November 23, 2004 11:55 AM PST

How gory is that game?

A coalition of religious and family groups criticized video game makers Tuesday for creating products that allegedly glorify murder and hate crimes--and slammed retailers for selling such games to minors.

A group led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an investor advocacy group, released its list of the 10 most violent games as a warning to parents about to set out on holiday shopping expeditions.

"Unwary parents and grandparents need to know there are certain violent games that should be off-limits to children," said Sister Pat Wolf, executive director of ICCR, singling out games such as "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that reward players for killing and looting characters. "These are the kind of values a serial killer might embrace," she said.

Aside from "Grand Theft," the list includes recent best-sellers such as "Halo 2," "Doom 3" and "Half Life 2." The report also singled out "America's Army," a free game distributed by the U.S. Army as a recruiting tool. Wolf criticized it for being available to users regardless of age.

"JFK Reloaded," a controversial new game that re-enacts the assassination of John F. Kennedy, came out too late to make the list but attracted comments during a Tuesday ICCR press conference to promote the report. New York City Councilman Eric Gioia said the game is an extreme example of what's wrong with the game industry. "I couldn't believe someone would choose to make money on something as scarring to the American psyche as this," Gioia said.

The report goes on to criticize the ratings system devised by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to label potentially objectionable games, saying the system is too vague and enforced haphazardly at best by retailers.

Gioia said his own research showed retailers made no efforts to prevent preteens from buying games rated "M" (intended for players 17 and older) in the vast majority of cases. "An investigation I conducted last year showed a minor could walk into almost any store selling video games in New York City and purchase them without difficulty," he said.

Retail trade group the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association said in a statement that retailers are committed to enforcing ESRB ratings and are demanding identification from young buyers. "It is our belief that it is quite simply too early to assign a grade to the retailers' enforcement policies," the IEMA said in a statement, "but that if a grade need be assigned out of habitual ritual, nothing less than an 'A' is worthy of their collective efforts over the past 11 months."

Contributors to the report also criticized the ESRB ratings themselves, saying they're too vague and are mainly intended to shield game makers from criticism. "Adults need to understand game makers and retailers simply are not on their side," Wolf said.

The ESRB released a report Monday highlighting a self-commissioned survey that found more than 80 percent of parents considered the group's ratings appropriate and helpful. "As confirmed by the study just completed, the ESRB rating system is an extremely effective tool for the millions of consumers who rely on it as they shop for entertainment software for their families," Patricia E. Vance, president of the ESRB, said in a statement.

Other groups contributing to the violent-games list went further, calling on retailers to apply the same criteria to games they apply to other media. Dr. Martha Burk, president of the Center for Advancement of Public Policy, noted that leading retailer Wal-Mart bans sexually explicit magazines and CDs but continues to sell "Grand Theft Auto" games.

"The retailers have standards for other products," Burk said. "Would Wal-Mart sell a board game where a player has to have sex with a prostitute to move forward four spaces and then kill her to move forward another six spaces? I don't think so."

43 comments

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Whatever happened to separation of Church and State or Capitalism?
It just scares me that religious groups feel so free to push their specific values on the rest of the public. I'm a christian but I disagree with either whole approach with boycotting products naming names? Who gave them the authority of telling us what is good for you? What if you're not religious and they start targetting your business? Its that revise religious persecution? Its that what this country was founded on? Why my family immagrated here? The answer is yes. Its the Church suppose to teach tolerance? To respect others and their beliefs? It makes me sick.I hear about allot of people wanting to leave the country. I think the whole moral values agenda is going to be taken to extremes. This country is known for that.. taking anything and pushing it to the extreme where the people that believed in the original idea don't recognize it. So no the games I like to play are targetted. What ever happened to parents raising their own kids? I don't recall them asking the Church to step in and make decisions for them. I know I didn't.
Posted by marina116 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Not a seperation issue at all
This group is not government and does not represent the state. Having said that though, decency laws are based on community standards and those laws certainly can be modified, eliminated or changed by the electorate.

Seperation of church and state, is simply not allowing the national government to establish a state funded and controlled church. The founding fathers didn't like their experience with that in Europe. It has nothing to due with censorship and/or the lack thereof.

For those that are so adamantly opposed to censorship, I would ask how they would like all of their personal information posted on signal web site open to any individual. There are of course privacy laws that at least for now curb this, but that form of censorship few seem to have issues with.

Also, its really easy for someone to say " I am a Christian but..... Saying you are a Christian is easy living that life is not. The Christian Bible I read clearly states we should be angry at sin both in ourselves and as we see it in the world. The tolerance it teaches is personal and relational, suggesting that it should extend to the tolerance of supporting and promoting filth is another matter. The Word specifically calls on us to be careful of what we put in to our heads.

