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The Game of Sex and Violence

Are Video Games Getting Too Graphic?

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Make no mistake about it, the number of video games with mature themes and graphic violence is on the rise, and judging from the popularity of titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, this trend is likely to continue. Given that video games are typically targeted at a young audience, it's not surprising that this has stirred up plenty of controversy in recent years. As the debate rages on, and game sales continue to smash previous records, it's not uncommon to hear the industry referred to as some sort of scourge that should be eradicated, or at least made a lot more cute and cuddly. Violent games, the argument goes, produce violent people, especially if they are exposed at an early enough age.

Ratings to the Rescue
If it all sounds familiar, it's because we've been through this before. Books, magazines, movies, TV shows, and Web pages have all come under similar scrutiny. Although "violence breeds violence" makes a certain amount of sense at first glance, it fails to explain why so many of us who have not only been playing video games for twenty years, but also watch "The Sopranos" on a regular basis, aren't roaming the streets on a Rambo-like killing spree. Note that television, with the possible exception of children's cartoons, is as violent as ever, although the disclaimers are longer and more numerous than they used to be in the old days.

This debate has resulted in a rating system for games similar to those for movies. In North America, computer games have been rated by a self-regulatory body called the Entertainment Software Rating Board since 1994, and gamers have grown accustomed to seeing their symbol on packaging. While ratings do let consumers make more informed purchases, in most cases they have done little or nothing to prevent kids from getting their hands on their game of choice. Some countries and states, however, do prohibit the sale of adult-rated games to minors.

Politically Incorrect War Games
In Germany, for example, the Ministry of Family Affairs maintains a list of "restricted" titles. Any game on the list must be kept under the counter and sold only to adults. C&C Generals, the latest in a strategy series published by EA games, has recently been added to this list. Among the reasons sited are that the game advocates war, portrays war as the only way to resolve conflicts, and gives military force an aesthetic appeal. Hey, it's a WAR game - having players exchange flowers and go peacefully back to their own territories just won't cut it! Given that one of the game maps includes Baghdad, there is speculation that the rating was politically motivated, but this was flatly denied by a spokesperson for the Ministry.

Despite recent world events, including 9/11 and the war in Iraq, we still appear to have a hearty appetite for violent games. Although 9/11 led some game developers to try and avoid "offensive references," the industry hasn't wasted much time getting back to the tried and true themes we are accustomed to. The war in Iraq seems to have had the opposite effect, as several of the top-selling PC games at the moment have a military theme. Even the U.S. army is playing. Last year they published America's Army: Operations, which is a free game intended to give players a taste of military life.

Beyond the violence itself lies the issue of who the good guys and bad guys are. It's not uncommon for the hero of the game to be an American laying waste to some "rogue" Arab country, civilians and all. In response, the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah designed Special Force, in which players take up arms to join the jihad and resist "Zionist" enemies.

NEXT - War on the Football Field

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