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INVITATION TO KILL? VIDEO GAMES MURDER SIMULATORS, EXPERTS SAY.

Byline: Greg Gittrich Daily News Staff Writer

Squeezing the trigger of a sawed-off shotgun, 17-year-old Marvin Wilson rocked toward the screen of an arcade game in a suburban Colorado mall and then jerked the plastic weapon to his side before firing again.

``A normal person knows this is just a game,'' Wilson said as two friends took turns squeezing off rounds. ``If you're a violent person, you're going to be a violent person, regardless.''

Yet it is exactly that kind of video game that psychologists and experts said Monday played a role in preparing the two teen-agers for their rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton.

``These are not games of fun. These are mass-murder simulators,'' said Lt. Col. David Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor and author of ``On Killing.''

``Nine-year-olds are practicing killing people in their homes and at a local arcade for hours and hours every day,'' Grossman said.

Columbine High gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were avid players of the video game Doom, in which gun-toting players shoot two-legged creatures from Mars.

``Everyone knows computer flight simulators can teach you how to fly. These mass-murder simulators teach you how to kill. So when a few kids go out and execute what they've been practicing, we should not be surprised.''

But at arcades and in living rooms from Denver to the San Fernando Valley, the games are readily available to youngsters of all ages.

Inside a Studio City arcade, 8-year-old Eric Shaw glanced at the warning on the screen the Maximum Force video game: ``Due to the graphic violence, parental guidance is suggested for young players.''

And then with a green gun, he blasted a row of buffed-up terrorists. ``It's just a game'' said Eric, shrugging. ``They're cool, they're fun and a bit tough.''

Eric's father, Doug Shaw, said he lets his son play. ``I'm not worried enough to keep my kids from playing,'' said Shaw, 43, a safety inspector from Van Nuys.

Shaw said he has Doom at home but doesn't believe it alone turned Harris and Klebold into killers.

``It may be a combination of games and no direction at home. They seem to have gotten lost in it,'' Shaw said.

According to Grossman, the video games contain conditioning techniques used by the Army to eliminate resistance to killing and hone shooting skills.

``It denies the humanity of a human being and gives you the motor skills to kill,'' he said. ``You're being rewarded to kill, and you're learning to like it.''

If the popularity of Doom is any measure, millions of kids play these violent, lifelike games. Since its initial release in 1993, more than 15 million copies have gone into circulation.

Doom and similar games are rented at video stores, including some Blockbusters. A Blockbuster spokeswoman there said cardholders must be 18 or older and can set restrictions for young account users, a service many parents use.

Clerks are supposed to check IDs to ensure renters leave with age-appropriate games, said Blockbuster spokeswoman Liz Greene.

``It is the best way we believe will give parents the control,'' she said. ``Is it enforced all the time? Quite honestly, we have customer service representatives between 18 and 21 asking teen-agers 14 and 15 for identification. Sometimes it is not the best system.''

Among hundreds of video games are two from former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates called Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest: SWAT 1 and 2.

He defended them as ``responsibly done'' and about saving lives, ``without taking lives gratuitously.''

Gates said he agrees that violent games desensitize youngsters. ``They're no worse than TV, movies and rap music - so take your pick. It's gratuitous violence. The people who produce them have no conscience. And there's nothing you can do about it,'' Gates said.

In the end, it is up to parents, experts said.

``I'm convinced for the most part that most parents have no idea what the videos are like that their children are utilizing,'' said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center based in Westlake Village.

Some parents are fighting back.

The company that produces Doom recently was sued by parents whose children were murdered in a Paducah, Ky., school by a young man who played it regularly.

Officials from that company, id Software, could not be reached for comment.

A 1996 study by the National Institute on Media and the Family surveyed 900 children on video game habits. Half chose games with violent themes, with the girls preferring fantasy violence and boys, human violence.

``The games become addictive,'' said David A. Walsh, a child psychologist and president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, in Minneapolis.

CAPTION(S):

photo

PHOTO (color) Manning a pistol, a teen guns down electronic adversaries at a video game at an arcade in Studio City on Monday afternoon.

David Sprague/Daily News
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 27, 1999
Words:812
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