February 22, 2005 4:00 AM PST

When games get gory

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A key sequence in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" requires the player to steal a police SWAT team tank, machine gun rival gang members and incinerate employees of a rival crack dealer--all acts covered by the "Mature" rating prominently displayed on each copy of the video game.

That rating, however, hasn't stopped countless underage players from picking up virtual Uzis in the latest GTA installment, the top-selling video game of 2004. Advocacy groups say exposure to such material makes kids more aggressive and desensitizes them to real-world violence, an argument that's winning increasing support from state and local lawmakers looking to ban the sale of such games to minors.

The issue's become a political football, with lawmakers and advocacy groups arguing that the government must protect children if the game industry can't or won't. The debate only gets more confusing with publicity surrounding cases such as that of Devin Thompson, an Alabama teen who claims that a previous version of " Grand Theft Auto" inspired him to kill three police officers when he was 16.


What's new:
The debate over whether violent video games influence kids' real-world behavior is getting increasing attention as more and more lawmakers seek to shield minors from the guts and gore.

Bottom line:
Are kids apt to act out the shooting and maiming they see in video games? If so, who bears ultimate responsibility for limiting minors' access--parents, game makers, the government, or all three?

More stories on video games

The families of two of the slain officers sued "Grand Theft Auto" publisher Take-Two Interactive Software and several other parties last week, claiming the game "trained and motivated" Thompson to pull the trigger. Thompson reportedly told police, "Life is a video game. You've got to die sometime," before he opened fire.

Legislatures in at least six states are considering new proposals that would make it a crime to sell mature games to children, despite the failure of previous legislation to pass judicial scrutiny. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, lobbied for his version in a recent State of the State address, in which he equated violent games with pornography, liquor and cigarettes. "We shouldn't allow them (children) to go to stores and buy video games that teach them to do the very things we put people in jail for," he said. "Buying these games should be up to parents--not kids."

And San Francisco Assemblyman Leland Yee, also a Democrat, introduced a new bill in Sacramento last week that seeks to impose a fine of up to $1,000 on individuals who sells violent video games to anyone under 17 years of age.

Game publishers say they already have a ratings system that gives parents all the information they need while allowing game makers to exercise their free-speech rights.

"I have a 14-year-old son, and it's part of my job as a parent to find out what's in a certain movie or TV program or game," said Gail Markels, senior vice president and general counsel for game industry trade group Entertainment Software Association. "I don't need a law being passed that mandates that."

Thompson, the teen who inspired the lawsuit against Take-Two, got hold of "Grand Theft Auto" well before the recommended age of 17 prominently displayed on the game as part of a ratings system the game industry set up in 1994 to address concerns about increasingly realistic depictions of violence and other objectionable content in games. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) assigns each game submitted to it a suitability rating--ranging from "E" for "everyone" to "A" for "adult--with additional details on why the game received its rating. The list for "GTA: San Andreas" includes: "blood and gore," "intense violence," "use of drugs" and "strong sexual content."

Most retailers, including the chain stores that account for the bulk of game sales, say they restrict sales based on the ratings. A 14-year-old who wants the "Mature"-rated "GTA: San Andreas," for example, presumably would need a parent to buy it for him.

But enforcement of policies varies widely. New York City Councilman Eric Gioia said that in his own recent investigation of New York stores, he found no significant barriers

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Please.... it's parents responsibility and stores as well
This line of complaining has been going on for too long. There are rating systems for the games. And it's up to the parents to know what the things about. Hello...world wide web has a lot of info on this that they can check up on. And the stores should be enforcing sales due to the age restrictions to the games. But it still (IMHO) boils down to the parents and how the kids are being raised.
Posted by darkenedsoul (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's all in the parents
Ah yes, the old "video games are evil" debate. Where are the old Doom 1 screenshots and Mortal Kombat's Fatalities? Didn't see them in the article. Those are classic in this age-old debate. People, let's get something clear: video games don't make you kill people. I must have been 9 or 10 when I got my first 8 bit NES and games were violent even back then (though not nearly as graphic as they are now). I am now twenty five and I have been a fan of Mortal Kombat, Doom, Grand Theft Auto and many other violent games over the years. How many people have I killed? None. It's because my parents brought me up with a strong Christian foundation and taught me that video games are fantasy and the conseguences of doing these things in real life.

