Video games that have players shoot rival gang members, watch bare-breasted women and recreate the assassination of President Kennedy were criticized Tuesday by a watchdog group that said, at the least, they should be kept away from children.
In issuing its annual report card on video games, the National Institute on Media and the Family urged the industry to educate parents better about ratings and asked retailers not to sell such games to younger teenagers.
"This segment of games keeps getting more realistic, and they keep pushing the envelope," David Walsh, the institute's president, said at a news conference. "The problem is that these games are the ones that are particularly popular with kids, particularly teenagers."
The video game trade association said its games carry appropriate ratings and recommended that parents police the activities of their children.
Among those listed as the worst games of the year was "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," a game in which the hero vows to avenge his mother's murder and restore glory to his neighborhood gang. Players rack up points by gunning down police, committing carjackings, burglarizing homes and dealing in other underworld activities.
The game debuted in October and instantly became the year's best seller, part of a series of "Grand Theft Auto" games that has sold more than $32 million over the past few years. The institute's list also includes "The Guy Game," which features video of women exposing their breasts.
Like others on the group's list, the games are rated "M" for mature, which means retailers are not supposed to sell them to people under 17. Walsh said some of the games should be rated "AO" or "adults only," which would limit purchase to those 18 and over. Many stores will not carry games with that rating.
Lax enforcement cited
The institute blamed game retailers for lax enforcement, citing a survey it conducted this year. The survey found that half of underage boys and 8 percent of girls who tried were allowed to buy M-rated games, the group said.
A trade group that represents game retailers said it is premature to criticize stores because they already are putting a new enforcement policy into place. The Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association has pledged to create tougher standards by December to forbid the sale of mature games to children.
Doug Lowenstein, president of Entertainment Software Association, said all the games on the institute's objectionable list are rated M, which he said shows the industry is doing its job.
"The reality is that most of the time when kids get these games, they get them from an adult or a parent, and that is a failure of parenting," Lowenstein said. He also cited a survey that showed that most parents agree with the rating system.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., credited the industry for creating many good games but said the small percentage of games with extremely violent or pornographic content is "worse than ever."
"The fact that the assassination of President Kennedy, which broke our hearts and altered our history, could become the subject of a video game from which people are making money is just outrageous, it is despicable, it's unbelievable," Lieberman said.
The "JFK Reloaded" game, released Monday to near universal condemnation, is available only by downloading from the Internet. Lowenstein said the game does not come from a mainstream company and agreed that its subject matter was inappropriate.