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Critics say 'Oh no' to Halo
Library hosts video game tournament
By Sue Ter Maat
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Published: 7/27/2007 4:38 PM

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Scores of preteens and teens will compete Sunday in the popular, alien-killing Halo 2 video game tournament at the Mount Prospect Public Library.

But their parents may not know what their kids will be exposed to during the three-hour program.

While the library will require permission slips to play, the slips will not spell out that the bloody and violent Halo 2 is rated by an independent video rating board specifically for those 17 and up -- not the junior high and high school students that the library is targeting.

"It's the parents' obligation to know what their kids are doing," said Library Director Marilyn Genther. "It's up to them to know (the rating). It's not our responsibility."

That's not good enough for the National Institute on Media and the Family.

But some parents might assume that a public library would put on age-appropriate material for their kids and not question it, said David Walsh, president of the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family.

"I think it's a mistake from top to bottom," Walsh said. "I think it borders on irresponsibility for a public library to sponsor an activity for kids as young as 12 that the industry itself has said is for adults."

Such debates are expected to grow as more libraries like Mount Prospect enter the video game arena, hoping to draw in kids who might not otherwise stop by a library, said Robert Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Association.

"The whole area of video gaming in general is an area that is relatively new for libraries, and there has been prejudice against this area by some," Walsh said.

Halo 2 got its rating via the Entertainment Software Rating Board for "blood, gore and violence," according to its Web site.

The rating board has seven designations based on content: Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen (age 13 and up), Mature (ages 17 and up), Adult Only, (ages 18 and up) and Rating Pending.

The ratings are meant to be a guide for parents to decide what is appropriate for their children. There are no laws based on the ratings that prevent children from playing these games. But many retailers will not to sell the games to kids because of the ratings, he said.

"The point of the rating is to inform consumers, so they can make educated purchase decisions," said Eliot Mizrachi, spokesman for the rating board.

The Halo video series is one of the most popular out there, partly due to its compelling story line, said Chris Thomas, an avid video gamer and manager at GameStop in Schaumburg.

The drama begins somewhere in the 24th Century, as an evil race of aliens create the ultimate planet-blasting weapon called the Halo, he said. Unfortunately, these aliens have decided to blow up Earth.

So, it's up to Master Chief, a super-human armed with an amazing array of weaponry, to kill aliens and save the human race.

"It's rated Mature for its blood and gore, but there are worse games out there," Thomas said. "It's a guns and shooting game, but it's also intricate and involves strategy to win."

The library's desire to hold the Halo 2 tournament was a bid to bring "that elusive teen audience," namely teen boys, who are rarely part of the library scene, said Rose Allen, the library's teen director.

The library's teen advisory board, made up of teens and junior high kids, suggested that Halo tournaments would pull more kids into the library since the game is so popular among their age group.

Once the library found out Halo 2 was rated "Mature," it decided permission slips were an appropriate method to alert parents, Allen said.

The library held its first Halo tournament in January without any complaints, she said.

About 45 boys attended, most of whom were teenagers with few middle schoolers, she said.

"I've talked to a number of parents who thanked me for having the tournament," Allen said. "They said their son now wants to come to the library."