A battle over sale of violent video games
Illinois governor's push to prevent sales to minors pits civil liberties against desire to protect children.
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Still, moves like this one are a perennially popular political maneuver that draws momentum from real-life incidents - the news that the Columbine perpetrators liked to play "Doom," for instance, or that two Tennessee teenagers who fired randomly at motorists, killing one person and wounding two more, admitted they were imitating Grand Theft Auto. Calvert says that in 2004 alone, he counted more than 20 state and local bills that tried to regulate game sales.Skip to next paragraph
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Even if such laws never pass muster with a court, many say video-game content needs attention, particularly from parents. One game that caught Blagojevich's attention was "JFK Reloaded," which has players take on the role of Lee Harvey Oswald, and was released on the anniversary of Kennedy's assassination. That game is Scottish and not for sale by US retailers, but parent watchdog groups say that popular games like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and "Halo 2" aren't much better.
In "Manhunt," the player stalks and kills victims in increasingly gruesome ways; in "Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude," players try to have sex with college women and the box urges them to "help Larry earn a BA in T & A."
"A game is different from watching a movie or reading a book - it's so interactive and lifelike," says David Mikec, a middle-aged recruiter browsing the PlayStation 2 aisle of a Chicago Best Buy. Though he enjoys some of the M-rated games, he says he's surprised himself with how conservative he's become regarding minors. "I played 'Manhunt' recently. I couldn't believe how violent it is. I wouldn't let anyone under 16 play it, but I think the majority of people who play it are kids."
In store aisles, titles like "Killzone" and "True Crime" are tucked in among "Finding Nemo" and "Harry Potter." But signs warn customers that the store checks IDs. And the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, (IEMA) which represents about 85 percent of US game retailers, says enforcement has improved significantly since it decided to overhaul its policies last year.
A recent study by the National Institute on Media and the Family showed that 34 percent of children between 7 and 14 were able to buy M-rated games (about half of boys succeeded, and just 8 percent of girls) - an improvement from the year before. The research also shows that 87 percent of boys who play video games have tried M-rated ones.
"The governor's heart is in the right place, but he was misinformed," says Hal Halpin, president of the IEMA, noting that members have worked on posting signs, training staff, and demanding IDs. "Now that we've instituted these policies, we believe parents should be the ones deciding what they're kids play."
In Francisco's case, that means that even if sales were regulated, he'd still be able to play them. "I don't see anything wrong with them," says his father, as he heads to the cash register to buy the M-rated "Metal Gear Solid 3."
And his soft-spoken son doubts a law would hinder teens from getting the games. "I understand why their saying [we shouldn't play them]," he says. "But ... we hear these things in the streets. Playing the games takes our mind off other things."