WASHINGTON -- The video-game industry is facing a flurry of criticism and bad publicity as it prepares for its big convention next month, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, in Los Angeles, May 13 to 15.
In 1999, legislators have filed reports in several states seeking greater control over violent video games and, in mid-April, the parents of three students killed by a schoolmate in December 1997 in Paducah, Ky., filed a $130 million lawsuit targeting game makers, movie studios and Internet sex web sites.
"We intend to hurt Hollywood," said Jack Thompson, a lawyer involved in the lawsuit. "We intend to hurt the video-game industry. We intend to hurt the sex porn sites."
The plaintiffs claim that Michael Carneal, who was 14 at the time of the attack and who will spend at least 25 years in prison, was influenced by the movie, "The Basketball Diaries," as well as electronic games like "Doom" and "Quake," and the Internet sex sites. The movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, who is shown dreaming about killing his teacher and classmates.
A total of 25 companies were named in the suit, including Time Warner, PolyGram Film Entertainment Distribution, Island Pictures and New Line Cinema, all of which were involved in some degree with the movie. Video-game makers named were Nintendo of America, Sega of America, Sony Computer Entertainment, GT Interactive, Acclaim, Capcom and many others.
The companies declined comment. However, Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association here, said, "Obviously, no one would ever make light of the tragedy. But as an industry association our point of view is that trying to place blame on the entertainment industry is misdirected.
"Courts have ruled in these cases that they are unconstitutional. It's not supported by the law and also not supported, in this case, by the facts. Looking at research, there is no indication that games cause violent behavior," said Lowenstein.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in five states -- Arkansas, Minnesota, Washington, Florida and Pennsylvania -- have targeted the game business this year. Because of short state-level legislative sessions and other factors, the IDSA does not expect any of the proposals to be acted on this year. The Florida bill was introduced in January, said Lowenstein, but hasn't been acted on.
In Washington, Rep. Mary Dickerson of Seattle sponsored legislation seeking a study of the effects of violent games on children. "This is not a bill about censorship," she said, noting that it seeks to inform parents and help protect children from "toxic trash."
In Arkansas, a bill supported by Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller would ban violent games from public view or access by children. "The video games basically numb our youth to the issue of commission of violence or the commission of violent acts," he said. The bill is primarily concerned with arcade games.
In Minnesota, two bills have been introduced, one to restrict the display of violent games and the other to authorize a study into the effects of video games and how parents can become more familiar with the technology. "Our kids are learning to kill automatically via video games, and they are being conditioned to enjoy it," said State Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul.
Lowenstein noted that the IDSA expected an increase in state legislation this year. "There are periodic spasms of activity directed at the issue of video-game violence. With the school shootings that received so much attention, we believed they would trigger more activity at the state legislative level. But to date, none of it has passed," he said.
"Most of the bills that have been popping up recently have been aimed mainly at the arcade sector, and they are mostly focused on the display and depiction of violent games in public places. But many of the bills have been drafted in imprecise ways," so they could affect retail establishments.
"Our general view, whether they are arcade-focused or broader than that, is that they are all based on the flawed proposition that violent games lead to aggressive behavior, which is simply not supported by the research. So we will continue to oppose them whether they are specific to the packaged goods sector or not. We take them all seriously," he said.
Lowenstein doesn't expect these issues to get much attention at E3. "The focus of the industry at E3 is on the games that are coming out and the growth of the market. None of this is relevant to the reason that show is important, the reason that show is successful and the reason people come to that show," he said.
Among the biggest draws at the show will be the new Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation II game systems. "With the emergence of the mass market, there also will be a lot of interest around mass-market titles. I think what you can expect is what you get every year, which is a real glimpse at some of the most cutting-edge entertainment technology in the market today," said Lowenstein.