Gaming gunplay sparks debate

Violence: Discussion of video games' effects has come to the fore amid the recent sniper attacks.

October 24, 2002|By Marlon Manuel | Marlon Manuel,COX NEWS SERVICE

As long as kids have aimed their index fingers and cocked their thumbs, there have been make-believe shooting games.

But over the past two decades, computers have enhanced electronic shoot-'em-up games with surround sound, full color and digital ammunition. Virtual gunning comes with simulated sniper scopes, crosshairs and laser-guided sights for technology as portable as the Game Boy or the Palm Pilot.

Wal-Mart removed the computer game Sniper: Path of Vengeance from its shelves in the Washington area last week, in response to the recent sniper attacks.

"We have removed them from our shelves based on the sensitivity in the area," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burke. "I don't think [the game] has anything to do with what is going on or with this kind of behavior. It was just the right thing to do."

Dozens of titles like Sniper make up the "first-person shooting" video game category, where the screen view represents a player's eyes. Simulated sniper scopes pervade the shooting game market, whether on computers or game consoles like the Sony PlayStation2.

Last year, $9.4 billion worth of computer and video games were sold, according to NPD Group, which tracks retail sales. The first-person shooting segment represented 3.5 percent of video game sales, while other shooting games claimed 5.6 percent of the market.

In the current arcade game Silent Scope EX, versions of which are available for home consoles, players peer through a simulated sniper scope mounted on a toy rifle. The mission: Take out terrorists who have taken hostages in a high-rise.

Through the scope, players watch terrorists weave among the hostages. In a climactic scene, the main bad guy pulls a woman from the lobby of an office building onto the sidewalk. The "commander" orders you to take him out. When you fire, the bullet glides through the air in slow motion until it explodes the bad guy's head.

The arcade edition is so realistic that Derrick Bartlett, president of the American Sniper Association, theorizes that the shooter now terrorizing the region could have learned tactics from such games.

"They could give you a feel for tracking moving targets," he told The Washington Post. "They could desensitize you to the idea of killing a human being."

But David Capilouto, national vice chairman of the American Amusement Machine Association, finds that notion preposterous.

"Any video game today is a big improvement over games that were manufactured 10 or 12 years ago," Capilouto said. "But I don't think, for instance, that playing a NASCAR game makes you qualified to drive in a NASCAR race."

That hasn't stopped speculation about a connection between games and school shootings. After Michael Carneal's 1997 rampage left three classmates dead and five wounded in Paducah, Ky., he said there was no connection between the shooting and the video games he played. But Jack Thompson, a lawyer representing the victims, suggests that video games helped the youth, who had never fired a gun before, hit all eight with single shots.

Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, discounts such a link.

"The notion that using a mouse or controller in a video game can teach people to be a sharpshooter is absurd," Lowenstein said. "Video games available to the public differ from combat simulators used by the military and could never effectively train anyone, physically or psychologically, to kill."

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