It is the parent's responsibility, not the government's and not the industry's, to teach that to today's young players. The industry just wants money (and let's face it: there is money in violence). And if the government wants to stop the violence, well, maybe they should stop the "War with Terrorism" first. Set the example. They are killing in real life, but no one tries to stop them.

Yes, there is a danger in exposing our youth to this violence. I believe people can become "desensitized" from watching violence up to a point. I have played all these violent games, but I still wince everytime I see dead people on the news. But maybe that's just me.
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Kids with violent tendencies will be violent.
The kids that are copying the video games are the same ones that were suppose to be at risk from Videos, before that rock and roll and before that pool halls.

Without video games these kids would still be bullies, or out torturing cats and dogs.

You show me a well adjusted kid who has played violent games and then killed somebody and I will back a ban on violent games.

You tell me about a loner from a broken home where his main influences are dysfunctional and his upbringing has encouraged anti-social behaviour, but has also played video games then I think I will be looking at the environment before pointing the finger at video games.

Its the lets sue mentality. It has to be somebody elses fault. We couldnt have been bad parents. It has to be those violent video games/video nastiest/rock and roll music and we are going to make you pay.

Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
violent video games
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Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
Link Flag
No other countries have this problem
Japan is either the #1 or #2 video game captial of the world and you don't see children in Japan doing this type of behavior.

It's the parents responsibilty to keep track of their children if they do not want them to play these video games. It isn't that hard, it's rated M for a reason.
Posted by Araxen (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Oh gee, it must be the video games ...
Let's see, we have a coke-sniffing, AWOL moron for president - a puppet manipulated by evil, greedy politicians ... and THANKS TO THIS ADMINISTRATION war is being glorified as the regular bullsh*t patriotism. Xenophobia comes to rule the day, as the hypo-christian conservatives declare open war - LITERALLY - upon *everything* and *everybody* that doesn't bow down and scream jesus.

Meanwhile the GOVERNATOR proves to kids that you can still be a Nazi in this great country of ours and get elected ... the appeal obviously being pure brawn and the ability to catch bullets with your teeth. Let's face it - Arnie could take down everything that Doom 3 or Half-arse 2 could throw at him ... and the kids love it. Enough to elect him.

No, gee, our country and our youth aren't f**cked up because of a failing educational system, parents who take their 5-year-olds into R and X rated movies, or politicians playing the "I've got a bigger schlong" game ... NO!!!


Get f**king real.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Just... Wow...
I think you might have had the potential at a valid point if you didn't come across as a complete moron.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
Not very eloquent are we?
Keep your ignorant politics out of it. You have a point but are too stupid to relate it effectively.
Posted by (7 comments )
Link Flag
There has gotta be give and take...
I feel I have a good perspective about this whole issue since I have seen it 'from the front lines' so to speak. I am currently 23, and have been playing video and computer games since I was about 5 years old. Also through college, I worked with two different video game retail chains, and I have noticed several things:

-Most parents don't know or don't care: I have sold countless 'M' rated video games, several to minors, with their parents there. I always alert the parents that this is a Mature game, and most just nod, several saying "Hey, it's what they want." After awhile, I learned to follow, or even begin with something along the lines of: "Sir/Ms, do you know this game has a Mature rating...because it has...etc." A very small percentage seemed to care after I would tell them, but an even smaller (may less than 2%) ever changed their minds afterwards. Even after being told, straight up, BY THE SALESMAN, that this game may not be appropriate for their kids, they don't listen. I did have less than a handful of [attempted] returns (maybe 1-2 in 4 years of work) of parents outraged by the content.

-Retailers need to enforce a stricter policy: I have also sold Mature games to many minors; most of that selling was done in the first chain store I worked at. It wasn't because I didn't care, but because the company told me to; a sale is a sale. This was back in 1999. After the one chain closed, I moved to a second, where slowly, the employees were 'asked' to begin checking ID; however, when Christmas season hit, we just 'let it slide' most of the time.

-This is a business: Unfortunately, sex, violence and the like, they sell. And though video games are entertainment, they are also a business, and a business wants to make money. It's the nature of the beast, and something that cannot be changed.

