Video-game violence back under attack

By Dean Takahashi, The Wall Street Journal Online
Published on ZDNet News: November 23, 1999, 4:00 PM PT
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Just as the video-game industry's biggest selling season approaches, critics of video-game violence again are voicing concerns.

Two U.S. senators, Joseph Lieberman (D., Conn.) and Herb Kohl (D., Wis.) and an antiviolence lobbying group, the National Institute on Media and the Family, released an annual report on video game violence that takes the game makers to task for creating violent games with no socially redeeming value. In particular, the critics singled out Interplay Entertainment Corp.'s (Nasdaq: IPLY) "Kingpin: Life of Crime," in which players portray heavily armed street criminals.

Violence issue back on front burner
"Computer and video games are in the spotlight like never before" because of school shootings earlier in the year in which the perpetrators allegedly were fans of violent video games, said David Walsh, director of the Minneapolis institute. "But we don't need another tragedy to raise the issue again."

A spokesman for Interplay of Irvine, Calif., couldn't be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the state legislature in New York held hearings on video-game violence, featuring such witnesses as David Grossman, a former U.S. Army ranger who has written a book attacking game violence. The issue appears to be heating up again because various state legislatures from Washington to Pennsylvania have begun debating bills aimed at curbing game violence.

Coincidentally, Id Software Inc. of Mesquite, Texas, has just finished work on its newest first-person shooting game, "Quake III." Games such as "Quake III" and GT Interactive Corp.'s (Nasdaq: GTIS) "Unreal Tournament" are expected to be hot sellers this holiday season. Such games involve multiple Internet players who use rockets, machine guns and other fanciful weaponry to hunt down other players wandering through castle-like mazes.

Inappropriate marketing
While praising the game industry for making concessions on how video games are sold, Walsh cited numerous examples of what he called inappropriate marketing of violence to children. He noted that action figures for the game "Metal Gear Solid" were rated "five-year-olds and up" even though the game has a "mature," adults-only rating. Doug Lowenstein, president of the game-industry lobby group, the Interactive Digital Software Association in Washington, D.C., said it is a huge leap from making action figures available to children and allowing them to play violent video games.

Todd Hollenshead, CEO of Id Software, earlier this week said "We make it clear that the game has violent subject matter. If a parent is going to buy the game, they should know that from the rating that is on the box."

John Carmack, the chief programmer at Id, adds, "We're the poster child for people saying these games are terrible. But our violence is cartoonish and we are clearly dealing with fantasy characters, and we're not the most violent."

To some degree, the game industry is responding to its critics. Lowenstein said his group has begun running ads featuring TV spots with golf star Tiger Woods to educate parents and store clerks about the ratings system. The IDSA has also formed an advertising-review council to screen advertisements for inappropriate messages aimed at young children. Walsh noted one improvement: About 75 percent of store clerks were aware of the video-game ratings system this year, in contrast to only 43 percent last year.

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