WASHINGTON -- Amid the tinkling of bells and singing of carols, there is this year another, grimmer set of seasonal sounds: the thip-thip of electronic gunshots, grunts of video combat and primal screams of a cyber-opponent being ripped to shreds.
These, according to the National Institute on Media and the Family, are the sounds of video and computer games that are getting youngsters hooked on murder and mayhem.
The Minneapolis-based media watchdog group, joined yesterday by two Democratic U.S. senators who have played a prominent role in past efforts to reduce violent content, urged parents to exercise caution before buying video and computer games as holiday gifts.
Many popular games, they warned, are "more violent, more anti-social and generally more disgusting than ever."
In the United States, 1996 sales of video games alone are expected to reach $4.1 billion.
Some video and computer games deliberately glorify violence in their marketing appeals: Fighting Vipers, a Sega Saturn game marketed to teens, promises video players a chance to "learn the true meaning of rage" by manipulating the game's "vicious arcade streetfighters." In print designed to look like blood, it promises "brutality, carnage and kick-butt realism."
"Every holiday season, we see lists of toys that can harm children physically," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. "We're here to talk about toys that can harm our kids' minds. The gift these products give is to communicate the unadulterated message that killing is cool and viciousness is a virtue."
Lieberman and Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, who also took part in the news conference, have been active in pressing media companies to offer more family-friendly products and to improve the information they provide to parents.
The senators were instrumental in persuading the video and computer game industry to adopt a system of voluntary ratings in 1994, after threatening to introduce legislation.
David Walsh, executive director and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, urged parents, retailers and rental outlets to learn more about the voluntary ratings that manufacturers are displaying on games.
Walsh, a psychologist who wrote the American Medical Association's "Physician's Guide to Media Violence" released in September, also warned that today's video and computer games are faster and more realistic than those of even a year ago.
As a result, he suggested, children could be drawn into their violence more dramatically.
The same trends, added Walsh, will make it more difficult for parents to keep up with the games their children play in arcades and on home computers.
Walsh acknowledged that there is little research linking children's playing of violent video and computer games with violent behavior.
While that link is well established with television viewing, the technology of video and computer games is still too new, he said.
Pub Date: 12/06/96