I'm not being preachy, though it may sound like it. I am simply stating my first-hand observations on the matter. As for the teen who shot three officers, let him rot in jail. Events such as Columbine have attempted to paint one media or another, either it be movies, music, video games, as the one piece of the puzzle that pushed them over the edge. However, if you research the events, REALLY research them, beyond the news blitz, you will notice these kids had several factors against them, such as bad environments, drugs, peer pressure, mental instability, etc. Maybe not ALL of them, but these are factors that have existed for centuries. And will continue to exist, long after video games have evolved to something more. I don't recall the Manson family having an Xbox in their house.
Posted by (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well said, Adam
Very true and sad at the same time. It's the parents' responsibility to monitor their childrens' media intake, but the retail stores really need a rework in the way things are handled because parents are simply unwilling or unaware of how to properly do their jobs.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
Parents and Technology
Well, everyone else has said it, but it's the parents job to watch their kids. Do you know why the government gets away with passing stoopud laws? The same reason violent games get sold to kids. We just stand by and let it happen (and then complain about it later).

Look, if your kid wants a game check it out before hand. If they are 14 years old and the game has a M rating don't buy it.

No matter how you look at it, unless your kid is certifiably nuts, then it is your fault if he does something that stupid. I say sue the parents and make them accountable for the actions of their children. (I know you have to take it on a case by case basis, but in general it's always going to be the parents fault that their children don't know right from wrong.)
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good term
'Certfiably nuts' :))
Who certfies this .... ( not that I or some body I know is interested in certificaton)
Posted by mercuryrising (60 comments )
Link Flag
14 years old
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Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
Link Flag
What if?
If anyone thinks this couldn't affect you if it came to pass because you are an adult without kids, think again. Imagine stores not carrying certain games at all for the fear of making an illegal sale. The market becomes smaller for those games, so some are simply not made at all.

What if "adult" games are treated ike "adult" movies or magazines? They're put in "protective" cases to hide the covers (so kids won't be tempted by a "cool" cover)and/or shoved in a back room. Basically they're given the same "shameful" stigma as adult entertainment is. Might have a chilling effect, don't you think?

To those who still aren't convinced this could affect you, I have this: Today it's video games. Tomorrow it might be something you enjoy.
Posted by Clint_Matthews (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
America's Army recruits
The Army has their own violent PC game to recruit teens that like violence in video games. How can you have a "non-violent" army, anyways? The TV commercials for the armed forces are scarier than the video games anyway. In one commercial, you see a squad rise out the water with guns ready like zombie soldiers.
Posted by jluchford (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Discretion belongs to the parents, not the gov't
Consider this a moment, do you see any reports about what movies are being played in the theaters and DVD players could affect children? No, not really. Why?? Because of ratings. PG, PG13, R, and NC17 are not just random letters and numbers put together for fun. The MPAA has made it clear that any movie that will be viewed must have a rating (at least here in the U.S.)

Now lets focus on the ESRB, that body that governs the rating system of video games. Again, the letters are there for a reason, to warn parents about the content in the games! Where does the government have a say? Last I checked, every video game is exercising free speech (in my mind at least). Not to mention that the ESRB is not a branch of the US Govt.

So here is the $11 billion dollar question, who's responsibility is it to filter out violent and racey video games from the hands of children? Heres a hint....a 7 letter word.

The PARENTS are the ones that must be responsible, and is obvious. Because any mom or dad can walk into an EB Games or Best Buy or Wal-mart and plunk down $30-60 on a video game. But do they look at the box? Do they read what the game is really about? Do they look for a RATING? Or are they just satisfying the need to get their kids out of their sight.

I cannot answer that, seeing as I am NOT a parent. But what I can tell you is that I do play video games, have been for MANY years. And I, for one, would rather see content the way it is. Because it is entertainment, not a form of brainwashing, and there is definitely no subliminal messages (illegal in just about every Western country) embedded in the overall story.

