Video Games Get Awards Show, But Failing Grade For Violent Content

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - Last week brought praise and criticism on the video game industry. A new television awards show will air next year to honor the industry's achievements, but as it was being announced, a pro-family group chided the graphic violence in some top-selling games.

The National Institute on Media and the Family is in its seventh year of issuing a report card on the video game industry. This year the institute gave the video game industry its first overall failing grade for using a ratings system the institute claims does not work.

The popularity of the "Grand Theft Auto" video games -- the top seller based on data from October -- is particularly troubling because of its violent nature and disregard for women, said David Walsh, founder and president of the National Institute on Media and the Family.

"Video game violence is now an epidemic, and violence against women has become a black mark on the entire industry," Walsh said. "Rewarding players for having sex with, and killing, a prostitute is a frightening example to set.

"This failing grade is a wake-up call for everyone: manufacturers, retailers and parents," he added.

Besides "Grand Theft Auto," the report criticized "BMX XXX" for treating women like sexual objects. The manufacturers of the games, Take-Two Interactive Software and Acclaim Entertainment, did not return phone calls.

Those same games, however, could be honored at an awards show on TNN scheduled for late next year. The network's announcement was made Thursday, the same day the report card was released.

"The Video Game Awards will be a sensory celebration of their work, and a showcase for their most popular graphics, and the best new talent in the genre," said Albie Hecht, TNN's president of film and television entertainment. "Let's face it, you won't see 'Best Total Annihilation' at the Oscars!"

Other awards include "Hottest Hero and Heroine," "Coolest Villain," "Best All-Around Bad**," "Best Free-For-All Carnage" and "Best Kick *** Weapon."

TNN said in a statement that the awards show will be targeted for the 25 to 34 age group, but Noah Schuchman, a spokesman for the National Institute on Media and the Family, said such a show will undoubtedly appeal to youths who are forbidden from buying games like "Grand Theft Auto."

"This is not about the content or the right to make the games," Schuchman said. "They may target an older audience, but the reality is that kids under 17 are going to see this and be attracted to it."

Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, was even more blunt in her criticism of the awards show.

"That ranks right down there with the adult video awards," she said. "These are awards for sewer conduct."

TNN declined to comment.

LaRue, who has criticized the violent nature of video games, said it is time for Congress to take a stand and impose a ratings system that works. She called the current voluntary ratings a failure.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) joined Walsh at Thursday's briefing on the report card. During his run for vice president in 2000, Lieberman often criticized the violent content in movies and video games and their impact on children.

But LaRue said it is time for Lieberman and other lawmakers to take action and impose a strong ratings system. Parents are oftentimes ignorant about the amount of violence in games, she said, and manufacturers and retailers will continue to sell them as long as a profit can be made.

"There's no sanction," LaRue said. "This is a self-rating system that has no teeth. Congress needs to take a hard look at that."

In a statement released last week, a trade group for the video game industry defended the ratings system and praised the wide range of choices available for "people of all ages and tastes."

"The fact is, we have a rating system that not only includes age recommendations but also detailed content descriptors that are on each box," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association. "With 70 percent of games rated 'E' for 'everyone,' if people don't want violent games, they have plenty of other choices."

Lowenstein called the National Institute on Media and the Family's report card an "opportunistic platform from which to grab headlines." He said parents should be more aware of ratings.

But even if that is the case, an undercover investigation that aired recently on NBC's "Dateline" revealed that those under 17 years old can easily buy games at retailers without ever having to present identification.

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