Kid-friendly Wii won’t escape controversy much longer

For a while, it seemed like Nintendo’s family-friendly titles and innovative new Wii console would keep the industry giant out of the whole “video games are bad” controversy surrounding other game systems. Unfortunately, it might have the opposite effect.

Rockstar Games (which is synonymous with controversy) recently announced the production of “Manhunt 2” for various consoles, including the Wii. While Nintendo has always allowed third-party developers to produce M-rated games for its systems, the company has still managed to appeal to a family audience, mostly through its own mascot characters like Mario, Link, Kirby and Yoshi. So those who claim violent games are marketed to kids might be looking at Nintendo more than Microsoft or Sony, whose consoles are squarely aimed at that 18-34 demographic. Nintendo’s own reputation might work against it when parents see Mature games for a system they thought was squeaky clean.

But the new problem is the Wii itself. While most virtual violence is done by tapping buttons and rotating your thumb, the Wii’s unique motion-sensing controls add realism by letting players go bowling or play tennis just by mimicking the movements. For games like “Manhunt 2,” that might also include swinging your arm to stab someone or beat them with a baseball bat. That much realism can only add to the controversy over video game violence.

Nintendo’s stance is that parents should be aware of what their kids are playing, and its Web site has information about the ratings system for parents, as well as detailed instructions on how to use the Wii’s parental controls to block content they don’t want their children playing. Without parental locks, the Wii can even access Internet sites inappropriate for kids, which is apparently raising the ire of some parents, according to a Feb. 24 story by KUTV in Salt Lake City.

Of course, everything – video games, DVDs, TV, telephones, books, silverware, marbles, etc. – can be harmful to children if used improperly and without supervision. If lazy parents, and the politicians who cater to them, want to make the world safe for unsupervised children to run around in, they’ll have to do a lot more than crack down on virtual violence. But with just the smallest amount of effort, parents can already control what their children play. It just takes some time and attention.