Video game watchdog shuts down, victim of economyMINNEAPOLIS — David Walsh said when he was assembling his first report card on video game violence 13 years ago, children were attacking on-screen monsters or aliens with imaginary chain saws and guns.
By: Jeff Baenen, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — David Walsh said when he was assembling his first report card on video game violence 13 years ago, children were attacking on-screen monsters or aliens with imaginary chain saws and guns.
“When I saw kids as young as 8,
9 years old literally doing facial
contortions as they killed and
dismembered people, it was pretty shocking,” Walsh said.
That first report card, which singled out bloody first-person shooter games “Doom” and “Duke Nukem,” made an instant splash on Capitol Hill in 1996 and made the annual reports issued each holiday season by Walsh’s National Institute on Media and the Family a news fixture.
But there was no video game report card this year, and there won’t be any more. The institute is closing its doors, a victim of the poor economy. Walsh, the group’s founder and president, is packing his books as his staff of eight full-time employees prepares to shut down Dec. 23.
“Fundraising has been more and more difficult,” Walsh said.
It’s a bittersweet end for the organization Walsh started in 1996. He takes pride in how “a little nonprofit in Minneapolis” was able to influence an industry that, according to the Entertainment Software Association, topped $22 billion in U.S. sales in 2008.
“Ten years ago, a kid 10 years old could walk into any store in America and buy an ultra-violent, adult-rated game. That’s no longer true,” Walsh said in his office.
While some people have posted on gaming Web sites celebrating the institute’s demise, others have praised its role in helping get retailers to post game ratings and ask for an identification when selling mature-rated games.
“Were it not for those collaborative efforts by all sides, it’s questionable whether there would have been a non-legislative resolution,” Hal Halpin, president of the gamers group the Entertainment Consumers Association, said.
When he issued his first report card, Walsh said, there were two rating systems for video games battling it out and “when a game would be rated was a hit-or-miss deal.” Since then, an industry group established in 1994, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, has become the standard in rating games.
Walsh said he got many tips about video games from industry insiders. His organization hired students to play video games and sent kids to see if retailers would sell them M-rated games without asking for an ID.
It was Walsh’s group that announced in 2005 that the best-
selling video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” contained
graphic sexual images that could be unlocked using an Internet download. The ESRB conducted an investigation and revoked the game’s M (mature) rating and tagged it AO (adults only). That led to major retailers pulling the game from their shelves.
Walsh said his group got a computer game developer to reverse-engineer the game and prove that the sex scenes were built into the disk, not a modification created by a hacker on the Internet as the parent company of the game’s producer had suggested.