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Do violence, nudity feature in games your kids play?

Byline: Molouk Y. Ba-Isa

ALKHOBAR: In a blow to efforts to protect children from violent video games, a US appeals court on Friday struck down a California law that required games described as violent to be labeled as such and banning their sale to children. The law was contested by video game publishers, distributors and sellers. The court claimed that California lawmakers failed to produce evidence that violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to children.

In its ruling the court suggested that other "less restrictive means" be used to protect children from inappropriate video games. Those means include the voluntary ratings system established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), educational campaigns and parental controls. The law's author, state Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said he hopes California will appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.

"We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder," Yee, a child psychologist, said in a statement.

The Entertainment Merchants Association was delighted with the ruling claiming that it vindicated the group's position that "ratings education, retailer ratings enforcement, and control of game play by parents are the appropriate responses to concerns about video game content," rather than legislation.

Parents everywhere had better work on their control methodologies, because Rockstar Games has just upped the stakes concerning the negative imagery that children can be exposed to through gaming. Rockstar Games is the publisher of Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, the first episode of Grand Theft Auto IV downloadable content for Microsoft's Xbox 360, which is available exclusively on Xbox LIVE worldwide.

Common Sense Media warned that parents need to know that the GTA IV downloadable expansion has full frontal male nudity. "The game lets you lead a life of crime as part of a motorcycle gang with plenty of gang violence, relentless foul language, drugs and alcohol, and sexual references," noted a review at the organization's website.

In all Grand Theft Auto titles, no matter what the platform, gamers play as a member of the criminal underworld and can go virtually anywhere and do anything in a fully realized 3-D city. Played from a third-person perspective, this includes carjacking any vehicle, accepting run-and-gun missions, interacting with seedy characters and making money to fuel future endeavors.

Parents should be advised that to download the Lost and Damned downloadable expansion, it's first necessary to own last year's Grand Theft Auto IV game for the Xbox 360, which is unfortunately widely available for purchase from gaming shops in Saudi Arabia. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board gave Grand Theft Auto IV an "M" rating, citing the game as having "partial nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs and alcohol, blood, and intense violence." The ESRB rating for the GTA IV Lost and Damned expansion is also M.

It's interesting that the GTA IV expansion is only available through Xbox LIVE, because Microsoft has just launched a campaign encouraging families to "Get Game Smart." The safety education campaign aims to help families manage media use and video gaming in the home. Get Game Smart is designed to help parents and kids maintain a dialogue about balanced and age-appropriate media use and, more specifically, video gaming on the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system and Windows-based PCs in their homes.

The new campaign website, www.GetGameSmart.com, brings the most current information about parental controls tools, expert tips and resources together online. At GetGameSmart.com, parents can find all the information they need to say "yes" to what their kids enjoy, ensuring they use appropriate media safely. An expert blog on the website tackles current issues such as reducing family friction when it comes to video games, and will inform parents of trends so they are ahead of the curve when it comes to video gaming and online safety.

"We know how much fun kids can have in the digital age," said Robbie Bach, president of Entertainment & Devices, Microsoft. "At the same time we also know parents have legitimate concerns when it comes to their children's video gaming and online activity. To complement the Family Settings tools we've built into our products, we launched an initiative two years ago that proactively educates parents on the tools and technology that can help them manage the family's gaming activity at home. Now, we're taking this initiative even further with the launch of Get Game Smart."

Bach explained that his own family has guidelines to balance digital media intake.

"In our house, we strongly believe that a balance between media use and other activities is necessary and we've established rules for our family to make sure our kids are spending quality time on their school work and being active," he advised. "Though our kids love their games and we want them to have fun, we also want them to find entertainment in a variety of ways - whether it's sports, music or playing outside with friends. Diversity and balance are key."

Parents can feel overwhelmed when it comes to dealing with kids in a digital world. When a teenager states "All my friends are playing that game," or "My friends are online all weekend," parents may not have enough knowledge to make a personal decision that's right for their family. In addition to all the other available resources, at GetGameSmart.com there's an online forum where parents can ask questions about the challenges they face on topics such as age-appropriate video games, screen time and understanding new trends such as social networks. Real families are also featured talking about how they manage digital media at home. Plus, there's a section with links to additional resources at the websites of Get Game Smart partners. If you're a parent, check out GetGameSmart.com and become empowered to make the best decisions to keep your family safe in our digital world.

Comments to: 1molouk@gmail.com.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Feb 27, 2009
Words:1008
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