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Players can get 'high' in 'Narc' video game

Critic blasts game for glorifying drug use; game banned in Australia

From Alex Walker
In "Narc," you must decide if you're a good cop or bad cop.
• Game review:  'Narc' -- just say no
• Midway:  Narcexternal link
start quoteA lot of these games glorify violence. Now we have a game that glorifies drug use. Where do we draw the line? end quote
-- David Walsh, spokesman for National Institute on Family and the Media
Video Games

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- In the video game "Narc," published by Midway, you play an undercover police officer busting drug dealers.

Except in this game, your cop character can take the drugs he confiscates -- and the illicit substances can enhance performance.

Narc's publishers at Midway say the game is all about choices, and the consequences of those choices. The following is an excerpt of a statement released to CNN by the company's chief marketing officer, Steve Allison:

"The drugs in Narc affect game play -- addiction, and crime and punishment are predominant themes in the story. Ultimately, the players who choose to take drugs will face consequences; they will experience the highs and lows of this culture, but following this path will ultimately lead to failure."

Family groups that have fought against violent and sexual content in video games for years, say this new "high" in gaming is an all-time low.

Psychologist David Walsh, spokesman for the National Institute on Family and the Media, does not buy Midway's choice-consequence justification, and says drug use in the game creates curiosity and allure for players.

"They [Midway] do portray the extreme that the use of drugs can lead to bad outcomes, and the game penalizes you for misusing drugs. But the flip side of that message is that some drug use actually enhances play and enhances your performance. That's the glorification part. That's the dangerous message: Drugs are OK, just don't overdo it."

But Narc is an M-rated title, and designers at Midway say -- in the same statement released to CNN -- that the game is for adults, and "offers adult gamers the chance to play through an interactive crime saga where players face the temptations and choices of an undercover police officer."

Walsh concedes Midway is not promoting the title for children, but says he knows from experience that teenagers gravitate towards M-rated games that generate a lot of buzz. Popular titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Halo 2, both rated for 17+ gamers, are enormously appealing to teenagers, says Walsh. He says chances are that a game like Narc could end up in their hands, and warp their minds:

"Games are interactive and psychologically powerful. We have to watch what our kids watch because the teenage brain is a work in progress. The experiences we have during growth spurts in the brain have a greater impact on the formation of attitudes, values and norms than at any other time in our lives."

"We want our young people going into adulthood with a healthy set of values and attitudes toward health and toward how to treat other people. A lot of these games glorify violence. Now we have a game that glorifies drug use. Where do we draw the line?"

According to the Entertainment Software Association's 2004 Essential Facts Guide, the average age of a video game player is 30 years old. And the $7.3 billion gaming industry rivals the U.S. motion-picture industry, according to the same guide. Midway's publishers point to these statistics, and say there is no reason video games should not be able to take on the same mature themes as movies.

Narc has been banned in Australia, and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has denounced the game in his push to pass the Safe Games Act in his state.

Computer-generated acid trip

Drug use may give you super powers in the game, but abuse can cause addiction.

"I would normally say 'just say no' to drugs, except in this case they've been replaced for power-ups. If you were playing Super Mario Bros., a 'magic mushroom' would make you bigger and more powerful. Here, it's kind of the same theory," says video game reviewer Scott Steinberg.

Marijuana, as you light a virtual joint and take a long drag, causes the screen to become a hazy green. The drug slows time for criminals in the game, allowing your cop character to chase down and arrest them.

LSD helps differentiate friend from foe, so your character knows whom to confront; allies grow wacky court jester heads, and enemies become devil-headed cartoons. Trippy music and psychedelic colors accompany your computer-generated acid trip.

Other drugs in Narc include speed, ecstasy and crack. Crack, after the distinct sound of someone huffing on a pipe, gives players a one-shot-one-kill skill. Your crackhead cop character suddenly becomes an expert marksman.

Drug use may give you super powers in the game, but abuse can cause addiction. Protodone -- the game's version of methodone, can curb your cravings. Otherwise, addiction can lead to withdrawal.

But unlike real-life, you can kick your virtual habit after a few skillful clicks on the game controller.

Players can avoid all of this, however, by adopting a "just say no" attitude in the game. The illicit activity is all a matter of choice, says Steinberg.

"It's entirely up to the player. You can be a good cop, or you can be a bad cop, but there are consequences. I can use drugs or sell drugs to the citizenry. The thing is, there are random drug tests. I can get busted, develop addictions, or my fellow officers can come chasing me."

The M-rated, 17-and-older title retails for $19.99 and is available for the Xbox and PlayStation 2.

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