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Games centres used as child care

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QUEENSLAND parents are leaving children overnight at Internet games centres to play violent computer games for up to 24 hours.
Original article: < ahref='http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,10306100%255E26462,00.html'>Games centres used as child care By Elissa Lawrence and Simon Atkinson, The Sunday Mail (Qeensland) August 1, 2004

QUEENSLAND parents are leaving children overnight at Internet games centres to play violent computer games for up to 24 hours.

A Sunday Mail investigation has found children as young as 12 are being dropped off by parents for "lock-ins" - overnight game sessions that can attract up to 40 youngsters.

Parents are also using the Internet centres as de facto child care during school holidays, leaving children as young as eight all day while at work.

Many of the games being played contain themes of violence, sexual elements and sado-masochism. This week, a British teenager faced murder charges after killing his friend, apparently prompted by such a game.

Most Brisbane lock-ins, costing $15 to $20 per child, begin between 6pm and 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights, finishing the next morning. Some run a full 24 hours.

Family groups are outraged that parents are using the centres as "cheap, convenient" child care.

The State Government has pledged to investigate how such young children can be allowed to participate in the lock-ins.

The Sunday Mail visited several lock-ins in Brisbane between midnight and 2am yesterday - finding two 13-year-olds on a 24-hour game marathon at Sunnybank, in the city's south.

One of the teens said his mother had paid $20 for him to play the war-simulator game Battlefield from 6pm Friday until 6pm yesterday, at Cybergames in the Sunnybank Plaza shopping centre.

"This is the seventh overnighter I've done," said one of the teens. "My mum dropped me off at about six o'clock and will pick me up tomorrow night. She pays for me to come here. It's like a babysitting place for her."

One operator said he set an age limit of 15 for his centre, but many parents regularly gave permission for younger children, some aged 12, to take part in lock-ins.

Brendan Leung, manager of Multinet Entertainment at Sunnybank Hills, said: "You'd be surprised how many parents drop their kids off at nine at night and pick them up the next morning at seven or nine o'clock when we do overnighters.

"I think we must be cheaper than child care, because in the school holidays we're noticing more parents leaving their children here on their way to work.

"We are quite up-market, keep the place clean and comfortable and monitor what the kids are doing. We're another alternative for parents, and most of them seem happy about that."

But Family Council of Queensland president Alan Baker said the centres were no place for children.

"Parents might be tempted to use this as a babysitting service when they want to go out," he said.

"We have concerns about the level of supervision being given, and it is not appropriate for children as young as 10 - or even 13 or 14 - to be out all night in that sort of environment."

Communities Minister Warren Pitt said he would refer details to the Department of Child Safety.

Child Safety Minister Mike Reynolds said: "I'm very concerned if this is happening, because it certainly is not good parental practice to leave children in Internet cafes overnight.

"I'm advised that these places are not equipped or staffed appropriately to handle the needs of young children for that length of time."

The games being played in the centres include titles such as Battlefield, Grand Theft Auto, Medal of Honor and Counter Strike.

Education commentator Christopher Bantick said the games contained themes that were "clearly detrimental to a healthy understanding of human relationships".

He said: "Values in the games are nil. It's some figure chasing someone, with the net result of killing them or be killed. It's destruction and violence.

"We're dealing with an unknown. We don't know the psychological, social and emotional impacts of long-term game-playing on impressionable children."

The games rooms - a mix of games arcade and Internet cafe - are operating throughout Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba and Townsville. The biggest centres operate 24 hours a day.

Rampage Gaming And Internet at Deagon, on Brisbane's northside, often sees children as young as eight playing games for hours on end during the day.

Employee Stuart Quine said most gamers were aged from eight to 13.

"Most of the younger kids come in for one to three hours, but we do get a couple of hardcore 12 or 13-year-olds who come in for the whole day," he said. "The violence is nothing worse than what you see on TV."

Michael Puccini, manager of Online Gaming Centre, at Ashgrove in Brisbane's inner west, said he monitored young children for signs of "anti-social tendencies".

"We're very mindful of young kids in here. We look at how they react and how they take the violence," he said.

"We're on the lookout for anti-social tendencies, like kids getting angry, yelling and swearing across the room, and we nip it in the bud before it becomes an issue."

One of the biggest games centres, The Bunker, in Brisbane's Queen St Mall, has 70 computers and is open 24 hours, seven days, and regularly attracts young teenagers.

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