Groups warn: Dont buy violent video games for kids

NEW YORK — About 70 percent of kids today live in a home with at least one video game player and 33 percent have one in their bedrooms. It’s a billion-dollar industry — $7 billion in 2003 — and even the most violent are marketed to kids as young as 7 or 8, according to five leading parent, church and women’s groups.

“Killing cops, beating women, and committing hate crimes are not something I want my children practicing, in living, vivid color,” says Eric Gioia, a member of the New York City Council.

Gioia joined the five groups last month to issue a “10 worst violent video game” list in the hopes of alerting unwary parents to the “blood-soaked” and anti-social content of the games that might otherwise be purchased as holiday gifts for children.

In a joint statement, the groups also urged retailers to stop selling the inappropriate games directly to children and called on the industry to come up with an improved and more widely promoted game rating system that parents can understand.

The five groups — the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), the National Council of Women’s Organizations, Mothers Against Violence in America, Center for Advancement of Public Policy, and Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ — highlighted 10 video games as the most violent (see box). The groups also voiced their concerns about a free, web-based game, “America’s Army,” which is used to promote enlistment in the U.S. Army, but is accessible to the youngest of children.

“Many adults who have not played video games may not realize that these ‘games’ will typically force an impressionable child to kill in order to ‘win,’” said Sister Pat Wolf, ICCR executive director.

“Adults buying video games for children need to understand that the game makers and retailers are not on their side when it comes to these violent video games. This fast-buck-at-any-cost mentality is something that is a real danger to kids.”

In many of these games, minorities are represented only as violent criminals or the player scores points for killing them. The “10 worst” list was issued before the release of the “JFK Reloaded” game, in which the player reenacts the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That game’s Scottish manufacturer is promoting it as “educational.”

The five anti-violence groups are quick to point out that they are not advocating censorship. They are not asking manufacturers to remove the games from the market, but that they be marketed according to their content.

“Corporate responsibility must mean more than meeting minimal rating standards, which presently serve the industry far more than they serve the consumer. Retailers must develop their own standards in regards to the marketing of these types of games, and disclose how they are implementing and complying with these standards,” said Dr. Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

“Too many newspaper ads today mix in videogames for toddlers with videogames no child should see. And on Amazon.com, when you pull up ‘Half Life 2,’ you find that a purchase will be rewarded with a stuffed Shrek 2 doll. That makes the violent video game seem like something designed for kids.”

Last year, Gioia released a report that found 97 percent of retail stores in New York City surveyed had sold M-rated (mature, 17+) video games to minors.

“Our concern about these violent video games is not guesswork,” said Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson of the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. “These games are bad for kids. The rating system does not work. Retailers are making a mockery of the supposed limits on sales. All of this paints a very unattractive picture of a violent video game ‘system’ in America that just does not work at all.”

The author can be reached at crummel@pww.org.