How gory is that game?

Coalition of religious and family groups includes "Halo 2" in its list of 10 most objectionable games of the year. Images: 'Half-Life 2' comes alive

A coalition of religious and family groups criticized video game makers Tuesday for creating products that allegedly glorify murder and hate crimes--and slammed retailers for selling such games to minors.

A group led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an investor advocacy group, released its list of the 10 most violent games as a warning to parents about to set out on holiday shopping expeditions.

"Unwary parents and grandparents need to know there are certain violent games that should be off-limits to children," said Sister Pat Wolf, executive director of ICCR, singling out games such as "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that reward players for killing and looting characters. "These are the kind of values a serial killer might embrace," she said.

Aside from "Grand Theft," the list includes recent best-sellers such as "Halo 2," "Doom 3" and "Half Life 2." The report also singled out "America's Army," a free game distributed by the U.S. Army as a recruiting tool. Wolf criticized it for being available to users regardless of age.

"JFK Reloaded," a controversial new game that re-enacts the assassination of John F. Kennedy, came out too late to make the list but attracted comments during a Tuesday ICCR press conference to promote the report. New York City Councilman Eric Gioia said the game is an extreme example of what's wrong with the game industry. "I couldn't believe someone would choose to make money on something as scarring to the American psyche as this," Gioia said.

The report goes on to criticize the ratings system devised by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to label potentially objectionable games, saying the system is too vague and enforced haphazardly at best by retailers.

Gioia said his own research showed retailers made no efforts to prevent preteens from buying games rated "M" (intended for players 17 and older) in the vast majority of cases. "An investigation I conducted last year showed a minor could walk into almost any store selling video games in New York City and purchase them without difficulty," he said.

Retail trade group the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association said in a statement that retailers are committed to enforcing ESRB ratings and are demanding identification from young buyers. "It is our belief that it is quite simply too early to assign a grade to the retailers' enforcement policies," the IEMA said in a statement, "but that if a grade need be assigned out of habitual ritual, nothing less than an 'A' is worthy of their collective efforts over the past 11 months."

Contributors to the report also criticized the ESRB ratings themselves, saying they're too vague and are mainly intended to shield game makers from criticism. "Adults need to understand game makers and retailers simply are not on their side," Wolf said.

The ESRB released a report Monday highlighting a self-commissioned survey that found more than 80 percent of parents considered the group's ratings appropriate and helpful. "As confirmed by the study just completed, the ESRB rating system is an extremely effective tool for the millions of consumers who rely on it as they shop for entertainment software for their families," Patricia E. Vance, president of the ESRB, said in a statement.

Other groups contributing to the violent-games list went further, calling on retailers to apply the same criteria to games they apply to other media. Dr. Martha Burk, president of the Center for Advancement of Public Policy, noted that leading retailer Wal-Mart bans sexually explicit magazines and CDs but continues to sell "Grand Theft Auto" games.

"The retailers have standards for other products," Burk said. "Would Wal-Mart sell a board game where a player has to have sex with a prostitute to move forward four spaces and then kill her to move forward another six spaces? I don't think so."

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