Bad Neighbors

Days after the Littleton school shooting I saw something in CompUSA that turned my stomach: piles of adult-rated, violent computer games such as Doom, Quake and Redneck Rampage on sale in the kids' section.My defense of the gaming industry's First Amendment right to produce all these killing-is-a-blast video games puddled at my feet. Why the hell were these games stacked in the aisles of CompUSA's colorful little kids' corner, alongside Madeline, the Learn to Read system and Sesame Street software?For a kid's perspective, I pulled up one of those tiny, cute yellow chairs a foot off the floor. Before me sat a PC loaded with dancing education software. But, turning my head to the left, I stared right at Doom III and Redneck Rampage, games with "Violence, Blood and Gore" ratings, less than three feet away. The adult games, starting inches off the floor, were stacked on a huge display literally surrounded by family software titles.I went back a week later: The violent games were in the same spot. I then popped into a nearby Media Play. Same stupidity. Violent games -- including Wargasm, Quake II and Redneck Rampage, "a blood-soaked 3-D killin' spree" -- were piled floor-up in the aisle between "Family Games" and "Kids' Entertainment." I watched a little boy, 7 or 8, pick up one of the M-rated (Mature) games after the other.Then to Target, everyone's favorite family store. More madness: violent, adult-rated games displayed at the bottom of its software aisle. I've been back to each store several times in the last several weeks; no improvement.These mega-retailers are showing their irresponsible, money-grubbing colors -- and we consumers must stop them. No doubt, parents should monitor their kids' games -- but why have a rating system no one enforces? If retailers can't see their way to only displaying violent games in adult sections, we grown-ups ought to take our business, and our kids, elsewhere.President Clinton touched on this problem this month -- although barely fingering mega-stores such as CompUSA -- when he asked movie theater owners to enforce film ratings to help safeguard kids."For rating systems to work, they must also be enforced, not simply by watchful parents, but by retailers at the point of sales, and theater owners at the multiplex," Clinton said.But these retailers aren't enforcing the ratings -- and clearly these store managers don't particularly give a damn about the role their marketing ploys might play in a violent youth culture. If they did, they'd put the games elsewhere. Period.Imagine if a children's bookstore displayed Penthouse and Hustler between Narnia and Light in the Attic. Or perhaps Camels in the candy aisle? We just toiled this road with tobacco companies. Why can't CompUSA et al. -- the smug purveyors of hip, must-have technology -- watch and learn a simple, neighborly lesson? That is: Stop marketing bad crap to kids!Yes, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a group formed by game makers, has a rating system used on most computer games. But the plan is only so useful if it's not even being applied at the point of purchase.ESRB Associate Director Lisa Schnapp said this week that her group supplies retailers with posters and a brochure (www.esrb.com/parent.html). They do not, however, advise the stores about violent-game placement. "We don't suggest how to place products," she said. "I think most stores have their own policies."The $6.3 billion entertainment software industry should take a hint from the National Association of Theater Owners, which this month agreed to require kids to show IDs for R-rated films. Self-regulation -- a favorite catchword of high-tech producers -- means just that: They must show a little intelligence, artificial or otherwise, when it comes to marketing violence to children.And our local store managers must step out of their profitable virtual reality and start acting like they live in our communities -- and aren't just pillaging us for every last, blood-soaked buck.

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