Video Game Industry Gets An 'F'

For the first time, video games are now being used for recruiting purposes. video games, troops, pentagon AP / CBS

They can have names like "BMX XXX" and "Dead To Rights." In some, players can score extra points for the fantasy killings of women. And vulgar language and partial nudity can be the norm.

It's a far cry from the bowling and board games that entertained yesterday's kids.

Today, video games are the entertainment of choice for many American children. And it's big business - with gross revenue of $8 billion a year - outpacing even the movie industry.

For parents, the wide array of video games - including those loaded with violence, sex and other problematic messages - are a minefield to be maneuvered through all year long.

But it's even tougher during the holiday shopping season.

CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports violence-laced video games are available in stores across America. Despite age restrictions, children are still buying them, playing them and, according to advocacy groups, being influenced by the violence.

"They give you a thrill, they make you feel like you're just floating," says 12-year-old Rahim Blocker.

That's not exactly the feeling they get over at the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and Family, a group that monitors the impact of mass media on children.

Its seventh annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card, released Thursday, is critical of increasing violence, often aimed at women; growing levels of video game addiction; inaccurate content ratings; the failure of many retailers to keep children away from Mature-rated games; and a lack of awareness by parents of the content of some games.

The result is a failing grade for the industry, says the group's founder and president, psychologist and educator Dr. David Walsh.

"I am issuing for the first time ever an overall grade of 'F,' " says Walsh, who points to the best-selling "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" as a prime example of graphic and disturbing images.

"In that game you get rewarded if you kill the prostitute if you kick her brutally to death after you have sex with her," explains Walsh. "I am outraged that millions of children are playing video games that include such graphic images of violence. This is fantastically inappropriate."

"Video game violence is now an epidemic, and violence against women has become a black mark on the entire industry," adds Walsh. "This failing grade is a wakeup call for everyone: manufacturers, retailers, and parents."

Parents who are already aware still don't find it easy.

"It's tough choosing a game, I look for action not violence," says Maria Ramirez, a parent.

The debate about content influencing behavior is decades old, and skepticism continues in some quarters over whether what's on a screen can really determine behavior in the real world.

"The game doesn't make the kid violent. The kid makes himself violent," argues John Rivera, 17.

According to the video game industry, parents purchase 83 percent of all games.

Doug Lowenstein, president of the Independent Digital Software Association, believes it's up to game producers to let consumers know what's in the games, and up to parents to decide what games should be in their homes.

"Parents are the gatekeepers, we are not the censors," says Lowenstein.

There are plenty of ways for parents to check up on games coming into their home, but it's not easy to keep up with everything.

One resource is the National Institute on Media and the Family's Kid Score Web site. Kid Score provides ratings by experts on the content of video games, movies and TV programs, and also allows site visitors to provide their own input on what they've seen.

  • Sue Chan

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