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Video Violence

Alarms sound over the seamy side of screen time

November 30, 2005

Many parents will be gift-wrapping video games for their child this Christmas – blissfully unaware of the graphic sexual and violent content.

“Parents definitely need to be informed and aware about what is in some of these games,” said Hood River County Sheriff Capt. Jim Tomson.

He said most parents would not condone their child learning how to beat a cop to death. Or solicit sexual favors from a prostitute, and then rob and run over her with a vehicle. But that might be what they are getting when they purchase one of several popular games.

1. Limit game playing time.

2. Check the age ratings and descriptors on the game box.

3. Use other content sources and reviews to help you choose a game.

4. Avoid the “first person shooter,” killing-machine games.

5. Require that homework and chores be done before game playing.

6. Do not put video game consoles or computers in children’s bedrooms.

7. Play and enjoy a game with your child; check in as your child moves into deeper levels of the game.

8. Explain to your child why you object to certain games.

9. Encourage our child to play with friends, or other activities away from the video game set.

10. Ask your local retailer or rental store to implement policies that prevent the sale or rental of “Mature” rated games to younger children.

— From Media Wise®, affiliated with the National Institute on Media and the Family.

“Society pays the price when children are de-sensitized to these types of actions. It is something that all parents need to think about,” said Tomson.

In 19 school shootings throughout the United States, the young perpetrators had only one thing in common: They might have come from all different walks of life, but they all spent hours playing violent video games, according to Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

Grossman, spokesperson for the Killology Research Group, recently delivered that grim message at the Mid-Columbia Symposium on Children. Hood River County law enforcement officials and family service workers in attendance were shocked to learn the extent of the problem.

“Not every kid who plays these games is going to shoot up a school – but they are definitely being trained in random acts of killing,” said Sheriff Detective Gerry Tiffany.

He said the game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” recently had its rating bumped up from “Mature” for “May be suitable for persons ages 17+” to “Adult Only” because of its graphic sexual content.

However, Tiffany said millions of copies are already in circulation among children. So, our most vulnerable population, he said, is being exposed to hidden sex scenes reachable by unlocking access points known as “Easter Eggs.”

In addition, Grand Theft Auto 3, with an “M” rating, allows players to pay a prostitute in a car that rocks and squeaks with a simulated sex act. The game also rewards use of an assault rifle or baseball bat to chase down and kill cops, other motorists and even innocent bystanders.

“I thought these games would be about stealing cars, which seemed bad enough, but that is just a drop in the bucket,” said Tomson.

Tiffany said several popular video games promote the killing of cops. But Postal 2, rated “M,” takes a dramatic but gross departure from that theme. In that game, Tiffany said a policeman is on fire and the player can opt to “urinate” on him to put out the flames. If the player aims for the cop’s throat, Tiffany said the character makes a gurgling sound.

According to The Center for Successful Parenting (CSP), not only do many video games expose children to harmful influences, they can also affect brain development. The group wants the following warning placed on violent games, television shows and movies: Brain Function is Adversely Altered by Violent Media Exposure.

A two-year study of adolescents through the Indiana University School of Medicine reinforces that concern. Among the group of teenagers, some with documented behavioral disorders, all exhibited more aggressive tendencies after being exposed to violent subject matter.

But, the damage did not appear to just stop with more aggression. Researchers found that extended television watching or manning video game controls inhibited the subjects’ reasoning abilities. And created raw emotions that were unchecked by logic.

“The only thing that separates us from every other organism is that we are able to put things into perspective by using logic,” said Sheriff Deputy Jason Brandt.

Tiffany said the ratings on video games are also under fire. Since ratings are largely based on information and excerpts provided by the game manufacturers, the full content is often not revealed. And, with an industry that netted $10 billion in 2004, Tiffany said there could be a financial incentive for the mainstream media not to pursue the issue.

In 2001, Harvard University’s Kids Risk Project tested a random sampling of 81 games – and found that 48 percent had more profanity, violence and sexual themes than listed on the box. And even videos rated “E” for “suitable to everyone” contained intentional violence. Harvard researchers believe Entertainment Software Rating Board members should actually play the games before rating them.

There are a variety of Internet sites that post their own ratings on video games, movies and television shows. The most important issue, said Tomson, is that parents need to be informed and selective about what enters their home.

He recalled one visit to the residence of an out-of-control juvenile. The mother of the teenager was visibly confused about the source of her son’s behavior. But, in the background Tomson could see her children playing extremely violent video games. He said there were probably other factors in play with the rebellious teen, but exposure to that type of game probably did not help the situation.

After listening to Grossman’s presentation, conditions regarding supervision of juvenile delinquents could soon incorporate media sources.

Michelle Hughes, senior juvenile officer, plans to initiate discussion about whether some video games should be off-limits to clients with violent tendencies or sex offenses.

Brandt said the average child spends 45 hours in front of a television set each week. And that can warp his/her ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. He said video games and television can provide entertainment, and sometimes even be educational, but they should not be used as an “electronic babysitter.”

“Basically, I think we would all be better off to spend more quality time with our kids,” he said.

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