Parents fear video games like 'Duke Nukem' doom our kids to violent actions

Look out! Kill 'em! Shoot!

Studies show that children playing violent games are more aggressive right afterward, but for violence on a Littleton scale, "it takes, I believe, a child who is already troubled," one psychiatrist said.



9 May 1999

SAN FRANCISCO—Duke Nukem slips into a burger joint, shotgun at the ready. Suddenly, from behind a table, out lurches a hulking beast with the fanged face of a warthog and LAPD scrawled across his jacket.

"With a quick move, Duke's shotgun is triggered once, twice, then again. The pig crumples to the floor, oozing cartoon blood.

Video games like "Duke Nukem" and 'Doom" have "first-person" or "corridor" shooters, with the player controlling an unseen character. Instead, the muzzle of a gun pokes up from the bottom of the screen, leading the way through streets and buildings as the player, in constant danger, tries to shoot everything that moves.

Rarely are the opponents human. Most are bizarre creatures, the stuff of nightmares — flaming disembodied heads or giant beasts with slavering jaws. They are obviously evil and deserve to die.

"I don't think they're really dangerous," said Bryan Siepert, 17, a fan of the games and a junior at San Francisco's Lowell High School. "I've never felt the urge to go out and shoot someone because I've been playing 'Quake' for an hour or so."

But in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, questions are being raised about whether the fantasy games contribute to real-life violence.

In the Littleton, Colo., case, teen-agers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed themselves after shooting to death a dozen classmates and a teacher. Harris was a devotee of an online version of "Doom," and Klebold also played.

While millions of copies have been sold, violence like what happened in Littleton is rare. But some experts feel the games have a negative effect — and they want something done.

On Wednesday, Vice President Al Gore announced that Internet companies have agreed to give parents new tools to restrict and monitor online material. And video games are sure to be discussed at President Clinton's strategy session on school violence Monday.

"Nobody has any evidence proving any correlation between violent images and violent behavior," contended Aaron John Loeb, editor of Next Generation Online, the Interne, edition of a monthly magazine dedicated to video games.

But David Grossman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who heads the Arkansas-based Killology Research Group, said the games are sophisticated simulators, similar to those used in military training.

"It's learning to kill and learning to like it," said Grossman, who testified on the subject Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Committee.

"Why does a child need that device?" he asked. "They don't. Society helps parents with such things as a child's access to tobacco, guns, drugs, alcohol. We have laws that say anybody who gives your kids this stuff is a criminal. Why on this one subject do we say, "You're on your own?"

Grossman said children should be barred from violent games until at least the age of 13, and he thinks 18 is about right for games that use simulated weapons instead of handheld controllers.

But such claims are based more on popular wisdom than scientific evidence, said Jeanne Funk, a clinical psychiatry professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio who has published articles on the impact of video - games on children.

"Scientifically, we don't have a lot of studies at this point on the subject," she said.

The most recent studies, done in the 1980s, indicate that children playing violent games seemed more aggressive right after playing than those playing more benign games. But for violence on a Littleton scale, "it takes, I believe, a child who is already troubled," she said.

"I'm very concerned about First Amendment issues," she added. "I'm not a supporter of violent video games, but we need to go about this carefully."



Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, discusses if video games like "Doom" and "Duke Nukem" desensitize our children to violence.


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