Sonic the Hedgehog and those cutesy Mario brothers have been joined these days by a less warm, less fuzzy kind of video game character. And the advent of those foot-stomping, fast-shooting killers, as depicted in games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Night Trap, has escalated video game play into a problem way beyond that of simple supply and demand.
In fact, the raging debate over the content of graphically violent video games reached the halls of Congress last week, when a Senate committee urged manufacturers to begin rating games according to their violence content. And Toys "R" Us, the country's biggest seller of toys and games, said this week it will no longer sell "Night Trap" because it's too violent for children.
Yet the problem extends even further, as many begin to question whether kids are spending too much time playing even the tamer varieties of video games.
"Beyond the big issues of violence, there is the frantic pace with which kids play video games," said David Sheff, author of a recent, probing book about the video games industry.
"It's different fundamentally from passively watching TV. The brain is not engaged in any creative way," he said.
"Take kids who play two or more hours of video games a day. When you add in school, there is not much other time for them to do things that have traditionally helped form their imagination, their self-esteem."
The subtle effects of video games on the development of a child's personality mean parents need more information about games and need to be more vigilant, said Mr. Sheff, who wrote "Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars and Enslaved Your Children."
"Parents will say: 'My son plays every free minute of his day, and I have to pry him away to eat dinner. What should I do?' It's un-