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Battle rages on over video game violence

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Bulletin staff reporter Jagada Chambers takes a break from playing Modern Warfare 2 to pose for a picture.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED June 11, 2010 3:15 a.m.

To date, more than 7.4 million copies of Modern Warfare 2 – the Mature-rated first-person shooter developed by Infinity Ward – are being played on Xbox 360s in households across the world.

That makes it the second-highest selling game on the console ever, trailing Halo 3 – another ultra-violent but futuristic game that has sold just over 500,000 more copies during its heyday.

But the number of Modern Warfare 2 players – especially with the arrival of the game of the Playstation 3 – continues to grow. It’s popular among the generations that grew up with video game systems in the household (people like me) and it’s becoming even more popular among younger generations that might not even be old enough to technically be playing it.

Earlier this week I went onto Xbox-Live to talk to people about what they like about the game, and I have to say that more than a few of the people I was engaged in a conversation with definitely sounded under the age of 17.

Is this something that should worry us?

Well, that depends who you ask.

There are entire coalitions out there looking to ban games like Modern Warfare 2 and anything else that depicts violence in a realistic setting – claiming that it could blur the line between fiction and reality in the mind of younger people.

Academics have stated this. Hillary Clinton called for an outright ban on one video game that made its name by allowing you to drive over pedestrians, shoot cops, and create general mayhem – and her comments more than likely drove prices of the game up even higher.

Any publicity is good publicity.

But while I was pondering this, I came across an old episode of Penn and Teller’s Showtime series (which I can’t name because this is a family newspaper) that put its money where its mouth is.

The producers took a 10-year-old who played this very game for no less than six hours a day, and claimed that killing people on the screen was his favorite part.

So they took him out to a trained gun expert and ex-Iraq veteran in a controlled environment, and set him up to shoot an M16 to see what the real thing was like.

What more could a kid who enjoys mowing down the enemy like any more than to get the chance to fire real bullets from the fake gun he’s been using on a television screen?

The only catch is, that wasn’t what happened. He took one shot, paused for about five seconds, set the gun down, and broke down crying.

Apparently the thought of taking someone’s life for real was too much for this youngster – as well it should be. The line between fiction and reality suddenly became very real. And while he was in the arms of his mother talking about how he’d never do it again, it became evident that not everybody who picks up a 360 or a PS3 controller is going to end up being a stone-cold killer.

Are their exceptions to the rule? Sure. But the onus of what their underage child is or isn’t playing should be the responsibility of the parent, not the government who wants to step in and play the role of mom and dad in every household in America.

Some kids are more mature than others. Others just know that it’s fantasy.

I’ve played a lot of video games with friends that involved shooting in one form or another, and some of those friends have even accompanied me to an actual shooting range for target practice.

Never once did we have the inkling to take the real weapons and decide to go on a rampage shooting up the streets.

For those who make the argument that this desensitizes to violence, I counter that all it takes is one week of watching the evening news to become somewhat hardened to what takes place outside of the shielded world we like to find ourselves in.

And if in that shielded world it means mowing down Nazis and taking out terrorist cells from the comfort of my living room, so be it.

The government hasn’t taken that right away yet.

Let’s hope they never do.

It’s all good fun and a chance to unwind

Like so many other members of his generation, Jon Tapia grew up on video games.

Whether it was the original Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo, or the graduation to the Internet-ready Playstation 2, Tapia – a Sierra High School grad who grew up in Manteca  and is now 23 – always found something on a console that he could use to pass the time.

And now that he’s an adult – living on his own, working full-time, and paying his bills like most responsible citizens – he still finds time to play what could be one of - if not the most - popular video game on the market today: Modern Warfare 2.

The first-person shooter, which utilizes real military weapons and puts players in surroundings that would normally be occupied by special forces troops (they’re the backbone of the game), has attracted everyone from adults in their 4’s to kids who technically aren’t old enough to play the game.

It’s the latest installment in the Call of Duty series and follows up a period game where you fought the Nazis in places like occupied France – complete with all of the bloodshed that you’d expect to find in a war game that has caught on like wildfire.

“Where else do you get the chance to kill Nazis and terrorists without traveling back in time or joining the military?” Tapia asked. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s something that I like to play with my friends.”

While the innocence of games like Mario Kart brought about their fair share of entertainment, it wasn’t until he was introduced to SOCOM – a U.S. Navy Seals third-person shooter that incorporated teamwork into the on-line play – that he had truly found his calling.

It wasn’t long before he joined an on-line “clan” – a group of players who consistently plays together and wars against other clans in set battles – and even went so far as to go down to Southern California to meet some of the people he had been chatting up on the microphone for the better part of a year.

Now that he has priorities and responsibilities, what was once an everyday hobby has since been cut back to several days a week.

But you’re still likely to find him lurking around the corners on Xbox Live waiting to take out and improve his already exemplary stats (he’s already progressed to the highest online rank three times and is working on his fourth.)

But for Tapia, it’s all in good fun and a chance to unwind after a long day.

“Most of my friends play so it’s a chance to socialize while we’re playing,” he said. “If you’re new to the game the best thing you can do is just keep playing because eventually you’ll figure out how to run and gun and how the flow of the game goes.

“Just be careful for guys like me.”

‘(Modern Warfare) draws you in like a dark hole’

It might have been the vivid reminders of playing Super Mario Bros. with his two brothers.

Or how excited he was to get together with friends after school and shoot-it-out on Golden Eye 64 – arguably the game that changed the first-person shooter genre forever.

Whatever the reason, Carlos Carrasco grew-up on video games – coming of age in the era when Pong was replaced with controllers that had actual buttons, and storylines soon become a part of the gaming genre.

Even to this day, Carrasco spends a few days a week huddled in front of his Playstation 3 waiting for the enemy to come around the corner in Modern Warfare 2 – the latest in a long line of shooters that boasts more than 20 million online players.

“It started with Golden Eye because that was the first multiplayer game that allowed you to interact with your friends and other people,” Carrasco said. “Then came Socom on the Playstation 2, and instead of having people in your house, you have them all over the world. That’s really where the addiction began.”

With a degree in marketing and a successful job at a major grocery store, the days of Carrasco spending countless hours wasting away in front of the television are over.

But that doesn’t mean that he still doesn’t have the occasional friendly battles to see who can get farthest in a given level, who can get the top score, and who can kill the most bad guys – all while playing Modern Warfare 2.

“It draws you in like a black hole,” Carrasco said sarcastically. “It’s fun to play with your friends, and it’s even more fun to play online with people that you don’t even know. The Internet has opened up a whole new world of video gaming possibilities.”

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