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WIDOW RECOUNTS HUSBAND'S MURDER AT HEARING ON LINK BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES, YOUTH VIOLENCE

A 1992 robbery made Lisa Miskell a widow and left her two children without a father.

"A co-worker killed him over $60," she said Wednesday during a hearing before the State Senate Majority Task Force on Youth Violence in Entertainment.

Her son was 2 1/2 years old and her daughter 2 1/2 months old when their father was slain.

After her husband's killer was sentenced to more than 33 years in prison, Miskell became active in the organization Murder Is Not Entertainment.

She believes there is a link between the violent content of some video games and brutal crimes such as her husband's murder, and she hopes her story will lead to legislation governing video games.

"The violent nature of my husband's murder was not entertaining to my family, and it has forever changed my life and my children's lives," she said. "We need to protect children from video-game violence so they don't use it on the playgrounds or grow up to be the type of killer that murdered my husband."

There are several contributing factors that lead to committing an act of violence, "and excessive media exposure is but one piece of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle," said Eric Wiedemann, associate psychologist with the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center, who also testified during Wednesday's hearing at the Mahoney State Office Building. It was the third in a series of statewide hearings.

"In a few short years, home television screens have made the leap from quasi-interactive sporting games to ultraviolent fantasy games," he said. "As they sit for hours playing videos, children are bombarded with images of heavily armed male protagonists incapacitating victims through decapitation, burning or shooting."

If parents were better-educated, they might be less inclined to purchase violent computer games, said State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Amherst, who supports a bill sponsored by fellow legislator Michael A. Balboni, a Republican from Long Island. The bill calls for restricting access to certain video games and establishing a parent/teacher anti-violence awareness program.

"This is not about banning games. It's about better informing parents about what's in the marketplace," Balboni said during the hearing. "The goal is not to censor but to reduce the level of violence. We can do that by giving parents tools or a guide to monitor the games their kids are playing."

Video games currently are subject to a federal rating system, "but that's not enough," Rath said. "The system is not convenient, easy or well-understood."

She suggests establishing a Web site or a hot line on video games, for parents to know more about the content before they make the purchase.

"We monitor the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, and you can look in newspapers to get a rating of a movie, but where can you go to find out the same about video games?" Rath said.

Patricia Bowers, chief of violence-prevention education and domestic violence programs for the Erie County Sherif's Department, said more studies are needed to evaluate the real impact of violent video games on children.

"Violence breeds violence, and every parent should be well informed of every item they purchase for the child's entertainment," she said.

"We haven't conducted enough scientific research to lay our hats on concrete conclusions, but there is some evidence on the propensity to which some children will act out on violence," she said.

Parents want guidelines, said Rath, who pointed to a video game violence survey sent to her constituents in the 60th District.

According to the report, 1,600 respondents said they are concerned about what kids see and that children should be restricted from this exposure.

"It is clear that the overwhelming majority believe that violence depicted in video games, movies and television negatively affects children and that children should be restricted from this exposure," as stated in the report.

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