Back in college my favorite arcade game was Pole Position. And I can honestly say that this Grand Prix racing video game affected the way I drove in real life.
Sometimes after leaving the arcade, I drove way too fast. And maybe instead of slowing down to take a turn, I would downshift and rev the engine. Or maybe instead of steadily accelerating away from a red light, I would roar away.
After a few minutes, I would settle down and drive normally. So I really wasn't that affected.
But the point is I was affected. I wanted to drive in the real world with all the "hair on fire" need for speed of the video game. So when people start talking about the effects that video games can have on the real-world behavior of avid players, I can relate.
That's why I have special affinity for the concerns raised by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) and certain political leaders about a new game titled "25 to Life."
Published by Eidos (makers of the mega-successful "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" series of games), "25 to Life" lets players choose to be either thugs or cops in a story of gangs, drugs, and crime. This is not the first game in the genre. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" also makes a game out of urban crime, and it is one of the most popular video game titles.
The controversy comes not from the topic but from the execution. Players in "25 to Life" can play as gangstas, cops, or drug kingpins. And if they play as street thugs, they get rewarded for taking some really reprehensible actions. For example, there's a bank robbery sequence where they score points for killing cops and for using hostages to shield themselves from police fire.
NLEOMF Chairman Craig W. Floyd fears that the game could bring out violent behavior in young and impressionable players and result in attacks on officers. He notes that 70 officers have been killed by people under the age of 18 during the last 10 years and that games like "25 to Life" could incite more kids to kill cops.
"The ultimate message carried by the game is that some players are justified in endangering the lives of police officers," Floyd says. "That's a terrible message for anyone, but particularly so for young people who are already confronted with numerous choices that can lead to dangerous consequences. Regardless of your views on free speech or marketplace dynamics, there is really nothing good that can be said about this game. The images are wrong. The messages are wrong. And stocking it in U.S. stores is wrong."
Fortunately, game buyers have been less than thrilled with "25 to Life." But not for moral reasons. They've basically shunned it because it's not a very good game. GameSpot, a popular game news Website, called it "mediocre." Other reviewers have said the game's graphics are hazy and its story boring and repetitive.
The game's sales have also likely been hindered by the ongoing protests of the NLEOMF and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer has called for a ban on "25 to Life" and games of its ilk, and he tried to prevent Eidos, an English company, from selling it in the United States.
NLEOMF has taken its protest to the Web. Officers and law enforcement supporters can go to www.nleomf.com and sign an online petition saying they support the ban of "25 to Life."
The NLEOMF set a goal of 100,000 signatures for its campaign. At presstime, nearly 162,000 had signed up. If you believe that games like "25 to Life" can lead to violence against police officers, then you need to add your name to the list.