QUESTION: The controversy over violent video games just escalated after a major toy store chain pulled one of the worst offenders - "Night Trap" - off the shelves. In response to such public pressure, some of the nation's largest producers of home video games are designing a ratings system for violent videos. The industry launched this plan before Congress considered regulating them. Is self-regulation the answer?

BONNIE ERBE: Self-regulation is one of those touchy-feely industry responses that have little impact but to allow companies to continue to profit from hazardous products. Witness the ratings system for Hollywood movies. Has it cut down on gratuitous sex and violence? Of course not. If anything, it probably prompts more underage kids to sneak in to see adult movies. Likewise, mature ratings for blood-filled video games such as "Mortal Kombat" will do little but entice youngsters to try to buy them.In a horrifically self-serving Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, Tom Zito, the CEO of Digital Pictures, defended his company's wildly successful interactive video game, "Night Trap." It's the one where girls in flimsy nightgowns are captured by male marauders. The men then suck their blood, using high-tech machines. He called the public outrage over "Night Trap" the shock of the new. According to Zito, once we get used to the violent dreck his company produces, we won't be so appalled. In the meantime $6 million in the sales of the grotesque item are lining Zito's pockets.

Unfortunately, producers of violent video games (like producers of violent movies) are right about their constitutional protections. There's little we can do, and still abide by the Constitution, to regulate their production.

But there is one thing we can do that will withstand constitutional scrutiny AND hit them where it hurts: in the bank account. Producers of violent video games (or films or TV shows) should be held financially liable for copycat acts of violence.

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BETSY HART: Let me get this straight. With lawsuit-happy America already willing to "sue anybody and win" (the title of a recent article in a top woman's magazine), we're now going to hold a video producer in New York strictly responsible for the violent actions of children in Dubuque?

That's absurd. It wouldn't solve anything and would just cost America billions in frivolous lawsuits. But it would dodge the real problem, which is exactly what liberals want to do.

The games my colleague describes are truly horrendous and none of them would ever darken my doorstep. But let's not kid ourselves. The proliferation of these games is a symptom, not the cause, of the illness of violence and dismay that is infecting our young people. The problem is many liberals want to blame the video games, not themselves, for the culture we live in today.

Strict liability of the industry, or even a video ratings system, may make us feel good. But it will take a lot more than that to undo the cultural damage we've witnessed over the last generation.

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