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The Emerging Dark Side of Violence in Video Games

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By Corey Washington

Within mere seconds, the tension mounts between two Black men before hitting its peak. Face to face, fashioning baggy pants and platinum chains, they size up one another beneath the streets of New York inside an opaque subway, surrounded by boorish, rowdy spectators. In a blitz loaded with fury, one opponent swipes at the other before a small war erupts.

The events all unfold on a television screen.

What would appear to be the makings of a story on the evening news is actually a digital action sequence manipulated by the hands of 17-year-old Chris McAdams with the aid of his Playstation 2 gaming console.

Released late September, Def Jam: Fight For NY pits dozens of Hip-Hop artists against henchmen in varous scenarios with an arsenal of weapons at their disposal. Each character’s goal is to secure territory in the streets of New York City from a crime boss.

In the video, white characters are rarely in sight. Instead, ethnic characters, mostly Black, are left to do battle. Def Jam: Fight For NY is the second installment of the series manufactured by Electronic Arts in partnership with Def Jam, the urban music and television label.

McAdams, who is white, boasts over being one of the first in the Inland Empire who lined up to buy Def Jam: Fight For NY.

"I like this game," he admits. "I wouldn't say it is very realistic, but I do think you are more likely to see African-Americans in those kinds of fake situations than you would see anyone else."

Video games which depict African-Americans in violent scenarios have drawn criticism from many for encouraging stereotypes.

According to Edna Bonacich, a professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at University of California Riverside, violent video games, as well as negative images of Blacks within the media, damage the image of Blacks from the perspective of non-Blacks and young Black children.

"There are very few marginally positive stereotypes about Blacks portrayed in the media today ... and even those are often ladden with junk," said Bonacich.

"These things deny individuality. They are driven by commerical benefit, but I don't think Blacks are benefiting from it."

John White, a spokeperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), issued a statement saying, "The NAACP has a record of opposing any entertainment that promotes violence and negative images of minority or ethnic groups."

Several calls made to Electronic Arts were not returned.

Responsibility of who?

In the African-American community, violent video games in the home are as common as the gaming consoles they are played on. Janet Green, a 37-year-old single mother, says she has grown too familiar with the selection of video games that enter her home.

"It used to be just casual basketball or football games. Now, I see my sons playing away with games that have people being beaten to death and screaming. Those are the parts they get excited about," she said.

Green no longer permits her children to keep games with mature subject matter.

"In the long run, I don't want any of my boys thinking that they have to be like one of the guys in the video game and physically fight for something that is ridiculous," added Green.

Research studies released over the past several years have indicated violent video game can have a negative impact on children and young adults.

One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2000 showed that participants who frequently played violent video games had a history of aggressive delinquent behaviors. In addition, game players competing with others tended to "blast" longer and louder at opponents when using a weapon.

Even before popular "urban" games such as Def Jam: Fight for NY or 25 to Life hit store shelves, experts say video games which feature African-Americans, such as basketball or football games, slowly evolved, exhibiting increasingly violent or agressive attitudes.

But advocates of the video game industry have argued that they do not support the sale or marketing of video games to children, regardless of ethnicity.

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