Parents fret over violent holiday toys

December 09, 2002|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Charlotte Baker-Shenk remembers how her son begged her to buy him a video game last year that had been popular among youths.

The Sharpsburg woman said she did not pay much attention to what the game was about and bought it for him.

Then she took a look at it.

The object of the game was to kill opponents without being killed yourself.

Baker-Shenk was troubled by the cunning nature players have to demonstrate to win and the overall dark tone of the game.

"I was terrified of what I was seeing," Baker-Shenk said.

Other parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the content of other video games, including one in which a player tries to vandalize as many stores in a mall as possible. The player also tries to knock over a police officer.


The vandal moves about on a skateboard, and if he wrecks, simulated blood splashes appear on the screen, said Mary Ellen Lloyd of Shepherdstown.

Lloyd said she realizes that toy guns and other related items have been a hit among kids for decades.

She said the problem with today's video games is they are becoming too realistic.

"Now the emphasis seems to be how many murders you can rack up," Lloyd said.

Lloyd, Baker-Shenk and other parents are taking a stand against what they see as increasingly violent children's games.

They have come together as a group to shed light on the issue and help parents find more appropriate toys and games for their children - especially during the Christmas shopping season.

"We all need to wake up. We're all in trouble," Baker-Shenk said.

The group of eight women began doing research about how violence is affecting children. They say more than 1,000 research studies over the past 30 years led the public health community to conclude that violence portrayed in various media is causing great harm to children, resulting in increased aggression and violent behavior.

They worry about technological advances - from hand-held electronic games to elaborate computer games - that have opened new ways to expose children to entertainment violence.

The group is putting the final touches on a brochure that says the typical child sees 8,000 murders on television shows by the time he or she finishes elementary school.

"It's like the air we breathe. It's so much around, we are not seeing it for what it is," Baker-Shenk said.

To help parents avoid violent children's games, the group - calling itself the Children's Peace Education Project - is calling attention to toy stores in the Tri-State area that offer alternatives.

The group is also providing parents with helpful Web sites and names of organizations that monitor the types of toys and games on the market.

One of those organizations is The Lion & Lamb Project, a nonprofit organization that releases "The Dirty Dozen," 12 toys for parents to avoid.

The Lion & Lamb Project also puts together a list of its top 20 toys, which local toy dealers say encourage imagination, creativity and good socialization skills for children.

Many of the top 20 toys can be found at One Two Kangaroo, a toy store that Paula Tremba opened in Shepherdstown in August.

The toys include "Cranium," a team game in which players take turns sculpting something out of clay or other creative challenges. Then players guess what the creation is, said Tremba, who runs the shop at 1361/2 E. German St.

There is "3D Gears," a construction set with which kids can build a number of operating structures, and the Hoberman Sphere, a spiny, plastic object that bursts into a large sphere with a quick shake of the hand.

There are Look-Alike jigsaw puzzles, which challenge players to find other hidden images in the puzzles, and other toys that encourage children to paint or perform other mental tasks.

The idea is to buy toys and games for children that encourage them to create and to solve problems rather than to destroy, group members said.

Lloyd said some of the more appropriate toys can be found in major retail stores. But parents have to get past the annoying "lights, noise and music" used to promote the less appropriate toys to find them.

Other stores that offer similar games and toys include Beyond Z, Toys for All Ages, 124 W. Washington St. in Charles Town, and Flights of Fancy, 20 East St. in Frederick, Md.

The Dirty Dozen toys for parents to avoid for 2001-02, according to The Lion & Lamb Project.

Toys Tied to Video Games

-- Metal Gear Solid 2, Sons of Liberty, "Solid Snake"

-- Rock Em Sock Em Robots, "Head Case Robot"

Fighting Robots

-- Mobile Suit Gundam, "MS-06S Zaku II"

-- Commandobot3

Television-Based Action Figures

-- Dragon Ball Z "Striking Z Fighters" series

-- Power Rangers Time Force, "Virtual Reality World"

"Educational" models with weapons

-- Mech Warrior, "Shadow Cat"

-- Zoids, "Gun Sniper"

E-rated "Street Fighter" video games

-- "Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival"

-- "Final Fight One"

First-person shooter games

-- "Doom"

-- "Ecks vs. Sever"

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