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Video games: The player is at the controls

Sunday, October 29, 2000

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For the record, the overwhelming majority of downloadable, home-system and arcade video games are benign diversions that do little to corrupt the morals of teens. Technology, visuals and story lines progress as fast as big companies can churn out new titles, which are loosely rated for four age groups: T for teens, E for everyone, KA for kids and adults and M for mature audiences.

The violence of video games, most of which are marketed to boys and young men, does not exceed the carnage common to shoot-'em-up R-rated movies. What offends the electorate with increasing regularity, however, is that many of the characters stalk, torture and annihilate each other, splattering the computer monitors with dripping crimson pixels.

The problem is the participatory nature of the medium. While films can be passively gory, video games often encourage active participation in the process of dismemberment. Players of some games virtually inhabit lifelike bodies and stalk their adversaries, making conscious choices about how to punch, kick, poke, choke, slice, dice, hack, whack, shoot or nuke 'em. Video-game opponents see a fine psychological line between virtual assault, battery and murder and the real thing. Advocates see no more harm inflicted than in a real-life game of cowboys and Indians.

A closer look at some new and not-so-new game "diversions":

Behind the controls of interactive driving and flying games such as "Stunt Track" and "X-Plane," teens learn to judge vectors years before they take their first driving tests.

Role-playing games, including Activision's new "Wizards & Warriors," encourage teens to virtually inhabit grotesque creatures and devise complex strategies.

In Sony's "Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes," a hot PlayStation title released last month, players inhabit a buff, shirtless mercenary who beats back "invading alien scum" to save a world of extremely grateful "babes," whose partially clad breasts defy virtual gravity.

Possession of hand-held vid-game consoles is considered contraband at most schools, but they're easy to sneak through the doors hidden in coat pockets. On the bus and during lunch, some game freaks battle the beasts of "Warlocked" on their Game Boy Color consoles or get an education in stimulating games of "Perfect Dark," in which they embody a voluptuous spy shooting it out with evil counter-agents.

The alpha-male of arcade games is Midway's "Mortal Kombat," a game that's been offending anti-violence activists for years. Using real-life body English and virtual martial arts skills, sophisticated players maim, mutilate or choose to kill deadly foes in one-on-one death matches. Less experienced Kombatants may see the crimson pixels splattering from their digital bodies.

The new reigning queen of the CD-ROM stars in Ritual Entertainment's "Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2," the interactive incarnation of an R-rated comic classic and a 2000 feature film. In "Heavy Metal," voluptuous warrior Julie Strain's hot-red thong becomes increasingly wedged as she runs through surreal landscapes with an arsenal of exotic weapons, engaging adversaries in carnal blood sports. Details magazine calls it "the sexiest game of the year."

Sex and violence? The best of both virtual worlds or a real-life nightmare for developing minds?

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