Violent games - shootings connected?

This week's school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, have focused scrutiny once again on violent computer games and their connection to real-life brutality.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two high school seniors who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide, were avid players of the computer games Doom and Duke Nuke 'Em. The two friends used to play against each other, in what is known as a death match, for hours at a time, said Jerad Tomicich, an 18-year-old senior at Columbine High School where the tragedy occurred. "Dylan [Klebold] was heavily into war games," said Tomicich.

And that is linking the Colorado rampage with another school shooting. High-school student Michael Carneal, convicted of killing three students and wounding five others in a high-school 15 months ago in West Paducah, Kentucky, was an avid player of violent games such as Doom, Quake and Mortal Kombat.

The parallels have critics pointing fingers at video games as a potential cause.

Last week, the families of the three murdered West Paducah students filed a $130m (£79.3m) damage suit against 25 defendants, including Nintendo, Sega and Sony Computer Entertainment. The suit accuses the companies' products of corrupting the minds of adolescents. The computer games "trained Carneal to point and shoot a gun in a fashion making him an ... effective killer without teaching him any of the constraints or responsibilities needed to inhibit such a killing capacity," the suit claims. "We believe the Heath shooter was influenced by the movies he watched, the computer games he played, and the Internet sites he visited," said Sabrina Steger, mother of one of the students killed by Carneal.

The controversy over violent video games is by no means new. Last December, Senator Joe Lieberman released the Video and Computer Game Report Card, an annual report summing up violent themes in the video game industry. "Killing and carnage are not enough anymore," said Lieberman at the event. "To torture and maim is often the name of the these games now."

"I am not saying that violent games are to blame for these terrible tragedies," he said. "but as I have said before, these games and their awful ads are part of a toxic culture of violence that is enveloping our children." According to an aide, Lieberman is not planning to escalate his attack on the video game industry.

The American Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), the primary defender of the video game industry, and Id Software, the maker of Doom, were unavailable for comment by this article's deadline. Nevertheless, during his keynote at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Atlanta, IDSA president Douglas Lowenstein said that "video games are not the source of violence in our society."

"That's like blaming illiteracy on television," he said. "It's time we look at availability of guns and dysfunctional families as the source of violence -- not games." Indeed, the West Paducah lawsuit is actually the second suit filed by the plaintiffs. Originally, the three families had charged Carneal's parents, school administrators, teachers and even student friends with being responsible for the shootings. But a judge in the case dismissed it.

Reuters and Gamespot.com contributed to this report.

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