The media continually bombards us with messages that anything goes....Do whatever feels right to you. What we reap from that sowing is entertainment like "Desperate Housewives, Fear Factor and games that make the blowing of someone's brains out increasing realistic. It will not be that long before the barrier between what is in the virtual world and what is the real world is paper thin.
Posted by robanga (47 comments )
Link Flag
Whatever happened to responsible parenting?
There are so many things wrong with these advocacy groups nowadays. I don't care if you play games or not, you need to see them for what they are.

I'm a Christian. I play video games. Some of those games are violent. Last I checked, I haven't killed anyone. It's all about separating reality from fantasy.

You can't expect the game makers and retailers to hold parents' hands throughout the selling process. They're going to do what makes them money, that's the bottom line. Parents need to take the initiative and put their foot down on games that children should not be playing. Know what games your kids play (if they aren't getting the money directly from you, violent video games are the least of your worries). When I was growing up, my parents allowed me to play video games, but the minute I wanted a game that wasn't suitable for my age, they flat out refused to get it for me. All that before the rating systems (which is one of the greatest tools a parent can have on making an educated decision).

People will say "Well, Chris, they didn't have games like GTA back in the early 80's!" Have you ever heard of "Death Race?" The premise of that game is to run over pedestrians. That's it. How about "Custer's Revenge?" All you have to do in that one is cross the game screen and sexually assault a naked Native American woman tied to a cactus (did I mention Custer's naked, too?). No, games are so much worse than they used to be. </sarcasm>

I'll end this mini-rant with a story that proves the parents are to blame. I was spending some time one day with a friend of mine who worked for my local EB. We were just talking and in walks a young woman and a child, who could not have been older than 8. The child points to GTA3 and tells his mother to get him that game. My friend does the legal thing and says "Ma'am, this game is rated M for reason 1, reason 2, reason 3, etc., and I recommend against purchasing this game for your child."

The mother turns to the young boy and says "Why on EARTH would you want a game like that?!"

To which the young boy replies "But mom, it's so cool!"

"Okay," and she buys the game. Needless to say, we were shocked.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree
With regard to the parenting factor. With my own kids, despite my best intentions I have allowed the fact that I love to make the happy get the better of my judgement. What the mother did in your example, while painful is not that shocking and I'll bet a lot of parents can see themselves in simmiliar situations.

I do believe groups like these have the right to make their community opinions and reccomendations known, even to the extent that it may financially effect these companies and ultimately mean less of the more contreversial subject matter available.

The media and entertainment will constantly push the envelope whether its with Janet Jackson's breast, Doom 13 or whatever. I support these groups desire to counterbalance that and ask that more entertainment reflect what they would like to see.
Posted by robanga (47 comments )
Link Flag
Completely Agree
A couple of weeks ago, a 6 (yes I said six) yr old boy in my neighborhood was bragging about having Star Wars Battlefront. Why a 6 yr old needs a FPS, I don't know. However, the day Halo 2 was released, he was already bragging how he had the game. Either they don't care if he plays these types of games or they have no clue what the game is about.

Unfortunately, it would seem that the more parents work, the less time they spend with their kid(s) and make it up by buying the kid(s) the things the kids want.

I believe that parents place too much blame/responsibility on game makers and the government. Game makers have some responsibility and should avoid target younger audiences if their game is rated M. They can do so by showing their commercials later in the evening. Perhaps that would be a government decision. I'm not sure. However, at the end of the day the responsibility still falls to the parents.

I do not let my kids watch me play any FPS. I won't even let them watch me play Outlaw Golf.

Parents who are knowledgeable about what their kids are playing/hanging out with can not be replaced by government laws or imposed restrictions on game makers.
Posted by vanox (49 comments )
Link Flag
As a retailer...
Maybe in NYC any kid can walk into a store and buy M-rated video games. I know for a fact kids can walk into X-rated video stores in NYC and buy videos or magazines. But the fact is, NYC is a not a representative of every city in America. I work for a game store, and we simply will not sell M-rated games to minors without a parent standing there OKing it. (We also sell anime, and a lot of it is flagged in our computer as requiring ID for purchase as well, despite the fact it's not rated.)

It is not the retailer's responsibility to police your kids, though we are. At some point parents have to take responsibility and police what their kids are doing and playing.

