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Danger Zone

Game On


Published August 9, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

People like to ask questions. "Play any good games lately?" "Aren't you a little old for video games?" And the ever-popular "Will video games turn my kids into murderous monsters?"

"No," I assure fretting parents and grandparents. "They won't."

It's a simple answer, and is based on common sense. Think about it: Video games have grown from a nerdy pursuit largely enjoyed by children, and adults who act like children, to a mainstay of global entertainment. And yet, we don't see masses of people running around the streets trying to shoot each other as if the whole world were a level in "Grand Theft Auto."

In fact, crime figures show that youth violence in the U.S. has actually declined as game sales have increased.

We might not know what videogames are doing to us. But they don't seem to make us violent. Crazy, multitasking, fantasy-addicted, Pavlovian button-mashers, maybe. Just not violent.

I have kids and, like most kids, they love to play video games. I've always found it interesting that when they play games with their friends they are more animated, participate more vigorously in the activity, and get more excited than they ever do sitting in front of the TV watching a movie. They love games because they get to participate, and that includes hopping up and down and hollering at the screen like football fans.

Crusaders against videogame violence -- and videogames in general -- are right when they suggest that games can get under our skin, change the way we think and affect our behavior. Where they go wrong is in assuming that game players take away only the bad messages from games; that kids mindlessly absorb the negative and never bask in the positive.

Games have come a long way since the days of "Pong" and "Pac-Man." Game producers spend years and millions of dollars to realize rich and complex worlds that players can explore and enjoy. Sure, some of those worlds are horrific places filled with zombies, criminals and troublemakers. And, just as with books, film, music and theater, some of this content is not intended for children.

The trouble is sorting the kid-friendly content out of the stream of available material.

Even the game ratings don't help as much as you might think. Thanks to constant pressure, videogame ratings have become overly conservative. A tongue-in-cheek World War II shoot-'em-up such as "The Outfit" is no more violent than The Dirty Dozen, nor more mature than the classic war flick Kelly's Heroes. And even though you'll find those chestnuts in rotation on Turner Classics, where any kid with a remote control can view them, "The Outfit" suffers under the "M for Mature" rating. Some states even want to make it against the law for a kid under 18 to con a sales clerk into selling him a copy.

Ultimately it's not about whether some games are good or bad for children in general. It's about which games are appropriate for your little ones. And here the best advice to parents is just good advice in general: Play with your kids.

Coffee-shop pundits and dorm-room philosophizers can debate whether video games are art. But the verdict is in on whether they inspire art. Just check out www.randomizer.se for proof. Using modified GameBoy hardware, this Swedish hacker produces wondrous sonic textures that veer between something you might hear in a classic game and beats pulsing from the neighborhood techno club. On either account, this music brings a sort of outer-space quality and rock appeal showing that games offer an expressive palette to motivated artists.

Most Requested Game Rentals -- Week of July 24

1. "Dead Rising" -- Xbox 360; Capcom

2. "Prey" -- Xbox 360; Take Two

3. "Chromehounds" -- Xbox 360; Sega

4. "N3: Ninety-Nine Nights" -- Xbox 360; Microsoft

5. "NCAA Football 07" -- Xbox 360; Electronic Arts

6. "Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II" -- Xbox 360; Electronic Arts

7. "NCAA Football 07" -- PlayStation 2; Electronic Arts

8. "Super Dragon Ball Z" -- PlayStation 2; Atari

9. "Saint's Row" -- Xbox 360; THQ

10. "Gears of War" -- Xbox 360; Microsoft

Source: GameFly.com

New Releases

"Dead Rising" -- X360; Capcom; Aug. 8

"Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer" -- PS2; Sony Computer Entertainment; Aug. 8

"Bomberman Act: Zero" -- X360; Konami; Aug. 8

"Backyard Baseball 2007" -- GCN; Humongous; Aug. 8

"The Cheetah Girls" -- GBA; Buena Vista Games; Aug. 8