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December 20, 2002

Dear Subscribers:

The newsletter is off on a two-week holiday. A joyous Christmas to all who celebrate it, and our warmest wishes for a peaceful turn of the year to all of you. Here's our lineup for this final issue of 2002:

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Family Tech

  1. A subscriber on 'Grand Theft Auto'

    Reading our recent item on sex in video games, subscriber Gen in California, editor of, zoomed in on one game, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," in particular and emailed us about her experience with it:

    "I really believe in First Amendment rights to free speech and we were pretty permissive parents, but this game is so scary because it is so good. If you read the reviews on or even you get some idea of the seductiveness in playing the gangster. The game has around 150 cars to steal; weapons; snazzy outfits; enhanced aiming for targeted hits; drive-by shooting; great graphics of Vice City (Miami); 'improved physics of driving,' as one review noted - and a dreadful and irresponsible message.

    "Recently I watched [Grand Theft Auto] being played at my house by grown friends and members of my family. The worrisome thing is that after playing the game for some 40 hours - almost the equivalent of a 3 point college course - I noticed there were residual effects from the game. Driving with the players later, I heard, 'Hey, there's the garbage truck you wanted,' and 'Let's take that Hummer,' 'Too bad we can't just drive over the shoulder and get past this jam,' and 'If this were Grand Theft Auto, we wouldn't be sitting here [in traffic].' These are comments from grown men. Sure, their fore-brain functions are fully developed and so they just voiced the thoughts. But what about those 16-year-olds that are just learning to drive, whose inhibitions are not that fully developed?

    "While I was mostly concerned about reckless driving, the eventual happened. In Kenosha, Wis., a teenager told police that Grand Theft Auto inspired an auto-theft spree involving about 100 vehicles before he and two others were caught [here's a Eugene, Ore., teenager's opposing view on the arrest and games' effect on teenagers].

    "The latest version [of the game] adds killings to the [auto theft] assignments. The game sales have gone through the roof. I don't know about you, but I would not want my kid hanging out with this crowd. 'Oh, Mom, it's only a game.' How many times have we heard this, and - without a quick riposte - acquiesce? It's important not to buy that argument." [A recent report from Wired News quotes game enthusiasts saying that the new Grand Theft Auto game, "Vice City" doesn't live up to all the hype it's getting. It's "pretty much the same as its PlayStation 2 predecessor, the groundbreaking Grand Theft Auto 3," they say.]

  2. Playing at life ... online

    Then there are multi-player online games - a red-hot topic because "The Sims Online" debuted this week, and there was plenty of media coverage.

    What makes the online version so different is that "every one of the hundreds of sims [simulated people] that you encounter [in the game] is played by a real person, not your PC," reports MSNBC, and CNET wonders if the game "will alter the gaming world" altogether.

    Social interaction is Sims's "raison d'etre," says MSNBC, but even the online versions of fantasy games like EverQuest and shooter games like Counter-Strike reportedly benefit from the social interaction of Web-based play. MSNBC looks at all the angles, including how different generations approach these multi-player games (one baby boomer player cited spends a couple of hours a night after putting the kids to bed living her "parallel life" - and she's one of the people who haven't let it consume their real lives!). Here's a New York Times Magazine piece on the by David Brooks, a thoughtful observer of American social and political life.

    Who knows? Now that multi-player games are taking off on the Internet, teenagers may switch from chat to Sims, et al, as a place for anonymous role-play and interaction. In any case, it's worth parents' while to look into this phenomenon.

  3. Relevant links

    • On how gamers are putting down their virtual guns and "hitting the party circuit online" to celebrate the holidays - "Gamers Click Home for the Holidays" at Wired News.

    • An issue that got quite a lot of coverage last week: how unconscious prejudices are played out in video games - the New York Times. The lead: "Asked to make split-second decisions about whether black or white male figures in a video game were holding guns, people were more likely to conclude mistakenly that the black men were armed and to shoot them, a series of new studies reports."

    • Can Nintendo connect with its "inner adult"? Wired takes a long, lifestyles-magazine look at "Why Nintendo Won't Grow Up," reporting that "Shigeru Miyamoto invented the modern videogame. Now the industry he founded is moving from kid stuff to cultural force," and game industry watchers wonder if "the Disney of the game world" can make the transition into Sims-style game-making.

    • The Washington Post went out on a limb and picked the year's best video games - nearly 30 of them. They might not be parents' top picks, however. Among them? "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." Like Gen, they say it's a great game - also "violent, suggestive, rude" and containing "overt criminal activity"!

    • CNNMoney says game console prices are sure to come down - significantly.

Send in your family's experiences with video and online games! Positive or negative, they can be useful to fellow parents (email us via Besides, we enjoy hearing from you!

