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Games People Shouldn't Play : Rating violent video games 'adults only' misses the point. Many of these electronic toys encourage behaviors unbecoming a civilized human being of any age.

January 02, 1994|JANET BERNSON-PARMENTER | Janet Bernson-Parmenter is a free-lance writer who lives in Van Nuys. and

A 60-second piece on the radio catches my attention as I drive to pick up my son from school. Representatives of Nintendo and Sega Genesis are arguing the virtues of rating violent games before a government meeting on ratings and violence.

I cringe as Nintendo Vice President Howard Lincoln accuses Sega of not rating its video "Nighttrap" until public pressure demanded it. Sega's Bill White has just stated proudly that the game has always been rated for adults only. They argue further.

I believe that violence is not good for any human being. (I also question the validity of video games in general, but that's another story.) Since when is a video that instructs the victor to drill a hole in the neck of a woman a game a healthy adult would want to play?

The news broadcast is filled with horrific things. It usually is these days. I am not sure if the violence came first and the news after or the other way around. But I'll give you the results of my personal study of violence and human beings when compounded with video games.

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Take my son, 10-year-old Billy. Billy has a friend who from the time he was little has played a Nintendo bestowed upon him by his loving parents. The friend lives next door, which is both a blessing and a curse, for the family is pleasant but oblivious to the effect their electronic gift has had upon their children.

Billy's friend lacks basic problem-solving skills that a video game does not teach. Video games do not teach people how to solve conflicts except by chopping, stomping or shooting. Escape from an assailant is rare and does not make points.

Recent games give blood a realistic ooze, plus screams of agony and despair. When my son goes to play with his friend, he comes back argumentative and at times violent. Hunger and fatigue are rarely the cause, so the game is my chief suspect.

My work with young people has further solidified my position, be they children of single- or two-parent households, rich or poor or in between.

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A recent discussion with a ninth-grade student at Pacoima Middle School chilled me to the bone. I asked him what he likes about violent video games and film.

"I guess they fascinate me," he replied. "I've seen people get killed in real life. It's not much different than a movie. The sound effects are better in the movies."

This detachment is unfortunately not uncommon. Many kids are absolutely unaware of the wrongness of what they are viewing or playing. Whether they can distinguish reality from fantasy when faced with events like killings in high schools is a question we all should be asking ourselves. With few creative outlets, we may be raising violent automatons. On a recent visit to a mall, I asked an employee of the video arcade about the customers.

"They're morons," he said. "They play these games for hours, then fight with each other when they run out of money or lose, sometimes both."

Ratings? How will these places be policed even if the games are age-rated? By parents who send their kids to the arcade while they shop?

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Video games are not the cause of the horrors we are seeing in the schools, of course. There are other things that add to the violence in our culture, like television shows, graphic news stories and open displays of hostility by a frustrated public. But I'm convinced the games contribute, and giving a child a game which encourages behavior unbecoming a civilized human being is not only ridiculous but bordering on criminal.

I can only imagine the day when Messrs. Lincoln and White introduce video games to enhance the well-being of humanity, and look forward to its possibility. They might sell, if the special effects included the joy one gets from solving a tough problem, or making a new friend or helping someone less fortunate.

Maybe then the gift of a video game system will be a positive expression of love. Until then, I'm giving my son something he can't plug in.

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