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Of the eight shots he fired, he had eight hits on eight different kids. Five were headshots, the other three upper torsos. The result was three dead and one paralyzed for life. The FBI says that the average, experienced, qualified law enforcement officer in the average shoot-out, at an average range of seven yards, hits with less than one bullet in five.

Grossman admits Carneal was most likely a naturally gifted shooter, but maintains that the influence and time spent playing violent video games prepared him for the shooting rampage.

"You need three things to kill: the weapon, the skill and the will to kill," says Grossman. "With video game training it makes killing happen without conscious thought — it’s a stimulus response."

Carl*, a 34-year-old father of four who lives in Missouri and owns a video game console, is not worried that video games might train his children to murder. Instead, he is more concerned that video games are teaching children that they do not need to adhere to any code of ethics or morals.

"Kids are coached into the idea that there is no such thing as right and wrong [by playing violent video games]," he says. "It’s not the violence in itself that is so bad; it’s the fact that in many video games there is no justice.

"In the real world sometimes violence is a necessary event," he says. "There is nothing wrong when it’s used to defend the innocent and enforce justice against evildoers."

Even so, if Grossman had it his way children under the age of 7 would never be exposed to any violent graphic imagery because, he says, they have a difficult time telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

"When children see brutal death and destruction in video games they become convinced that’s the way the world works," he says, noting that most children will not follow Carneal’s example as teenagers, but many could suffer psychologically at some level. "Most children are not going to become mass murderers; they will just become fearful and lead their lives in a state of fear."

Supply and demand
Violence is only part of the problem.

In November, Acclaim Entertainment Inc., released BMX XXX, which one reviewer on the Web site ign.com describes as an R-rated video game. By collecting coins in the game, players are rewarded with a trip to a strip club. There, they cash in coins they have accumulated to see a woman strip. "These aren’t animated girls either," boasts the reviewer. "We’re talking real strippers gettin’ real naked."

Such fare does not surprise Joe Hamell, 28, an artist who designs video games at an independent game developer in Illinois. In fact, he says, there is far worse material in the works for the future. "There are Christians in the industry who are trying to make a difference and the tide could change with prayer. But it [objectionable content] is going to start creeping its way into everything," he says, adding that the philosophy in the gaming industry is to supply what consumers demand. "The industry is just giving the public what they want."

Indeed.

Last year’s best selling video game was the disturbingly violent and coarse Grand Theft Auto III for the Playstation 2. In the game, players guide a character through Liberty City where stealing cars, mugging and assaulting others, and soliciting a prostitute are goals of the game.

On the GTA3.com Web site, readers are warned that the game is for mature audiences only and that GTA3 was banned in Australia because, "you can take a prostitute in your car, have your act and then once you’re done, kill her."

GTA3 is a favorite of Brandan, a 17-year-old high school senior from Modesto, Calif., who says he is drawn to the game because of its goal and violence. At his school, he says, most students who play video games have played GTA3 and seem to like it. Brandan has been playing video games since he was 13 and says his morals and Christian upbringing will keep him from acting out any scenarios he witnesses while playing GTA3.

"For non-Christians who play the game it probably shows them that it [the way the characters act] is the right way rather than wrong way to live," he says. "But I don’t let it take a toll on me."

Who’s in charge?
Even though adults purchase nine out of 10 games sold in the United States, analysts claim many children still have easy access to games that are inappropriate for them. The reasons? Experts say many parents are uninformed, uninvolved and rely too much on ratings, and some retailers are more than willing to sell or rent violent video games to minors.

"Parents don’t realize what is out there in games today," says Dr. Douglas Gentile, 38, director of research for the National Institute on Media and the Family. "Many people make the incorrect assumption that if it’s called a game it must be all right for kids — but that’s no longer true."

According to a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, 88 percent of parents report regularly supervising their children’s use of television, but only 48 percent report regularly supervising their children’s use of video games.

Ratings from the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an independent, voluntary ratings system for video games, do accompany almost all video games sold in the United States. Experts who spoke to Today’s Pentecostal Evangel urge parents to check ratings as a first step in deciding if a game is appropriate for their children. But stopping at the rating is insufficient. Parents are encouraged to scour game titles and reviews, and talk to storekeepers and players. Playing the game first, say experts, is not a bad idea.

"Be involved and know what games your children are playing," suggests Gentile. "The job for parents is to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff."

Dr. Kathryn Wurtz, a psychologist and director of the child and adolescent department at EMERGE Ministries in Akron, Ohio, says parental supervision, involvement and research into games, plus prayer are crucial in keeping children from inappropriate video games. But she also advises parents to concentrate on communicating effectively with their children.

"Because these games can become so important to children, it is best to listen to your child’s opinion and try to understand it," she says. "You don’t have to agree with them, just let them know you care about their feelings and you will consider their point of view in making your decision."

No matter what precautions a parent may take, it is still relatively easy for a minor to purchase or rent any video game. Some retailers will sell or rent Mature and Adult-rated video games to minors. This does not sit well with U.S. Rep. Joe Baca of California who has introduced legislation aimed at curbing the sale or rental of grotesque, violent and sexually explicit video games to minors. If passed, the law would create penalties for those who do so.

"Parents have to take responsibility for their children and monitor where they are learning their behavior from, but stores have a community responsibility to help keep kids from harmful material as well," says Baca. "When kids play video games, they assume the identity of the characters in the game, and some of these characters are murderers, thieves, rapists, drug addicts, and prostitutes."

Game over?
Today, Elizabeth Woolley is helping other families and players who are facing the same situation she and Shawn faced a little more than a year ago. With the help of friends and volunteers, Woolley has created On-Line Gamers Anonymous, which is a resource on the Internet for players who are struggling to break their addiction to video games.

"When I was trying to find help for my son there was no place to go," says Woolley. "I had no idea there were other people going through the same thing I was. It’s so devastating. This stuff is breaking up families."


*Name has been changed.

Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

E-mail your comments to pe@ag.org.

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