I also find it rather interesting that we don't hear about a list of the most objectionable CDs of the year, or retailer's failings in that department. At least the game industry is trying - we have a rating system in place and most retailers adhere to its' recommendations. You can't say the same thing about the music industry and CD retailers, who the last time I checked aren't carding kids trying to buy "parental warning"-stickered albums.
Posted by tubedogg (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Excellent points
You make some great points, and it's commendable that your store takes the rating system seriously. I honestly believe it's up to the parents and the law can only go so far.

The music and movie industries are an easy analogy. However, the movie industry has made great progress in limiting the sale of tickets to minors. I should know. I look very young and get carded every time for R-rated movies even though I'm 23 (always good for a few laughs). The music industry may be kind of a moot point, though, since they're more focused on piracy than age and content.

The rating system exists for a reason. I think it's one of the best things to happen to the video game industry in recent history. It's a terrible shame that people don't use it as much as they should.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
Objectionable game?
I wonder if anyone remembers that wonderful game called "Astrotit" from the good old CGA days... I bet those groups would have had a field day with that one... It was both violent (shoot falling lactating breasts with your male organ firing sperm)... ahh the good old days... lol
Posted by tocam27 (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
True
I also remember the "good old days" of gaming. Most people think of the games of old and all they can come up with is Centipede or Super Mario or Donkey Kong. Nobody seems to remember the games that would, today, make most people blush. My favorite example is "Custer's Revenge." There's a bit in the manual that goes a little something like this:
"Remember, Custer's Revenge is not for children! If your children ask you about this game, make sure you explain that it's for adults only."

If your kids are catching you playing a game where the only purpose is to sexually assault a naked Native American women tied to a cactus, explaining what you're doing is the least of your problems.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
computer games
This computer game business is getting out of control I think. There is to much violence I guess you could say Blood and Guts. I saw an advertisement for a game to re-enact killing President Kennedy the other day. That is not only in bad taste, but should be done away with completely. I hope the Kennedy Family sues that game company and gets everything they have got. A lot of the games are bad enough without dishonoring the murder of an American President. By the way I am not a Kennedy lover, but something needs to be done to stop these people.
Posted by dduncan76 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly!
Good idea.

I think we should also put Oliver Stone into a volcano for making a movie in which JFK got shot. I was so outraged when I heard that!

(The above is sarcasm, in case it wasn't blatently obvious.)

Censorship is almost never the answer, and rarely works. If you don't like the games, don't play them. No one's forcing you to.
Posted by tubedogg (31 comments )
Link Flag
Key Question....
Has anyone ever come up with a definition of what all these
games actually contribute to the development of children and
adolescents?

I get the impression that modern computer games are virtual
heroin, enfolding the users into useless tasks, and isolating
them from the real world.

Just what good are they??????
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the good they do
They allow people an avenue so they can escape the crudeness of reality and stresses in their life, as well as have some fun. I play video games all of the time, started when I was 8, and I am not a violent person since I know that these games are not real. Also my mother and father made sure that I didn't get any type of inappropriate game. I am now 26 years old and I enjoy playing these "violent" games. What's funny is that everyone wants the Government to police everything so they don't need to do it themselves. Eventually people will be upset that the government has too much control, but hey that was their fault...not the video game industry. People need to accept the responsibilites for their actions...sort of like the people who are suing CBS for airing Band of Brothers on Veterans Day (absolutely stupid in my opinion). People watch sports, drama, and general tv to escape the reality they live in...at least when the video gamers do it we have an entire online community that agrees with us and plays along. You can't do that with your TV.
Posted by imkain (66 comments )
Link Flag
Sometimes I get to wondering that, myself
Earl, you raise some good points. Perhaps I can give you some insight on the nature of the beast.

First, you hit the nail on the head with your heroin analogy. Video games, if not properly regulated for some people, can be a terribly addictive drug. I have a few friends who couldn't put the game down and their lives ended up suffering as a result. The world today can be too much for some people and video games offer a level of escape that can be downright dangerous. These people are the outliers, though, and you must understand that they represent a minutely small percentage of all those who play.

I've been playing video games for a little over 21 years now, and I see gaming for what it is. My parents encouraged me to play games as a child for a few reasons.
1) They control the money, so they control what I play. It's an easy way to monitor what information your child absorbs, given that you do your homework about the game, first.
2) In their opinion, the games I was allowed to play were better than what was on TV. Growing up, my parents would have rather had me play "Pitfall" than watch a television sitcom.
I do believe there's some validity in this rationality, but I would also like to add that my parents encouraged other activities as well, such as sports and reading. To this day, besides pinning down a good job, I'm a voracious reader, an experienced snowboarder, and a good swimmer.

