owners and Internet service providers to move more aggressively to keep these adult rated games out of the joystick grip of kids," Lieberman told CNSnews.com.

Defending his industry at the conference was Interactive Digital Software Association President Douglas Lowenstein, who told CNSNews.com that he is not convinced graphic video games are connected to teenage violence.

"We believe the academic research in no way establishes a causal link between violent games and aggressive behavior," said Lowenstein.

Lowenstein said that the games are labeled for age appropriateness, and since adults buy the vast majority of them it is up to parents to keep inappropriate material away from their children.

"With the knowledge that nine out of ten games are actually purchased by adults, either for themselves or for children, we know that these ratings, if used by parents, are the most effective means to control the games that come into their homes," said Lowenstein.