WASHINGTON — A watchdog group warned yesterday that video games are featuring increased violence against women and called on retailers to do a better job of keeping such games out of the hands of children.
The video-game trade association called the report by the National Institute on Media and the Family "illogical and grotesquely unfair."
In its annual review of the video-game industry, the Minneapolis-based institute singled out several games, most notably "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." In that game, players ramp up their score by having sex with a prostitute, and gain additional points by killing her. The game includes scenes in which blood splatters out of a woman's body as the player beats her to death.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said such games "are creating a culture of virtual victimizers."
The game is rated M for Mature audiences (over age 17), but children have no trouble buying it, said David Walsh, the institute's president and author of the report. The institute gave the industry an overall grade of F.
"Young children have no trouble getting these games," Walsh said.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who has spearheaded efforts to limit children's exposure to violence in the media, credited the industry for ceasing to market their adult games to children.
But he said parents and retailers need to do more to prevent children from getting the violent games. The most troubling trend, Lieberman said, is that "women are the new targets of choice in the most violent games."
He said it might be time for a new round of congressional hearings.
Doug Lowenstein, president of the video-game trade group, Interactive Digital Software Association, said the report's focus on violence against women was a distortion.
"They cite one or two games where they have issues," he said. "This is an industry where the average age is 28."
He pointed to a Federal Trade Commission study issued in 2000 that found adults were present for 82% of video-game purchases.
As for as the violence in "Grand Theft Auto," Lowenstein said, "I won't get into individual creative elements of these games. The games are properly rated... . You can't sanitize interests."
Dawn Berrie, a spokeswoman for Take-Two Interactive, which owns the manufacturer of Grand Theft Auto, said in a statement that "the company makes every effort to market its games responsibly, (and) target advertising and marketing only to adult consumers over the age of 17."
The report said only 70% of retailers have polices preventing children from buying or renting games rated M. That figure is slightly higher, 75%, for chain stores.
Hal Halpin, president of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, a trade group for chain stores that sell video games, said the stores have improved in recent years.
"We're actively working to educate our own clerks at the store level as well as customers and parents," he said.
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