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Web News Briefs

  1. 2002: Google's 'Zeitgeist,' Lycos's 50

    The spirit of the times - or a sense of where we all are at the end of 2002 - can't really be captured solely on or by the Internet (at least we hope not). But what Google finds after boiling down 55 billion searches from all over the world is a Zeitgeist of Internet activity; that's interesting in its own right; and nobody's better positioned to present it. On its Zeitgeist page, Google looks at the most-searched, or Top 10 men, women, musicians, stories, destinations, video games, e-retailers, etc., some broken down by country. The Zeitgeist zooms in on Las Ketchup search traffic, having followed the craze as it circled the globe. The Top 20 Gaining and Declining Queries (those with the greatest increase or decrease in number of searches over the previous year) are interesting: Spiderman was the No. 1 gaining query for 2002; Osama bin Laden was No. 5 declining query for the year (16th-century French seer Nostradamus was No. 1).

    Interestingly, Wired News points out, "Dragonball" doesn't appear anywhere on Google's Zeitgeist lists, while it's at the top of Lycos's Top 100 search terms for 2002. Wired says Lycos's year-end wrapup is the place to go for what's popular with kids and teens; its search terms are "geared toward a younger demographic."

  2. Huge child-porn sting in UK

    Teachers, doctors, child-care workers, and police officers were among the 1,200 people arrested in nationwide raids against pedophiles in the UK this week, the Times of London reports. They were accessing an American online pedophilia service of which US authorities had informed Scotland Yard, leading to "the largest paedophile investigation to be mounted in Britain." The US Postal Service had found details of 75,000 subscribers around the world and passed on 7,000 credit card references to British police," according to The Times. Forty UK children have been taken into custody as victims of the accused.

  3. CyberTipline's milestone

    The US's CyberTipline - a national Web and phone hotline for reporting child exploitation - received its 100,000th report this week. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), which manages the Tipline, 86% of those reports concern child pornography, 8% are about online enticement, 2% child prostitution, and 1% child sex tourism (the Tipline's Web site spells out the six categories for reporting, including online enticement of children offline sexual exploitation). Almost 10% of the reports came in from INHOPE (about US-based child victims or porn hosts), a European consortium of child-porn hotlines. The Tipline was established by Congress in March 1998.

    Interestingly, US Internet service providers in general have been less than compliant with a law passed in December 1999 requiring them to report child pornography found on their services. The NCMEC tells us that, to date, only 103 of the more than 7,200 US ISPs have registered and used the CyberTipline.

    Reports can be made to the Tipline toll-free or on the Web, 24/7: or 800-843-5678.

  4. 'Online posse' gets the crook

    We couldn't stop reading this week's story about how a group of people around the US got together online and, working with police, found a man in the Chicago area suspected of defrauding sellers on According to the New York Times, it began with college sophomore Jason Eric Smith getting cheated out of several thousand dollars after shipping a laptop to a "buyer" on eBay. When he discovered that the buyer's cashier's check was a counterfeit, he went online to tell his story to a group of Macintosh users, who helped him find the Markham, Ill., resident. Police say they believe the man was part of a large online fraud ring dealing in high-priced electronics. One of the interesting things about this story is how the "posse" worked with police. "When Mr. Smith called the Markham Police Department, he was put through to Sgt. Jim Knapp, who was delighted to take the call and offered to make the delivery himself," the Times reports, dressed as a Federal Express delivery person. "When [the accused] signed for the package, the officer said, he arrested him." See the Times for more on the "smart mobs" trend (coined by online community pioneer/expert Howard Rheingold with the title of his new book on the subject).

  5. Teen power in the digital age

    Nineteen-year-old Norwegian Jon Lech Johansen has become "something of a folk hero to hackers" for writing DeCSS, software code that can bypass the copy protection on DVDs, Wired News reports. Arguing in a Norwegian court this week, prosecutors said Jon has harmed movie studios by circulating his code on the Net "and allowing others to improve methods for cracking the Content Scrambling System, the industry-developed method for protecting DVDs from piracy." They asked the court to fine him $1,400 in court costs and to take his computers away. They also recommended a 90-day suspended sentence for breaking Norwegian computer-security law, violation of which carries a two-year maximum sentence. Jon pleaded innocent, saying "he needed his software to watch movies he already owned on his Linux-based computer, for which DVD software had not yet been written." A verdict is expected within a few weeks.

  6. Student tech support

    My grandfather the high school physics teacher had a car engine in his basement classroom, and one of the requirements for completion of his course was to take apart and reassemble that engine. This week Wired News's Katie Dean reports on the 21st-century equivalent: high school students building computers from scratch. Hattiesburg (Miss.) High School teacher Lynne Houston learned the skill first, then started passing that knowledge along to her students - a turning point in her teaching career, Katie writes. "Her students are excited about building computers, she said, because they can see how their new skills apply in the real world. Their interest in building the machines carries over into other subjects. Once the Internet-ready computers hit the classroom, kids have access to numerous resources." They've built almost 6,000 computers for Mississippi schools so far.

    In New York, there's the MOUSE Squad, a corps of student volunteers that does tech support for New York City public schools. "Through a program run by MOUSE, a nonprofit group whose name is an acronym for Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education, the students learn the skills needed to troubleshoot technical problems in classrooms and computer labs," the New York Times reports. (Our thanks to for pointing these stories out.)

  7. Kid tech picks

    Here's help for those last-minute shoppers who happen to be parents of kids 2-6 (or anyone who likes to read about how kids take to toys). Wired News's Leander Kahney tested some very parent-friendly toys on his four children 6 and under and wrote up the results.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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