Video Game Makers Get a 'C' for Effort, Critics Say

The people who worry about video games worry most about characters like BloodRayne.

She is half-vampire, half-human -- and the human half of her is every teenage boy's fantasy. Even when she is hacking bad guys to death, she is so convincingly curvy that last month, she became the first computer-generated woman ever to pose for Playboy.

"I think part of what we're seeing is the constant pushing of the envelope," said psychologist David Walsh, founder of an advocacy group, the National Institute on Media and the Family. "The idea of a teenage boy spending hours and hours playing a game where violence is entertainment, where mistreatment of women is glamorized -- these are not the kinds of connections we want our kids to be making during these very, very important formative years."

Walsh's group today released its ninth annual "report card" on video games, saying some games are terrific for children, but many are very questionable -- and parents are caught in the middle, with very little to help them steer their children.

"They don't need more time in front of any video screen, as far as I'm concerned," said Ray Roland, a father from Maryland.

Part of the problem, says the new report, is that games they rate as bad for children are often very good at being bad -- advancing technology has led to spectacular graphics.

"They're very violent," said Roya Sterner, who has two teenagers. Her son recently came home with "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," the latest edition of one of the best-selling games of all time.

"He bought it on his own, and now I want him to return it," she said.

The Industry Answers

The software companies that make the games are tired of such complaints. They say people have it all wrong, fixating on children and violence -- even though the average gamer today is 29 years old.

To protect children, they remind parents that there is a rating system: "E" for everyone, "T" for teenagers, "M" for ages 17 and up, and so forth. Eighty-five percent of the games on the market, the industry says, are rated "E" or "T."

"This industry is not growing on the back of violent entertainment," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association in Washington. "This industry is pushing past $7 billion this year in revenue, because it's providing a whole range of entertainment experiences for people of all ages and all tastes."

Sex Sells

But while M-rated games are only 12 percent of the titles on the market, the industry's critics say they are the biggest sellers. Their popularity is spread by magazines, the Internet and word of mouth.

"The kids seize on that," said activist Walsh, "and say, 'Mom, I want this game, all the kids have it.' And so, as a result, these games are extremely popular with kids."

Walsh's group says store clerks do a poor job of enforcing the rating system. It says 78 percent of boys under 17 list an M-rated game as a favorite.

And this matters for the future: a major consulting firm says the average 25-year-old has spent 10,000 hours playing video games.