Entertainment is bound to be scrutinized. Movies, music, video games, (Super Bowl XXXVIII...nice move Justin), all have their fair share of controversy, but lets be realistic here, The Gov't isn't mommy and daddy. The Gov't should be working on more pressing matters, not telling parents HOW to be parents. If your mother bought you San Andreas, then she made that decision, based on how mentally competent you are(the choice between right and wrong...remember?)
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Effective parenting
Well said Mike. Many of those same children are more computer savy than their parents want to be. Those parents who only watch TV and read newspapers and don't play video games have no idea what their kids are doing. Ergo, there is no monitoring. At least rating a game will give the parent a CLUE to its content, should he/she be a bit curious about what their offspring are doing behind that closed door. And if an adult wants risque video entertainment, then go for it. But let the game at least advertize it contents to everyone who picks it up. Almost all of us can read, both parents and kids. In that respect we're all as one, or as someone once said "ut omnes unam sint". Catch my drift? Just my $.02.
Posted by paul910usmc (1 comment )
Link Flag
bound to be scrutinized
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Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
Link Flag
If video games had that much influence on out kids, we'd all be running around in plumber's overalls, smashing mushrooms in a quest to rescue a princess. This is simply ignorance on the part of the public and greed on the part of the attorneys.
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I've played GTA SA alot...
almost non-stop for 3 days actually, and I'm still shocked when I see a corpse on TV and I know that stealing is wrong. I don't go to wal-mart and buy the biggest rifle there or steal a blade from my kitchen and go slice someone up. I don't visit hookers, and if I did, I doubt I would kill them, I'd proably thank them! Point is this: It's the PARENTS and their dumb ass kids who need a crutch for their "problems".
Posted by phatjoe_numba1 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Heres an easy test
Heres an easy test to see if your child can tell the difference between whats real and whats fantasy:

Watch them play the game.

When their character on the screen dies or is injured do they feel pain or fall over dead because of a psychosomatic response?


Good then they know its not real. If they believed it was and that they were truly living the events on the screen their minds would obligingly manifest their virtual pain and injury as reality.

Do they know that what their character on the screen is doing is wrong?

Depends on whether or not their parents taught them whats right and wrong.

The problem today is that video games have become the new babysitter. They have taken over from the TV as being a way to distract your child so you can spend the day not having to be a parent, completely absorbed in your own selfish distractions and schemes.

Can anyone else see that the over-abuse of this practice is the true source of childrens psychological and social problems?

Just as they used to blame TV for their childs behaviour so now video games have become the new evil since parents are incapable of placing the blame where it belongs.. on themselves. They are utilizing the age old mental defense of complete denial and blaming anything they can think of in order to keep from facing the truth.

Crucifying the entertainment industry as a scapegoat for societies ills has been a long standing crutch for those too weak minded to acknowledge their own faults.

This just proves that hasnt changed and probably never will
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
Reply Link Flag
again with the scapegoating
it's nice that the government is taking interest in the well being of kids in the US, but wouldn't it be wiser to spend the time on creating proper education tools for parents and kids on violent. Instead of completely blaming the games themselves.
No matter the law kids will get their hands on any type of age-inappropriate substances, whether it be drugs, alcohol, porn etc. Placing any type of law against violent video games isn't going to stop kids from playing them.
I have played violent video games from the days of Wolfenstein 3D and I don't ever think of emulating those actions in real life. WHY?? Because I have parents that taught right from wrong a long time ago.
On another note....Those kids from the DC area that stole cars. Their parents lack any control over them. There were kiddy car thieves long before they were video games. It's nothing new. Instead the parents looking within themselves as a failure to control their children and teaching them right from wrong, they blame a video game that is seating in millions of households. Including yours truly.
Posted by quaribc (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wolfenstein 3D
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Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
Link Flag
Why is this constantly controversial... it is up to the parents to get the game or its the parents job to know what the kid has. I think we should work on something more controversial, drugs. Millions of kids use drugs and alcohol... Its not just games that make kids "angry".
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Are there ANY adults here?
Am I the only one over 21 replying here, or perhaps the only with with a double digit IQ?

I can understand being against selling violent games to kids if you are a kid yourself, it's simple human nature. However when you grow up you'll realize that there is no harm whatsoever in banning the sale of these games to children.

I'm reading one opinion after another saying "the kids already have violent tendancies" or how about "it's up to the parents to monitor their kids". What the people who think this way seem to forget is - THAT'S WHAT WE'RE DEALING WITH. Not people like you and I, not rational people who are educated and actually consider the consequences of their actions beforehand. You and I would never be so damn stupid as to shoot a cop cause' we saw it in a GTA game, sheeeesh! No, we're dealing with kids that are so messed up, and come from families that are so dysfunctional, that they see no problem at all jacking cars and shooting cops for fun. The parents should be responsible for these kids, but they're just as messed up and irresponsible as the worthless trash they have spawned.

