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Some Video Games Encouraging Violence?

Aired July 17, 2003 - 20:23   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Video games are big business. The industry now makes more money than Hollywood. And like Hollywood, it has its critics. A warning: Some may be offended by these next images. There are those who see games like the one you're about to see here and ask the obvious question: Do video games encourage violence against women?
I'm joined by Jennifer Tsao, the managing editor of "Electronic Gaming Monthly"; and by attorney Jack Thompson, who came straight to our studio after speaking at a conference of the National Organization For Women on this very topic.

Thank you both for being with us tonight.

Jennifer, I want to start with you.

A lot of people might be surprised. You're a young woman who represents this industry. And they're curious, as I am, whether you have any problem at all with a game like "Grand Theft Auto," in which players not only rack up points for shooting at women and having sex with women, but then killing prostitutes.

JENNIFER TSAO, MANAGING EDITOR, "ELECTRONIC GAMING MONTHLY": Well, that's a very limited aspect of the game play as a whole. In "Grand Theft Auto"...

ZAHN: But let's talk about the very narrow focus I have right now. Do you have a problem with that?

TSAO: Well, I would have a problem with the people who only like to do that in the game, certainly. I mean, I would be the first one to tell them, I think that's kind of ridiculous that that's the way they choose to play the game.

But I'd also tell them, you're making the game harder. It's actually a lot harder when you go around committing a lot of senseless acts of violence in that game, because it has got a very sophisticated design, wherein the more violence you do, the more the cops come after you. And it makes it difficult to complete your mission.

ZAHN: Jennifer, people who have never seen these images before, do you understand why they would be looking at them right now, saying, this is sick?

TSAO: I think that I've seen a lot of movies where I have thought, this is pretty sick, too. There are a lot of sick things in our society. And video games reflect it, just as any form of art does.

ZAHN: And, Jack, the argument you hear from Jennifer's side of the industry, it's not just women who are targeted. There are a whole array of people you can attack in these video games.


Well, if this is art, then there are an awful lot of artful murders that have occurred in the last several months across America by video gamers who have trained on this particular game. I represent a family in Medina, Ohio, whose daughter was beaten to death by a boy who liked to play the game, this art, as Jennifer calls it, by beating virtual victims to death with a baseball bat.

He walked into her bedroom as she lay sleeping and beat her to death, not -- he didn't have a baseball bat, so he broke off the bedpost of her bed and smashed her head in. There was a -- Jennifer's right. You can kill other people in the game. You can set police officers on fire with flame-throwers and hear them scream. You can run over people with your car through crowds of people, just like this elderly man did in Santa Monica yesterday. And that's supposed to be fun and entertaining.

The problem is, the Oakland, California, police, Paula, for example, in January of this year, broke up a gang of young men calling themselves the Nut Case, who the police found were literally training on "Grand Theft Auto 3" as a simulator to get tactics of how to carjack. And, in fact, one of the perpetrators told the police -- quote -- "We played the game by day and we lived the game by night."

ZAHN: So, Jennifer, when you hear that law enforcement authorities are saying this and witnesses are telling them that there is a link between the two, are you denying tonight that that link does not exist between playing a game and perhaps encouraging you to act out what you've seen on a video game at a later date?

TSAO: I think those stories that Jack is telling are terrible. They're sad and tragic.

But I think those are depraved individuals who have a bit of trouble, obviously, distinguishing fantasy from reality. And I think, if video games didn't exist, they'd probably look at movies or read books or watch TV shows where the same events happen and use those as a scapegoat for their own depraved behavior.

THOMPSON: Jennifer, let me tell you why these games are so dangerous in the hands of children. Harvard and other universities have done studies that found that adolescents process these games in a different part of the brain than adults.

They process them in the amygdala, rather than the forebrain, where, in the forebrain, you can tell fantasy from reality. So kids, by virtue of having structurally functionally different brains, are particularly vulnerable to act out these fantasies that they are not necessarily able to differentiate from reality. And, indeed, let me ask you this question, Jennifer. And I ask it... (CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: I'm the one who gets to ask the questions here.

THOMPSON: OK. Can I make one more point on the cause of...


ZAHN: I've got to wrap this up real quick.


ZAHN: Jennifer, do you concede that it's all but impossible to keep these games out of the hands of kids?

TSAO: No, I don't concede that at all.

And I think that, in the same way that I wasn't allowed to see "The Exorcist" when I was a little kid, I don't think little kids or even adolescents should be allowed to play "Grand Theft Auto."

ZAHN: All right.

TSAO: If their parents are responsible and think that they can handle it, they should watch them play it and see what they're doing and say: "You know what? I don't like all this violence I'm seeing. Where did you get the idea that violence is a good thing?" and have a discussion.

ZAHN: Jack, you get the last word tonight. What are you looking for? Are you looking for these games to be banned altogether?


ZAHN: What is the compromise here?

THOMPSON: Paula, the state of Washington just passed a law which said that parents should be part of the purchasing process of these games and said that, if a game like this is to be sold to a minor, a parent has to give permission. What does the video game industry do? They filed a lawsuit to prevent parents from being part of the process.

So the video game industry wants a straight shot at kids, going around the parents. Parents, of course, ought to be responsible. And here's a state that comes along and says, let's make them part of the process. And the video game industry says no.

ZAHN: Jennifer and Jack, we're going to have to leave it there this evening, two distinctly different points of view. We appreciate both of them.

Thank you for your time.


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