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City restricts cybercafes after killing

The Southern California city of Garden Grove hopes to quell real-life violence that has mirrored the virtual mayhem depicted in computer games played in the cafes.

The Southern California city of Garden Grove has imposed restrictions on cybercafes, hoping to quell real-life violence that has mirrored the virtual mayhem depicted in computer games played in the cafes.

Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater said the regulations, approved by the City Council on Tuesday night, were prompted by a Dec. 30 killing outside one of the city's many such establishments. "One boy came to the front of the cybercafe and put a screwdriver through another boy's skull," he said.

So-called cybercafes have proliferated in some areas of Southern California, particularly those with large Asian-American populations. Instead of drinking coffee and surfing the Internet, though, patrons spend hours competing against each other in action-filled PC games such as "Quake III" and "Half Life: Counterstrike."

Such outlets are a fixture of life in many Asian countries: Korea has more than 20,000 "PC bang"--as the cafes are known--offering by-the-hour access to PCs and shoot-'em-up games.

Broadwater said Garden Grove has 21 cybercafes, many in the city's large Korean-American business district.

"That's a lot for a town of 170,000," he said. "This whole thing sort of overtook us without knowing we had that many."

The shops have started to become a magnet for real-life violence. The nine suspects arrested in last month's stabbing were all suspected members of an Asian-American gang. Six teenagers were arrested in a November fracas inside another of the city's cybercafes, during which two people were seriously injured.

The new Garden Grove regulations, passed in the form of an interim zoning ordinance, forbid any new cybercafes from opening in the city for the next 45 days. Outlets already doing business in the city have 90 days to enact measures that include installing security cameras, closing down no later than 2 a.m., and barring minors during school hours and after 8 p.m. on weeknights.

"We're not opposed to these things," Broadwater said. "You go into them and these young people are having a great time...and some of them are honing their computer skills. We just want to make sure the wrong element doesn't ruin it for everybody."

Other Southern California cities have enacted similar or more stringent restrictions, including requirements that cybercafes have security guards on duty.