An inner-city gang, rampaging through the streets, comes upon some unsuspecting bystanders and proceeds to crush some heads.
The scene isn't from urban America. It's from "Streets of Rage," a video game made by Sega of America, the Japanese company's U.S. unit.
Amid growing concern about this type of video game violence, Sega said Monday that it will initiate a rating system for its video games similar to the one used by the motion picture industry.
"We are particularly concerned that parents buy games appropriate for their children's age," said Tom Kalinske, Sega of America's chief executive.
Sega, which has allowed far more graphic violence in its games than rival Nintendo of America, said it is trying to help consumers make informed decisions. Video games boxes from Sega will now carry a label to warn parents of its contents: "GA" for general audiences, "MA-13" for mature audiences (parental guidance suggested) and "MA-17" for adults. More than one-third of Sega's video game consumers are over the age of 18.
Consumer groups said they were pleased by Sega's move.
"Our members have been expressing a great deal of concern over the violence in video games," said Terry Rakolta, the head of Americans for Responsible Television, the group that came to prominence after its protest of the Fox network's "Married . . . With Children" program. "This is a very good decision."
With video game graphics becoming increasingly realistic, and with the multimedia age ushering in more interactive capabilities, Sega said a rating system had become necessary.
Sega's executive advisory council will be charged with determining the rating for each game. And it won't just look at graphics, but also will appraise the music used in the games. For now, only games manufactured by Sega will have labels. The labeling system will be extended to other makers of games for Sega's Genesis system, the company said.
Many see the video game business as an extension of the entertainment industry, which has come under pressure about violence.
TV executives were berated last week in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in an attack led by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). Metzenbaum warned executives that if they couldn't come up with a way to lessen TV violence, lawmakers will "come down heavily on the television industry."
Community groups have testified at other congressional sessions that violence on TV influences children, which make up the bulk of Sega's customers.
"There is certainly more violence in video games now," said Ben Rose, an analyst with Tucker Anthony. He said Sega's decision may have been prompted by such discussions. He doesn't expect sales of Sega games to drop because of the rating system. "It may even enhance sales," he said, as it may pique interest in the more violent games. He expects Nintendo to follow suit and initiate its own rating system.
Nintendo declined comment.
Rakolta, the head of Americans for Responsible TV, concedes that a rating system won't have much of an effect on older children, who know the ins and outs of getting into R-rated movies. But it will help with younger children. "If the parent is paying for the game, it will be a big help," she said.