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Father’s Christmas Eve conscience tosses bloody games from arcade

Arcade-goers (from left) Matt Pfister 15 Vince Lovergine 14 KevAmern 15 Connor Webb 14 all Crystal Lake play arcade game

Arcade-goers (from left) Matt Pfister, 15, Vince Lovergine, 14, Kevin Amern, 15 and Connor Webb, 14, all of Crystal Lake, play a arcade game of hockey, Friday at No Limit Arcade in Algonquin. January 18, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 24, 2013 4:24PM

ALGONQUIN — Kevin Slota awoke on Christmas Eve Day knowing that he had to get rid of the shooting games at his arcade or he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.

Slota, 56, was in the concert promotion and guitar equipment businesses before he and partner Mark Battaglia opened the No Limit Video Arcade at 2719 W. Algonquin Road in December 2011. The phrase “No Limit,” based on the name of a rock band that Battaglia once played in and Slota helped promote, refers not to the kind of video games inside but to how customers can play every machine all day for a flat $15 admission fee.

Big fans of the “classic” arcade games, Slota and Battaglia set up one “pod” of games that their teenage customers’ fathers would recognize — “Donkey Kong,” “Q-Bert,” “Asteroids,” “Frogger” and “Super Pac-Man.” Another pod has sports games such as “Golden Tee Golf” and even the girl-attracting “Dance Machine.”

They dedicated the main aisle of the store to exciting racing games such as “Hydra Thunder.” But they also left a rear corner — 12 games of the store’s total of 60 — to a “Shooters Pod,” with games in which young fans could imagine grabbing hold of a rifle or shotgun or handgun and mow down opponents.

It was that Shooters Pod that haunted Slota’s mind when he awoke the morning of Monday, Dec. 24, 2012.

“I didn’t even want to think about those school shootings. But I have two grown-up boys of my own, and I thought about what it must be like for those dads in Connecticut as they looked at Christmas presents under the tree for children who wouldn’t be opening them,” Slota said as he rang up visitors on Friday.

“I thought about those first-person shooter games, where some of them splatter blood and brains all over the screen when you shoot people really close-up. I thought about how I had seen 6- and 7-year-old kids play these things just transfixed, and I could see how this was desensitizing these little kids to how horrible it really is to shoot someone.

“And I knew that these games had to go.”

Shooters gone

A 56-year-old Marine Corps veteran who still wears a Marine Corps “cover” (hat) on his head and a Corps-symbolizing anchor-and-globe necklace around his neck, Slota says he has no problem with guns in general or with hunting.

“We’re not taking away every game that involves shooting,” he said. “We still have hunting games. We still have ‘Star Wars’-like games where you shoot at enemy spaceships. But if it involved the player shooting at a target with two legs, it’s gone.”

All 12 shooter games are now for sale, he said. Some already have been moved to an adjacent storage area, while others that don’t fit there have been unplugged and marked with signs saying that an age-appropriate game will soon replace it. The condemned games include “Maximum Force,” “Warzaid,” “Gunblade” and one based on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” movies.

Slota said he had received some arguments from his partner about getting rid of the shooter games. But after Newtown happened and he came to work on Dec. 24 with his mind made up, he said, “I received very little blowback” from Battaglia.

They have drawn some gripes from the mostly teenage clientele, Slota said. “But some decisions you can’t base on the bottom line. Everybody’s pointing their fingers at each other in this gun-violence issue. But when I woke up on Christmas Eve, it was my late father I saw, pointing at me and knowing what I was doing to these kids in my store.”

“Violent movies do the same thing,” Slota argues. “They desensitize kids.”

When baby boomers like him were little, he said, the TV and movie screens were full of Westerns with plenty of shoot-’em-ups. But those Westerns usually were show-downs between good guys and bad guys, between good and evil, in which a gun battle was just a plot tool. In first-person-shooter games, shooting people is the main center of interest. And the player doesn’t just passively watch two people on screen do it, as a movie or TV fan does. The player actually holds the gun and blasts away on his own as the game rewards him more points for every blast of blood and guts.

“They say we should leave it up to parents to judge” which games are appropriate, Slota said. “But nowadays, both parents work, and kids are left to watch out for themselves. Kids age 6 or 7 can’t get in here without a parent, but then the parent drifts off somewhere and leaves the 6-year-old playing these bloody games.”

“People say the government should do this and the government should do that. But the government can’t fix it. It’s got to be fixed around your kitchen table.”

The former Shooters Cove at No Limit will be replaced with a second cluster of those classic 1980s games along the lines of Pac-Man and Frogger.

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