So keep believing that the parents of these F'ed up kids should be the ones held responsible for controlling what they purchase and play. I sure hope you're able to find comfort in having stood up for your beliefs if a member of your family is ever car-jacked or shot by one of these mentally challenged kids that can't tell the diff between life and GTA.
Posted by oopsiedaisy (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i agree.... to an extent
I agree with everything you've said, except your logic in banning games. I'm 22 and i've been playing video games since my atari 2600. That said, i don't think banning video games sales is going to be enough to curb the enthusiam of those naturally inclined to be violent. The kids committing these violent acts and blaming the video games never had a chance (whether they played the games or not). It's like chris rock said: "if the kid calls his mom Pam, and his grandma Mom, he's going to jail". Those are the kind of kids who, with or without the help of violent media, will end up mugging you on your way home one night. The problem is the parents not taking responsibility for their children. If you know or think your kid is a danger, or you're lifestyle is a danger to them, do something about it!!!
Posted by mortis9 (370 comments )
Link Flag
I can see imposing fines for selling games to someone under 18 that has a M rating, but how many parents buy the games for their kids? The world is a screwed up place, but they want to hold the wrong people responsable for their actions. AC/DC didn't make the Nightstalker kill people and GTA didn't cause this kid to kill a cop. What did? Who knows. And that is the start of the problem. Instead of trying to look at the big picture and find the real reason they just want to blame the Music or the Video games. 20 million people play violent video games and 10 kill somebody, but it's the games fault?

I don't doubt that something needs to be done about violent kids. I think they should hold the parents accountable. Start locking up parent or sueing them when their kid does something wrong. Theirs more logic in that than banning video games.

Just for the record my IQ is 124 and I'm 27.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
True but...
I agree with your statement that yes, we should watch these kids that come from a bad enviroment, which can include their treatment from their own parents. Perhaps many of us are generalizing the situation by saying "The parents should be responsible."

However, are you stating then that video games are the sole and final catalyst that are causing these irrational children to make the final leap and become violent?

Perhaps these children, or as you stated, "... these F'ed up kids..." are mentally unstable, and took an idea they experienced on a video game...or movie, book, news article etc...and then acted on it. However, there is more than ONE source that a mentally deranged child can get the idea of killing someone from. In fact, killing others have existed since the dawn of man.

But let us get back to the point of the article. The issue is, should 'M'-rated games be completely banned from the hands of children? Yes and No. As I said in an earlier posting, the standards to prevent children from purchasing these games are there, but are yet to be completely enforced. As the article stated though, the preventive measures are at the same level as those for a R-rated movie. So if ALL 'M'-rated games should be banned, should not all 'R'-rated movies be as well? The rating levels are approximately equivalent. And I do remember a few years back when talks in congress of banning movies 'R'-rated to children under 17.
As I recall, it never passed.

And today, parents still take their children to see, and rent for them, 'R'-rated movies. AND the parents still purchase their children violent video games. So yes, banning all sales to minor of 'M'-rated video games would get the job done. Of course, there are plenty 'T'-rated (equiv PG-13/PG) games out there that have some violence. So we would have to ban those too. And PG-13 movies. And install blockers on all TV's. And then...well as you can see, its a slippery slope. Coupled with that fact that even if we ban the selling to minors, I could easily see the fact that the PARENTS COULD STILL BY THE GAMES FOR THEM.

And simply banning these creative outlets will NOT solve the problem. You said yourself "No, we're dealing with kids that are so messed up, and come from families that are so dysfunctional, that they see no problem at all jacking cars and shooting cops for fun." That is exactly right. The kids are already having problems. How will banning video games solve these problems?
Posted by (9 comments )
Link Flag
Side note...
Though your points make for a valid debate, starting it with insults to your opponents on their age and intelligence is rather shortsighted, and easily discredits the reset of your post.

And attempting to pass your self off as mature adult while still using 'sheesh' and 'f'ed up' does not help either.
Posted by (9 comments )
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