One of the new targets in this years presidential campaign is video games, as Al Gore has threatened new regulations to crack down on the entertainment industry. In a recent study, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called the marketing of violent entertainment to children "pervasive and aggressive."
Are games like Doom, Mortal Kombat and Total Carnage inciting adolescents to commit violent acts? One prominent critic says parents have a right to be concerned and should take steps to protect their children.
"Violent video games are everybodys problem"
On September 11, 2000, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a new study on selling violent video games and other entertainment products to children. The study found that although the motion picture, music and video game industries have identified products inappropriate for children, "the companies in those industries still routinely target children under 17 in their marketing of products their own ratings systems deem inappropriate or warrant parental caution due to violent content." This week, the commission made public confidential documents that prove motion picture studios recruited hundreds of children, some as young as 9 years old, to participate in focus groups assessing previews, concepts and commercials for R-rated movies.
Some experts contend that parents need to worry about the entertainment that their children are exposed to. And Robert Kubey, director of the Center for Media Studies at Rutgers University, says that video games cause the most harm. "We have every reason to believe...that violent video games are everybodys problem, perhaps more so than television violence," he says.
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Much of Kubeys research focuses on how children respond to violence in video games and television. In a 1990 study, Kubey found that boys found video games to "be the most psychologically arousing medium and the one on which they concentrated most intensely."
How do video games harm children?
"Video games... reward a penchant for control, competition and destruction," Kubey says in the journal Communication Research. "In the United States, boys are socialized in these directions more than girls."
He also says that video games give children a false sense of the true nature of violence. "The person [in a video game] is shot, falls over, bleeds and jumps right back or something." After exposure to the fake violence of video games, children may begin to believe that violent behavior has no real-life consequences. "The kids may, if they do this many many thousands of times, may tend to get impressed upon them the notion that violence isnt as damaging or hurtful as we know it to be," he says.
Kubey points to the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999 as a classic example of how violent video games mold young minds. "One thing that really disturbed a lot of people about these two young boys...was that they were taking the game Doom and tailoring it and altering it. I think you can do certain things with the victims or how the game is played."
How can parents protect their children?
Kubey, a developmental psychologist, has long advocated that children learn how the media influences social and economic behavior, and how to resist these pressures. He would like to see schools develop media education curricula that begins in early childhood.
Parents play a vital role in protecting children from violent video games. Kubey recommends:
Pay more attention to video games ratings. Use the published ratings by the FTC and by the Entertainment Software Rating Board on violence, adult content, and educational features.
Allow your children short periods of play on video games with plenty of breaks.
Cat and mouse
Presidential candidate Al Gore and his running mate Joseph Lieberman recently restated their opposition to selling violent entertainment products to children. In an interview with the New York Times, Gore said that, if elected, he will give the industry just six months to "clean up their act" and cease marketing violent products to children. Lieberman has long criticized the industry for both making and selling violent movies, music and games. Lynne Cheney, wife of Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, recently testified at a Senate committee hearing on marketing violence content to children held on September 21.
Meanwhile, the Interactive Digital Software Association (ISDA) , the video game manufacturers trade group, says that its voluntary ratings system works to keep young children away from violent games. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), testified at the September Senate hearing that the motion picture industry has long crafted advertisements for violent movies that meet strict standards for family viewing. Valenti also cited MPAAs rating system as an effective means for parents to monitor what movies their children watch.
After executives from the entertainment industry admitted they used children as young as 9 in focus groups for the marketing of some violent movies, Rob Friedman, Paramount Studio vice chairman, told the Senate that his company would "review the appropriateness of all advertising." Other executives other stated that they would increase their self-regulation efforts.