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"Have you already run someone over today?"
Emblazoned upon a banner, this gruesome question - posed by a group of concerned Israeli citizens - will set the tone for a demonstration calling to boycott violent computer games. Handing out toy pistols and knives to passersby, the demonstrators will assemble at noon at the Kenyon Arim shopping mall in Kfar Saba outside the mall's computer stores.
The demonstration, which will take place Wednesday, will open with an invitation to the public to sign the group's boycott petition.
"Violence in Israeli society starts at home. Even children who receive the best education possible in one corner of the house, are likely to become violent when they are killing, running people over, knifing, and destroying things in the computer corner," said Sharon Hoenig, a 23-year-old architecture student and social activist who organized the call for boycott.
"The violence we run into everywhere has an address and we will not stop until all parents knows that they are entrusting their children's education to computer games whose inconceivable levels of violence will follow them throughout their adult lives," Hoenig also said in a statement released by the boycott's organizers.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Hoenig gave one example of such a game, called GTA, in which players win points by running over as many people as possible.
"Our children are not a game!" declares the petition, which so far has been signed by several hundred people.
On Sunday, Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yona Metzger, signed the call for boycott at his Jerusalem office.
The petition blames computer games for phenomena such as violence in night clubs, crime, and social alienation.
The on-line petition, available at www.baduk.co.il, also refers to the Jewish terrorist Eden Natan Zada whom, the petition says, "was a great success at computer game assassinations and, horrifically, made these skills real." The group, however, later published an amended version, from which Zada's name was omitted, according to Hoenig because they found it to be "too extreme an example."
Shlomi Levi, who is currently completing his BA in communications, decided to join the grass roots boycott effort in part because of his past experience working with adolescents at risk.
"I had several cases of teenagers who had reached a state of very low self esteem and a certain degree of social alienation, and would tell me that they spend most of their waking hours sitting in front of the computer, and some of them were literally addicted to it," Levi said.
"When you only communicate with a computer, you become a-human," Levi said. "Especially when you are playing games with a very violent orientation - you become a robot."
Levi said that the evolution of computer technology also has replaced cartoon figures with increasingly realistic human images, which he believes make the connection between the imaginary world of the game and reality seem much stronger, especially when children spend long hours on their computers and are largely detached from any real social context.
The group, he added, also was interested in creating public awareness of the need to return to playing social games that involve human interaction. Following the demonstration, the boycott organizers will host a championship of "old-fashioned" games such as cards and Monopoly.
"We need to encourage parents to help their children get to know the people around them, to learn how to participate in situations in which there are several people, in which you need to wait your turn, and to relate to and respond to other people," said Levi.
Unlike the boycott organizers, however, University of Haifa Professor Azy Barak is largely dismissive of their effort.
"What I would tell these people is to go and invest their time and money elsewhere," said Barak, an expert on psychology and education who specializes in the social and individual effects of the Internet.
Barak argued that while it was easy to target the Internet, the real problems underlying violence had to do with education at home and in schools, through which people can internalized values that prevent the development of violent behavior. Barak cited two recent studied published in the US, which he said found that playing violent computer games was not the source of violent behavior.
"More important," he said, "are the personality traits that the child comes to the computer with." Although technology drastically changes social norms, the idea that the solution could be found by boycotting violent games was, Barak said, "both na ve and simplistic."
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Susan Ottwell, Mizpeh Ramon
: Long before they begin playing video games, children spend hours in front of the television, where either it is depicted as hilariously funny to blow up the "bad guys" whether Elmer Fudd, Coyote, or the Decepticons. Children and teens are depicted as the "good guys", adults are either ineffective or the "bad guys", and extreme violence is the method used to solve all the world's problems. Is it any surprise then that children will take that lesson into the school and the street, using the same violence they have watched since infancy to solve their own perceived problems, overcome their own "bad guys" and become heroes in their own eyes and those of their friends? Or is it a surprise that they should crave ever-more violent video games as they grow older?