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Violence, Sex in Video Games Under Fire, Again

Aired May 15, 2003 - 20:27   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, what's your son or daughter up to tonight? Maybe carjacking, hit and runs, a high speed police chase maybe, followed by a shootout involving a tank and armed helicopters? Or how about a little one on one where the loser gets his backbone ripped out? Don't slip on the blood. Hey, it's all good, clean video game fun, right? Question is, is it healthy?
Before we talk about the pros and cons, want to talk about the money. Last year, the video game industry took in more money than movies, $10.3 billion to $9.5 billion. Amazing. Daniel Sieberg joins us from Los Angeles where the Electronic Entertainment Expo is underway -- Daniel.

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, that;s right. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 is the huge video game convention here. Thousands of gamers pack the Los Angeles Convention Center every year. It's winding down just about right now.

But all of these gamers are very familiar with the level of sex and violence that are in video games, and many of them are actually quite comfortable with it. You know the games that we're talking about are mature titles. That means for 17 and older. There is a rating system put out by the Entertainment software Ratings Board that rates all of these games. There's also "T" for teen, "E" for everyone. This is coming out from the ESRB. The different age groups and ratings are meant to help parents make an informed choice when they're going to buy games for their kids.

You know this debate has been around for many years about the level of violence or sex that are in games. And a lot of the attendees that we talked to here said they wouldn't feel comfortable with any sort of government involvement to legislate something, nor are they convinced that a game would make them act out something in real life. Here's a sampling of what they told while we were on the show today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really hard to draw a line. Everybody's different. You might have a 16-year-old that has one mentality and another 16-year-old that has another mentality. So they're all different. But it's up to the parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of nice to be you know over 40 and sit there and, I don't know, go through a kingdom of rabbits that can kill the bad guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the violence and the sex that brings us in. You know, it's like everybody loves to do that, that's the thing. You can't do that in the real world so you might as well do that in the virtual world.


SIEBERG: Now sex and violence can certainly sell a game, it can generate a lot of interest in a game. But it can also backfire. We saw a game called "BMX XXX" come out not too long ago which had naked women on bikes, but the game didn't sell very well. The gameplay wasn't what gamers were after.

And, as I say, this debate has been around for many years. And there's certainly plenty of eyecandy here on the show floor at E3, what are called "booth babes" that are wandering around, trying to bring gamers in to look at their different titles. And some gamers might check out these titles because they're interested in them.

There's also about a 95 percent male audience that is at this show, at E3. So even if it's a salacious title, they might want to check it out, but they're not going to stick around and keep playing it.

The bottom line in all of this, Anderson, is that it's certainly not a new debate. And it's likely going to continue for many, many years, if not indefinitely as the video game industry progresses and gets more realistic with different graphics -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Daniel Sieberg, thanks a lot.

By now you've probably gotten the idea gaming isn't in the realm of "Tetris" or "Ms. Pac-Man" or "Donkey Kong" anymore and we are way past "Space Invaders."

The games are more complicated, more realistic, much more violent. Many say too violent, in fact. I want to talk about that a little bit. We're also going show you clips from real video games. And while they are the least violent stuff we dared to put on TV, we advise they still can be quite disturbing.

Joining me from Miami, Florida, not to be confused with "Grand Theft Auto's Vice City," is attorney and dad Jack Thompson. And in Los Angeles, author David Kushner. His book "Masters of Doom" is about the two men who created some of the first really violent and controversial video games. Gentlemen, thanks for being with us, both of you. Appreciate it.

David, let me start with you. You know, some people are going to be shocked by seeing some of these videos for the first time. And as we said, there's a lot worse stuff out there. In your opinion, is this a problem? Are kids playing these games and is that dangerous?

DAVID KUSHNER, AUTHOR, "MEN OF DOOM": Well I think this is a misconception that has been around for quite a while, that this is just a medium for kids. And that's the reason you hear people talking about violent games.

But in fact, the audience tends to be older. They tend to be people over the age of 18 anyway. And I think that we've really got to accept that just like there are movies that are appropriate for adults and movies appropriate for kids, there are also games that fall into those two categories.

COOPER: But I mean these things are incredibly violent. Here we have this man beating up a woman. There are games where you hire a prostitute and then you can beat her up afterwards. It's extraordinarily violent stuff. You have no problem with the content?

KUSHNER: Well, number one, I think that makes a good sound bite. But in reality, in a game like "Grand Theft auto" nobody talks about how you can spend the whole game driving an ambulance and you actually progress further if you do that. If you go around beating up people indiscriminately the cops come after you. So there is actually morality in the game.

COOPER: OK, there's morality in the game.

Jack, what do you think? Morality in the game?

JACK THOMPSON, ATTORNEY: People need to talk to my client in Medina, Ohio whose daughter was beaten to death with one of the posters from her bed by a boy by the name of Dustin Lynch who played "Grand Theft Auto" three hours each day. He didn't have a baseball bat so he used a part of her bed. And he was an obsessive player of that game. People who observed him have sworn under oath that his favorite way of killing in the game was to beat people in that fashion...


COOPER: ... as you well know, there are people who say, look, a disturbed person can play these games, they're going to be disturbed before the game and maybe even more disturbed afterward.


COOPER: ... just kids who aren't disturbed. What is your problem with these games?

THOMPSON: Well the heads of six health care organizations, including the AMA have testified before Congress that teens are more likely to replicate, copycat, violent video games than adults are. In fact, Harvard has found that kids process these games in the amygdala, which is the seat of emotions of the brain, whereas adults process them in the forebrain.

And so there are hard, neurobiological, scientific reasons why kids ought to be kept away from these games. But the video game industry, even after Columbine, after Klebold and Harris trained on the game that David has written a book about, the creators of, the industry still markets these M-rated games to kids under 17. And in fact Best Buy, a huge retail giant, as a corporate policy refuse to I.D. kids to determine that kids not get the games.

COOPER: David, I want to get you in here. For you, is it all about parental responsibility?

KUSHNER: I think so. I mean I think the parents have to know the games that their kids are playing. And again, in my book "Masters of Doom" I do talk about what happened after Columbine. And you know there was a lot of misrepresentation about the game and the role that it played.

In fact, the game they were talking about had already been out for six years. It was old news to gamers. And I think if anybody sits down and actually plays the game, you can't possibly take it seriously and think that this has some effect...


COOPER: Jack, final thought from you.

THOMPSON: Let's talk about parental responsibility. I can raise my 10-year-old but I can't raise somebody else's kid. My nephew in Kansas after Christmas went next door to play with a friend. He came back, said to his mother, Mommy, we just had sex with a prostitute and we beat her to death. And she said, what? And the question was, what did she do wrong? She let her kid go next door and play with a friend.

So the fact is those games are out there, they're being marketed to kids and the video game industry couldn't care less.

COOPER: All right, We're going to have to leave it there. Jack Thompson, David Kushner, appreciate you joining us, thanks.


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