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Rockstar?

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Rockstar is the name of the company that is rolling wheelbarrows of money to the bank this week, projected to rack up something on the order of $400 million in revenue from the sale of six million copies of its newest video game sensation, Grand Theft Auto IV.

Between a rock and a hard place is more like how I feel, as the mother of a gamer. So far, they only have a few dollars of my money (or Blockbuster does, anyway), since my deal with my son was to rent not buy. But there's no question that our reviews of the latest in this infamous series are not in sync.

He thinks it's a great new game.

I write for a living and still have difficulty finding the words to describe it. Awful doesn't begin. From what I've heard about the ending (and this is one ending I really would love to spoil), you win by becoming the No. 1 mobster, even if your whole family dies in the process. In one version, so I'm told, your cousin and his bride die in a drive-by shooting at their wedding. In another, your girlfriend gets killed. At least this one doesn't declare war on all Haitians (which an earlier installment in the series did, until the Haitian community complained), but it's all about killing, including killing police officers.

Imagine gratuitous violence. Then imagine people with more imagination than you or I making it more graphic and awful than we could ever dream, and you're on your way to this new blockbuster entertainment.

A mother I know and respect told me some years ago that if you want your kids to follow your rules, don't make too many of them, make clear that the "noes" really are "noes," and as for the rest, go for honesty and communication. I remember asking her what her noes were and she listed three: heroin, cigarettes and motorcycles without helmets. I have a few more than that, but having seen the way kids get around their parents' bans on video games, Internet content, etc., I've settled for full disclosure rather than absolute bans in those departments.

Trying to prove that video games cause violence is a bit like trying to prove that pornography causes crime against women or even that the death penalty deters crime. Figures don't lie, but people do -- and they manipulate, as well. Most people who look at porn or play violent video games live normal, healthy lives, but that doesn't mean they're good for you. You can find states that have the death penalty and high murder rates, and states that don't and have much lower murder rates.

I'm old-fashioned enough to believe in personal responsibility. So when someone commits an act of violence, I blame the person and believe they should be punished, regardless of deterrence; I do not blame the game they played or the website they visited. I also believe in the First Amendment, for adults anyway, which means that it's not the business of government to tell people what has artistic value and what doesn't. Kids, on the other hand, are another matter. We're all responsible for them.

It's not my son I'm really worried about. He does well in school, follows the important rules and generally gets bored with most video games before they get in the way of life. It's his generation, the generation that he is going to grow up in and live with, full of kids who take this stuff for granted and spend more time with it than with real life, that worries me. It's the genius that is being distorted into creating more and worse violence. There's no question that great minds are behind these games, in terms of creative and technological skill. But think of what else they could be doing. And aren't.

It's a shame and a waste, and it portends a generation going down the tubes. "Rockstar" my you-know-what. Shame on you. You owe the kids who worship you -- and line your coffers -- better than this garbage.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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