Video games, similar to books or movies, are an effective way to transfer information, which makes it potentially dangerous. "Grand Theft Auto," to the right person, is no less dangerous than "Mein Kampf." However, if used correctly, video games can be quite like reading a good book or seeing a good movie. Whether it's the novel "The Light of Other Days," the movie "Saving Private Ryan," or the game "Metal Gear Solid," I'm in it for the story and the stimulation.

That's my take on games. Please don't hesitate to raise any other points you feel need clarifying, I would be happy to discuss.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
load of crap
games are not "virtual heroine". have you ever played a game before most and i mean 95% of all games have stories and are pretty much a way of playing a book or movie. some are gory and filled with cursing but you dont see people criticizing Steven King books do you. Most people see his books as classics. What i dont get is how people can be SO ignorant to automaticaly assume s#*t they see on t.v. hell sometimes the news is worse than mature rated games. so next time really research before you make judgements
Posted by vandy14 (1 comment )
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The real cause of violence
I'm always stunned by the lack of self knowledge exhibited by our self-appointed (and usually religiously motivated) guardians of morality. They vehemently blame videogames, TV, movies, comic books fast food, single mothers, the Tellytubbies and anything else they don't like for all the evils of the world, but never seem to put their fingers on one of the real causes of hatred, violence and misery: religion itself. For at least two thousand years, in every corner of the world, religion has fuelled wars, pogroms, inquisitions, tortures, murders and oppression of all kinds. Yet the faithful still feel entitled to ram their half-baked opinions and fairy stories down everyone's throats. The word hypocrite doesn't begin to describe them.

Religious faith is fine for those who need it, but it should be a private matter between the believer and the god/spirit/force/rabbit they worship. When they start trying to force the world to share their view, that's when the rest of us need to start saying "enough!"
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
......wow...
well this is just soo great!

i end my sarcasm there, as if they did any research, they'd know of the research project that showed kids who played violent games were less violent. why? because violent games are the perfect stress busters. FPS's = best stress relief EVER.

i myself, being 15, can say that I'm happy that my mother isn't one of the many overprotective overreacting and completely ignorant parents that have come to be during the 21st century. I'm really disappointed to see people succumb to such stupidity like this. The games they call bad are actually GREAT games. And plus, GTA:SA is not influencing kids in any way. If a kid does something based on these games, it's purely the child's fault their own. GTA doesn;t say "hey go ahead and kill people and steal their cars!"

when will people learn that these are just GAMES? there's nothing telling your kids to do anything. these games have stories, if anyone bothers to pay attention instead of judging.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Your mom is actually part of the problem
There's a reason M rated games are rated M - because they're not appropriate for kids. Yet parents buy them for their kids anyway, and then when the parent finally gets clued in to what kind of content is in the game, they freak out and start up a ruckus about how the game industry needs to be censored or done away with or some other similarly draconian measure.

You may think your mom is cool now, but in 10 or 20 years when games with violent or sexual content are outlawed, your mom is exactly the type of person we will have to thank.
Posted by tubedogg (31 comments )
Link Flag
I have to agree
I have to agree that its a parents responsibility to monitor their childs activities whether it be playing video games, watching television or playing with sharp objects in the kitchen.

Also I agree that they are terrific at releiving stress that would otherwise be manifested in real life violence. Which would you prefer? Your child sitting in front of a television screen playing with virtual guns, our out on the street with his friends playing with real ones?

Also even the most violent games can teach things, strategy, hand eye coordination, reflexes, (in the case of RPGs) reading skills, problem solving, lateral thinking, the list goes on and on. What do you learn from television by comparison?

Also games tend to regulate themselves, the more realistic the game is the more realistic the consequences of your in game actions are. Which would you prefer? Your child to learn at age 9 that stealing a car and driving fast will usually end in a wreck, death, and/or jail time through a video game or at age 15 by finding out first hand?

Dont knock what you dont understand. The people who grew up with these games and this violence understand the dangers and pitfalls better than anyone, and we all agree that the most you have to worry about is addiction, which is simply a matter of the strength of the individuals will.

