CARACAS, Venezuela -
Shouts of "Kill him! Kill him!" ring out as the preteens train their virtual assault rifles on the last remaining terrorist and spray him with bullets. Blood splatters. The enemy collapses. And they cheerfully wrap up another game of "Counter-Strike."
The most popular video games among kids often imitate life outside this Internet cafe in San Augustin — one of the many crime-ridden slums in Venezuela's capital, where residents say too many of the young players easily trade joysticks for guns.
In a bid to curb that trend, Venezuela's National Assembly is on track to prohibit violent video games and toys. The proposed legislation, which received initial approval in September, is expected to get a final vote in the coming weeks.
Parents applaud the proposed ban. But critics argue the bill is little more than a public relations stunt by supporters of President Hugo Chavez to camouflage his government's inability to deal with Venezuela's rampant violent crime — the country's most pressing problem according to public opinion polls.
Chavez's government stopped releasing complete annual murder figures in 2005 amid rising concerns. But last year, the Justice Ministry said homicides averaged 152 a week, or roughly 7,900 for the year. That's more than five times the murder rate in Texas, which has roughly the same population as Venezuela.
As manager of the cafe in San Augustin, Jenny Rangel struggles with a moral dilemma as she stands beneath a "Scarface" movie poster and watches the virtual shoot-'em-up. Like many of her neighbors, Rangel rushes home at nightfall before gunshots begin echoing through the barrio.
"The message for them is that you must shoot and kill," Rangel said.
So what are they going to ban next...