BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Now, a special report on video games -- in particular, violent games that are marketed to children.
Children's advocacy groups have questioned the impact these games may have on moral values. Does the brutality in many of them encourage violence in real life -- or, at least, make young people insensitive to it?
Kim Lawton presents the pros and cons of video games. And, we caution you, some of the violence is included.
KIM LAWTON: It's a typical Sunday afternoon in Silver Spring, Maryland. 14-year-olds Terence McPherson and Tim Nicklas are locked in a bloody battle to the death. They call themselves "marathon gamers." During the week, they are restricted in their video game playing because of school work. But on the weekends, they play as much as they can -- sometimes for more than 10 hours.
TERENCE MCPHERSON: It's a way of leaving your life behind, getting into a new world, doing things your way. Today in society, being kids, we have to follow a lot of strict lines, but when you have a video game, everything is with you. You can do whatever you want to, and it's just escaping reality.
LAWTON: Last year, Americans spent more than $10 billion dollars on video games --that's more than they spent going to the movies. The technology is interactive and fun. Instead of being mere spectators, as is the case with TV and the movies, gamers are part of the action. There's something for virtually every taste -- but the top-selling games in America are full of explicit sex and violence, leading many to ask, just what kind of values are in video games?
Some argue even the most violent game could have some moral benefit.
Professor HENRY JENKINS (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): What it potentially does is introduce a notion of choice and consequences. And I think this is a very moral and ethical question.
LAWTON: But others are deeply concerned.
DAPHNE WHITE (The Lion and Lamb Project): There are very few video games that teach anything constructive or productive or any value a parent would approve of.
LAWTON: Daphne White is perhaps the nation's leading crusader against violent entertainment. She heads a grassroots watchdog group called "The Lion and Lamb Project," and is a frequent speaker at church classes, parents' groups, and congressional hearings. She believes gamers are becoming desensitized to violence.
Ms. WHITE: The messages for most of these games, especially the ones young boys are playing, are: violence is fun; violence is entertaining; no one really gets hurt, and if they get hurt, it's funny, or it doesn't hurt them. When you spend hours playing these games, you are getting those kinds of ideas in your head, as opposed to ideas of empathy, compassion, values of helping people, or doing anything socially constructive.
LAWTON: White is particularly critical of the "Grand Theft Auto" series, last year's top two best-selling games, where gamers can go on a carjacking crime spree.
Ms. WHITE: It's total anarchy. Not only do you grab someone's car, but you can run them over, you could beat them up, you can shoot them -- in addition to stealing their car. You can hijack police cars, you can get prostitutes, you can kill prostitutes. Again, most parents would be shocked.
LAWTON: Parents might also be shocked at how many of their teens have played it.
(to Terence): Have you played "Grand Theft Auto"?
TERENCE: I played it a couple of times, and I've been told not to play anymore, so I don't. When I was paying it, I thought, "Wow, this is way too much for me to handle." You could just run around the streets in a car, get out and do drive-bys. You could go to prostitutes and use their "services" and then kill them. I thought it was way too much. I didn't even think it helped the story at all.
LAWTON: Studies about the impact of video games on actual behavior are inconclusive.
Some recent studies of college students have suggested a link between violent actions and games. Child Psychiatrist Susan Valenti:
Dr. SUSAN VALENTI (John's Hopkins School of Medicine, at hearing): Violent video game play was a predictor of delinquency compared to all other factors. There was a positive correlation between violent video games and aggressive personalities.
LAWTON: Professor Henry Jenkins teaches media studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Prof. JENKINS: I don't believe kids are brainwashed by the medium that they consume. I don't believe that the media in and of itself will turn a kid into a psycho-killer. I believe that media is most powerful in our lives when it reinforces our existing values and least powerful when it contradicts them.