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New year, new updates 

Plus, the supposed link between video games and violence

Good news, PlayStation 3 owners! Downloadable content for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is finally coming to PS3 next month. Bethesda recently announced that all three expansions for the role-playing game will arrive in February, beginning with Dragonborn. Hearthfire will release next, followed by Dawnguard.

In addition, Bethesda will also release a 1.8 system update for Skyrim on PS3 next month, just ahead of Dragonborn's launch. While no specific release dates for the expansions have been announced, Bethesda has made it clear that all DLC packs will be 50 percent off during their launch week on the PlayStation Network.

Spartan Ops: Episode 6
  • Spartan Ops: Episode 6

On Xbox 360, Microsoft and 343 Studios are rolling out numerous updates for the critically acclaimed Halo 4. And Spartan Ops: Episode 6 will provide players with tons of cooperative mission-based action when it returns on Jan. 21.

If you're unfamiliar, Spartan Ops is like a television show, right down to a midseason hiatus. Since its launch, 343 has released five episodes, rerunning those episodes during the break to give new players a chance to catch up.

Not only is 343 continuing Spartan Ops, but they're making tons of changes to matchmaking and multiplayer rotations. Here's what been done over these last couple of weeks:

Spartan Ops: Episode 6: Five new missions and an accompanying new CG cinematic. "Forge Test" playlist: A rotational playlist featuring small Forge maps such as Relay. Specializations: Pioneer and Pathfinder Specializations unlocked for all players.

Spartan Ops: Episode 7: Five new missions and an accompanying new CG cinematic. Specializations: Engineer and Stalker Specializations unlocked for all players. I'm so excited for this: GRIFBALL returns! Everyone's favorite virtual sport will be introduced into matchmaking.

If you've never played this game-type, Grifball is played on an open court between two teams of four or more players. Each team has a goal and each player carries a gravity hammer and energy sword. In the center of the arena is a single ball that can be picked up by anyone on the field. Each match consists of five rounds, with each round ending when someone slams the ball into their opponent's goal. The team with the most goals wins. It's like American Gladiators ... to the death.

Spartan Ops: Episode 8: Five new missions and an accompanying new CG cinematic. Team Doubles playlist: A rotational hopper for those of you that like action of the 2 vs. 2 variety. Specializations: Rogue and Tracker Specializations unlocked for all players.

The Majestic Map Pack arrives later on Feb. 25, which is also around the time we'll see a title update that could address the level cap and introduce more specializations and features. More details to come on that!


On another note, President Barack Obama said in a press conference two weeks ago that he would ask Congress to allocate $10 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a study on the relationship between video games, media images and violence.

"Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence," said Obama, who failed to address violent movies or television programs in his remarks.

Unfortunately, a $10 million study won't makes adults more responsible or better parents. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides concise and objective information about the content in video games so consumers, especially parents, can make informed choices.

Every video game released receives an ESRB rating, which is strictly enforced by retail stores like Target, Best Buy, GameStop and Wal-Mart. If a child under the age of 17 attempts to purchase a "Mature"-rated game, they won't be allowed to make the purchase without a parent there.

In addition, an employee will often inform the parent something along the lines of, "Hey, just so you know, this game is violent and features sexual content and strong language." At that point, it's up to the parent to (pardon the phrase) pull the trigger on the purchase.

So, yes, there are violent video games out there — and most of them focus on gunplay and killing the enemy — but the ESRB clearly states: "Mature content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. These games typically contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language."

If a 10-year-old owns Halo 4, Black Ops II or Grand Theft Auto IV, it's because an adult purchased it for him or her. I get so tired of people blaming media for their own inability to be responsible parents, and while I do think it's important to research the effects of media violence on those with mental health issues, the proliferation of mature content to underage audiences is in the hands of parents who choose to use video games and movies as babysitters because they can't be bothered to take an active role in their children's lives.

I grew up fascinated with horror and science fiction. I obsessed over movies like Alien, The Terminator and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Often I would see parts of these films edited-for-television on cable with my mom, who was there to explain to me that it wasn't real — that it was only a movie — and that there were men in monster suits and the blood was corn syrup with red food coloring. I learned to appreciate the amount of imagination that went into creating these other worlds — the movie magic of realizing aliens, cyborg assassins and sweater-wearing dream stalkers with finger-knives.

Watching violent films and playing violent video games has yet to have an effect on me. I don't own a gun — I've never even fired a weapon — and I've managed to exist on this planet for 28 years without committing a violent crime or getting a speeding ticket. Hell, I've never even been in a fight. I'm the most non-confrontational, unaggressive person you're likely to meet — considering my apartment is filled with posters of movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Kill Bill.

Video games are more immersive than films, and for kids it's a way to crawl inside another universe and do things they could never do in real life — and I think for most of the population, being a space marine and shooting a futuristic plasma rifle at alien invaders is a form of wish fulfillment. It shouldn't be seen as the training ground for an inevitable school shooting or murder rampage.

Instead of blaming Marilyn Manson, Grand Theft Auto or The Dark Knight Rises, perhaps we should investigate who can obtain REAL weapons and commit REAL violence. Luckily, President Obama's reaction to gun violence seems to focus heavily on new firearms restrictions and on mental health research, but it still irks me every time I hear so much focus and attention given to video games geared toward adults while no one ever addresses the responsibility of parents.

As Washington Times author Stephen Dinan points out, "Overall, the White House said that while limiting guns is the role of the government, controlling what Americans see in movies and games is best left to parents."

(Console Me, Creative Loafing's electronic gaming column, consists of previews, reviews and commentary penned by Charlotte writer Adam Frazier, a regular contributor to CL and the websites Geeks of Doom and Hollywood News.)

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