In my opinion children are more likely to imitate violence they see on television rather than that which they participate in through a video game, they crave interaction with the characters they see on the television and have no other way to do so but to emulate them.
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
Link Flag
Hey does anyone like the military
The reason that title is there is because I believe that regardless what people do to try and silence the gaming industry it will never stop...just look at Vegas (that is 100% worse than video games because people lose more than money there sometimes). The United States military actually have given money to the gaming industry to help them train US soldiers because scientific studies have been done that show that when you play FPSs that it increases your ability to react to a situation (and more over that they make you smarter, better drivers, etc). Perfect examples of such games endorsed by the military...America's Army, Tom Clancy's line of games, Brothers in Arms (not out yet), Real War, and Full Spectrum Warrior...to name a few. So as long as scientists say these games are a benefit to the human mind and the US military uses them as a training tool there will always be video games in our society...also if you don't like the game I encourage you to NOT BUY IT (that is your right, it is your freedom) it is not your freedom to push your beliefs (regardless if they are religious or not) onto other people. If you look at today's society we look more like sheep than human beings, and we need to realize that in order to get out of that representation we need to exercise our rights...don't like it don't buy it...remember people didn't like what Britney Spears wore on the VMAs a few years back (almost nude pantyhose) but they never cried stop. So if they couldn't stop a performer who was aimed towards 8-16yr olds, they will never stop the might of the video gaming industry...which is now geared towards people 22-36 since we were the 10yr olds in the 80s.
Posted by imkain (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Christianity offends me
Their religion offends me, as it should offend anyone that can
actually think. I'll make them a deal; they leave me the heck
alone, and I'll leave them alone. Maybe they should focus on
fixing their hatefull ways instead of pointing the finger at others.
Posted by toddfiedler (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Chill out..
You sound like you're worse than the ones you hate. Relax, life
is too short to have a pissing contest with anyone who doesn't
know you exist.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Just a few things to say...
Gioia said his own research showed retailers made no efforts to prevent preteens from buying games rated "M" (intended for players 17 and older) in the vast majority of cases.

Directly from the article... now, notice how the rating thing, the explaination says "intended," and not "Restricted to." Come on! Quit complaining to the creators and the retailers, because if your kid's playing nasty stuff that you don't like, well, why aren't you stopping him/her? Durrr!
Posted by Norumu (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
here here
I completely agree with you on that account.
Posted by imkain (66 comments )
Link Flag
It's the parents fault.
If a kid plays Grand Theft Auto and decides he wants to kill his friend with a chainsaw, then it's the parents fault he did so, not the game's. Parents are responsible for their children's actions. Games that are rated M are for people aged 17+. If a parent allows a child to play an M rated game, that's that parents problem, not the industry's. I remember how all this crap started too. It was 1993 and Mortal Kombat has just been released. Then there came Joe Liberman and the rest of Washington. They said the game was too violent and could influence what kids do. Well when little kids saw Superman the Movie in the 70's and 80's and jumped off the roof pretending to be Superman and died, did anyone from Washington petition a ban on Superman products? No. But a videogame, that's different. Videogames have no purpose and rot your mind. Videogames serve no educational purpose (although I can provide several links to back up the fact that they can be educational). Well regardless of what a bunch of virgins in penguin suits say about my favorite games, there is no way in hell that they will keep games like GTA or Halo from being made (I really don't get why Halo is on that list. Halo isn't really that gory, the only gore seen is the purple or green ooze from an alien's corpse, but whatever). I think maybe religious types don't want to see anyone having fun outside church. That's the real agenda.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I agree...
I agree with you 100%...it's ok for Hollywood to show violent movies, violent sitcoms, and reality TV shows like Fear Factor (even jackass) and Washington doesn't even bat an eye...but god forbid people should save the world from aliens in a First Person Shooter...no that would be evil and bad. They need to grow up and get off their high horse. As long as there are children, teenagers, and people with imaginations there will always be video games.
Posted by imkain (66 comments )
Link Flag
Rating
Every video game has a rating on the back do they not? Parents should be smart enough to know what is suitable for their children.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
study in nyc?
"An investigation I conducted last year showed a minor could walk into almost any store selling video games in New York City and purchase them without difficulty"

... What are these people doing polling a place like New York City? Shouldn't they be keeping their "morality" in the red states where they belong? If you don't want wal-mart selling this stuff in Tennesee, fine. But jeez, as anyone who has been there can tell you that NYC and SF have always been culturally open.

I was going to rag on them for electing a prez that drops da bombs on iraq, but I noted that they were equally targetting America's Army, so fair enough.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Take Responsibility For Your Own Kids !!
I agree that there are very violent games out there but it's the parents responsibility to moniter their children. I have a 6 year old niece who loves to play the San Andreas game has alot of violence I talk to her and tell her it's just a game, I don't agree with her playing it but she loves it the older children introduced her to it and I think as long as your kids realize that it's only a game and you keep close supervision on them everything will be ok. Watch you kids and watch what they watch!!
Posted by (2 comments )
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