Video Games: Big Business or Big Trouble?--Part I

Heikkinen enjoys a game of "Brothers in Arms."
Heikkinen enjoys a game of "Brothers in Arms."

Ever play video games as a kid? Do your kids play? What they see on the screen might surprise you. Games have come a long way and many of them are definitely "adults only" these days.

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on games of all kinds, but some of the best selling are definitely not meant for your kids.

A generation of video games has grown up to nearly cinematic realism, like Ubisoft's Brothers in Arms, a brutally realistic depiction of World War II combat, including blood and soldiers cursing.

"Folks of my generation aren't that computer literate, aren't that savvy for the most part," said Georgia Rep. Tom Bordeaux (D-Savannah). "And when a child says, 'I want that game,' we tend to buy that game I suspect, without even knowing how to look at it to see what's on it."

And what's on a lot of them is definitely not for children. Like the Grand Theft Auto series, which rewards gamers for playing a violent thug.

"Not only a drug lord, but like a pimp," explained gamer Eric Heikkinen of Savannah. "At one point you own a porno theater, like a porno filming area."

Part of the action, as the title indicates, is stealing cars.

"Adults have rights to purchase those products," said Rep. Bordeaux. "Do I have a problem with it? Sure. I don't think we should glamorize violence and killing and rape and murder and all these things, but they have a right to do it. Does it have a bad effect on that person and ultimately society? Yeah, I think it does. I don't see how it couldn't."

Decades of research agree there is a risk of damaging effects, especially for children.

"Instead of, for example, interpreting someone bumping into you on a crowded street as an accident, there becomes a greater likelihood that there will be a hostile intent attributed to that behavior," said Dr. Jane Wong, a psychology professor with Armstrong Atlantic State University.

To help advise parents, Rep. Bordeaux is backing legislation to penalize retailers who don't clearly display the content ratings most commercial games now carry (overseen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board). And the Chatham County Youth Commission is starting its own push to raise parental awareness.

"I went to Wal-Mart and I saw an eight-year-old kid convince his parents to buy him Grand Theft Auto," said youth commissioner Akhil Anumolu. "Personally, he's not old enough to be playing that game."

Heikkinen explained that in the game, "if you're on the streets you can start running over people. And notice there's blood streaks coming from the tires after you hit someone."

While not all games are violent, today's young people do know how far it can go.

The research does not place blame for violent behavior solely on violent media, but it does indicate that interactive violence, particularly, increases the risk of aggression. Those we spoke with say parents need to be involved in what their children play.

"Parents could limit exposure and/or view it with their children and play the role of teachers who provide the social and moral context for what they see," Dr. Wong said.

"Minors, you're still at this age where you're still developing your brain, and you're still trying to decide what's right and what's wrong, and you're confused about things," said Heikkinen. "And I think games like this completely confuse kids.

"I would say anyone under seventeen shouldn't touch this game," he added.

On the market for decades, video games have certainly grown up.

We should point out that the vast majority of games on the market are rated either for everyone or for teens, but some of the mature-rated games are among the best sellers.

Reported by: Charles Gray,