The parents of children murdered during the Columbine High School shootings have launched a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against the makers of violent computer games, which they blame for having inspired the massacre.
The British computer games company Eidos has been named as a co-defendant in a $5bn (£3.6bn) lawsuit filed by parents of the Columbine victims, who were shot dead by two students who went on the rampage at the school near Denver, Colorado, in April 1999.
Eidos, which distributes the popular Tomb Raider game, has been named alongside companies that include ID Software, Paramount, Sega, Sony and Virgin Interactive, whose games are all alleged to have caused the shootings in which 15 people died.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two students who launched the attack with semi-automatic weapons and pipe bombs, were among the dead.
The victims' parents allege that games such as Eidos's Final Fantasy VII led to the massacre, and say that the creators of those games "knew or should have known that copycat violence would result from the use of their products and materials". This case mirrors increasing concern in the United States over the violent content of films, television shows and computer games.
It is the second such case brought against computer games companies. In April last year, a judge dismissed a claim filed in Paducah, Kentucky, over another school shooting in December 1997 in which three people died. He ruled that the games companies "owed no legal duty of care ..." because the killer's actions were "unforeseeable", and also that to restrain the content of games would violate the United States' First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.
The games most obviously on trial include two of the most popular "shoot-'em-ups", namely Doom and Quake. In both, the players see themselves behind a gun or a rifle and attempt to kill their opponents. Other games under scrutiny include Mortal Kombat, Redneck Revenge and Resident Evil.
One insider on the defendants' side said: "The wording of the Columbine claim is virtually identical to the Paducah one." He added: "We think that will mean it will get thrown out in short order."
Eidos has not set aside any funds against the possibility of losing the case, because it cannot quantify how much might be awarded if it lost.
The lawsuit could mark an important watershed in attitudes towards the increasingly violent computer games on sale in the United States.
During the American presidential debates last year, George Bush said: "Columbine spoke to a larger issue, and it's really a matter of culture.
"It's a culture that somewhere along the line we begun to disrespect life, where a child can walk in and have their heart turn dark as a result of being on the internet, and walk in and decide to take somebody else's life."
Jamie Love, an internet activist, said that the incidence of violent crimes had fallen in recent years, since games including Doom and Quake were released.
He said yesterday: "Doom was released in 1994. In the four years between the release of Doom and Quake II, the number of killers under the age of 18 in the US plummeted by 46 per cent."
Eidos and the other games companies defending the lawsuit are waiting to hear when any trial might start. The writ was filed by the Columbine parents last month, and is likely to take some time to come to court.
A spokesman for Eidos said that the computer company had been named as a defendant in the Paducah case, but was released from that because the game in question had not even been released when the shooting in Kentucky happened.
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