Let’s play a game. Your name is CJ—a hard-bitten gang member combing
the violent and chaotic streets of your old neighborhood. Your mission is to avenge
the murder of your mother. Along the way, you can commit burglary, beat prostitutes
until they die, steal cars and gun down rival gang members, if you choose.
If vigilantism is not your game, try this: You are an armed assassin hiding out
on the sixth floor of a Dallas warehouse in November 1963. Your objective is to execute
the man riding in the backseat of the convertible limousine: our 35th president,
John F. Kennedy.
It sounds too vulgar to be believed, but video games such as Grand Theft Auto:
San Andreas and JFK Reloaded are on the market today, offering players—many
of them children—a landscape where unspeakable acts of brutality and sadism
are within reach.
Perhaps the most unsettling feature of violent video games—aside from their
teen-targeted marketing—is that they allow the player, regardless of age, to become the
main character of the games—vicious, brutal tendencies and all.
Case in point: JFK Reloaded, which was released on the 41st anniversary of
Kennedy’s death, is structured around a point system. Shooting the president
in the precise areas of his body—based on the findings of the Warren Commission—garners
more points. Shooting the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, or other occupants of the
limousine will deduct from the overall score.
The Scottish firm Traffic Games, which developed JFK Reloaded, argues that
the product is not in poor taste. Kirk Ewing, managing director of Traffic Games,
explains his company’s purpose in releasing it.
“We believe that the only thing we’re exploiting is new technology,” he
says. “We genuinely believe that if we get enough people participating, we’ll
be able to disprove once and for all any notion that someone else was involved in
the assassination of President Kennedy.”
Is this a tool for solving a mystery or an at-home assassination tutorial? Ewing’s
real motives are unclear. What is unmistakable is the grotesque nature of the game
itself: Not only can the player trace the direction of the bullets inside John Kennedy’s
body, but with the simple press of a button, blood can erupt from his wounds.
Equally alarming is its accessibility: JFK Reloaded can be downloaded from
the Internet for a meager $9.99.
Even though games such as Grand Theft Auto are rated “M” for
mature players, according to the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF),
an independent, nonprofit organization and media resource for parents, 34 percent
of children and 50 percent of boys frequently purchase video games that are designed
for older, more mature players.
That’s a staggering number of young people being exposed to a buffet of adult
situations such as drug use, prison rape, pimping, nudity, arson and murder, as is
the case in Grand Theft Auto.
Certainly, not every child who plays these games will turn criminal, but the NIMF
believes that exposure to such adult situations, coupled with the often-susceptible,
always-developing teenage mind, could be a dangerous recipe.
“The groundbreaking discoveries about the teenage brain reveal that the growth
spurts continue throughout adolescence, making teens more impressionable,” the
NIMF’s Web site reports.
“Teenagers are wiring the circuits for self-control, responsibility and relationships
they will carry with them into adulthood. The latest brain research shows that violent
games activate the anger center of the teenage brain while dampening the brain’s ‘conscience.’”
It seems young people today haven’t a chance: With an onslaught of gratuitous
and inappropriate films, as well as a lineup of sometimes distasteful television
programs, children are bombarded with visuals far too mature for their young minds
Outlets of entertainment such as Grand Theft Auto, unlike other forms of
media, take it to a darker, more sinister place by inviting the player to participate in
appalling behavior. It’s one thing for a minor to sit in a darkened theater
watching a crime being committed onscreen. It’s quite another for a child to
sit inches away from a television, controller in hand, and pretend to commit the
the Final Score?
As a proud Generation X-er, I’ve played a video game or two in my day. When
I was growing up, the biggest fear that adults had for an excess of video game playing
was a lack of fresh air.
Times have changed. Parents of today must be conscious of how their kids choose
to entertain themselves, and they must give significant thought to the imagery being
presented before their unsophisticated eyes.
Video game violence does not breed damaged people, but consistent exposure to such
material can accomplish something truly alarming by desensitizing young people
to the value, the beauty and the fragility of life.
Recent history offers a telling example: Five years ago on a quiet April morning
in a Colorado town, two troubled teenagers, both enthusiasts of a first-person-shooter
video game called Doom, walked into their school and opened fire, killing
13 people and wounding 23 others before ending their own lives. Their names: Eric
Harris and Dylan Klebold. Their high school: Columbine.C.H.