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Article updated: 1/7/2013 5:50 AM

Algonquin arcade removes violent games

By Lenore T. Adkins

Kevin Slota woke up with a chill on Christmas Eve, and the realization that perhaps he could make a life-or-death difference in the world.

The night before, the Algonquin man had been watching TV news coverage of the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., that claimed 26 lives -- 20 of them young children.

Slota, co-owner of No Limit Arcade in Algonquin, heard in the report that violent video games might have been to blame for the shootings.

The report spurred Slota, a 56-year-old father of two grown sons, to unplug 12 violent shooter games at his arcade. He can't conceive of the idea that he even possibly could play a role in grooming today's youth to carry out a mass shooting.

"For adults, it's one thing, but we have 8- and 9-year-old kids coming in ... blasting away," Slota said. "I said, 'We don't need these games.' I can replace them with something else."

Not even others in Slota's industry agree with his view -- while experts and others weighing in with an opinion are sharply divided on the role the various trappings of society play in mass shootings.

Limit on play

No Limit Arcade, which opened in late 2011, carries 60 video games, mostly throwbacks to the 1980s and appropriate for all ages. Among them are "Pac-Man," "Donkey Kong," "Frogger" and "Q*Bert."

The 12 games Slota took out of service were made in the 1990s or early 2000s. His criteria were basic: If a game was bloody and involved a gun the gamer fires to kill people or zombies -- which he says look human -- then the party was over.

That meant such games as "The House of the Dead," "Crisis Zone," "Virtua Cop 2," "Warzaid" and "Revolution X" were shut down and corralled in a corner until he finds buyers.

But games in which the player slays aliens or animals with a gun can stay. He's also keeping a game from the "Mortal Kombat" series, which sparked outrage over its violent content in the 1990s.

Slota doesn't have a problem with "Mortal Kombat" because it's a martial arts killing game that involves a joystick and buttons, rather than a gun the gamer shoots to simulate the act of murder.

"My concern was the shooters -- you rarely see kids beating each other to death," Slota said. "I just don't want to think I had anything to do with being part of the problem."

A handy scapegoat?

The National Rifle Association, reacting to yet another cry for more gun control, said violent video games were partly responsible for the tragedy in Connecticut.

The 20-year-old who carried out the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School reportedly spent hours playing violent video games such as "Call of Duty" in his mother's basement.

"There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people ... through vicious, violent video games with names like 'Bulletstorm,' 'Grand Theft Auto,' 'Mortal Kombat' and 'Splatterhouse,'" Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said in a statement, while singling out "Kindergarten Killers," which has been online for 10 years.

Video games drew attention in 1999, after the killing spree at Columbine High School. Back then, critics pounced on violent video games because the shooters, two teenage boys who attended the school, played "Doom."

But even those who study the effects of violent games on people aren't so sure they're the culprit.

Brad Sagarin, a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University, was teaching the day a 27-year-old gunman shot and killed five people inside an NIU lecture hall in February 2008.

Sagarin studies social influence and resistance to persuasion; he also has researched the influence of media, including video games, on people.

While studies have shown there is a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior, the aggressive action that was tested on people was limited and controlled. For example, one study gave participants an opportunity to either take points or money away; in another example, participants blasted others with a loud, unpleasant sound.

Even if a person struggles with mental illness and bullying and plays violent video games to pass the time, it's hard to say whether that person's going to snap, Sagarin said.

"Many, many people play violent video games and very few people carry out an attack like (the one in Newtown), so it is difficult to say whether the violent video games caused the aggressive behavior," Sagarin said. "It certainly is possible that playing first-person shooter games puts somebody into the position of having a gun in their hands and pulling the trigger at things they see in front of them, but of course, the vast majority of the people playing those games don't end up doing that."

Who draws the line?

Some of arcade owner Slota's counterparts aren't convinced of the link between violent video games and the Newtown tragedy.

Clint Paraday, general manager of Odyssey Fun World in Naperville, which offers 250 video games, has no plans to pull the 15 or so games he considers violent, because he doesn't see anything wrong with them.

Paraday, father of a 14-year-old son who plays "Call of Duty," said it's up to parents to explain the difference between reality and fantasy to their children.

"It's a tragic situation," Paraday said of the Connecticut massacre. "But to put the blame on video games and entertainment, where do you draw the line and who draws that line? People (also) die because of drunk drivers. There are so many different analogies you could have."

Gameworks in Schaumburg carries a wide variety of video games, including shooter types and old-school classics. But when it comes to who plays, Gameworks lets patrons have the last word on appropriate versus inappropriate fun.

"We offer entertainment options for really the whole family, and our games carry ratings for everyone to enjoy and for people to make the decision for what they feel is appropriate for them or their children to play," said Dennis Roy, Gameworks' director of marketing.

Slota, though, would rather be overly cautious than sorry. He plans to replace the shooter games with nonviolent, 1980 classics that are good for all ages. He hopes to start a trend.

"With the video games, you have the violent imagery -- it's not going to hurt anybody by taking them out," he said, acknowledging he never liked them much, anyway. "When Newtown erupted, I guess it was like a tipping point."

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