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Venezuela to ban violent video games

Why Hugo Chavez hates World of Warcraft, Counter-Strike and The Legend of Zelda.

A video game enthusiast stands near the pointed gun of the video game character Lara Croft from the game "Tomb Raider" at the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center, May 13, 1999. (Sam Mircovich/Reuters)

CARACAS, Venezuela — At a video arcade in the center of Venezuela’s capital, the sound of tapping buttons and the rattle of virtual gunfire fills the room as young boys battle mercenaries and zombies on games such as "Target: Terror Gold" and "House of the Dead 2."

But in a few months this busy arcade will likely stand silent and empty, thanks to a new law here that would ban the sale and playing of violent video games and toys.

The law is an attempt to tackle the epidemic levels of violence that plague this South American country. Homicides have reached record levels in recent years. Caracas — with 2,710 murders, or 130 per 100,000 citizens in 2007 — has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

The law was based on several studies in the United States and Japan that conclude violent video games increase aggressive tendencies in children, said National Assembly lawmaker Wilmer Iglesias of Fatherland For All, a party allied with President Hugo Chavez. (The assembly has approved the law but it may be altered before being signed by the president.)

But many dispute the link between the games and actual violence, saying the law will do little to address the real roots of crime. And they say the law goes too far in banning even adults from playing.

In addition, critics point to some discrepancies in the law: a potential three- to five-year prison sentence for selling or distributing violent video games is a harsher punishment than the sentence for selling real guns to children, which currently stands at one to five years.

Venezueala's game development industry is small so most of the games are imported from abroad.

Popular online games here include "Counter-Strike" and "World of Warcraft," a multiplayer role-playing game set in the fictional world of Azeroth, where avatars kill monsters and complete quests. For consoles there is "The Legend of Zelda" and "Super Smash Bros," where players choose from various Nintendo characters such as Mario and Pokemon and try to knock out their opponent.

In addition to video games, toys that include any kind of weapon or that imitate the armed force or state security apparatus would be banned. Toys that don't promote a situation of war, but still "establish a type of game that stimulates aggression and violence" would also fall under the ban.

“We’re not saying that this law pretends to solve the problem of violence but we believe that there are great problems and their solution is complex, cultural and multifaceted, and if that is true we need to attack it from all points of view that can influence it,” Iglesias said.

But other studies say that there is no evidence of a connection between adolescent violence and video games. Cheryl K. Olson, co-author of "Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do," said that in her study of the influences on "school shooters" in the United States, the only commonality was male gender and a tendency toward depression.