Something didn’t feel right to Andrew and Tracey Hyams when they entered the rest stop in Charlton on the Massachusetts Turnpike on Christmas Eve with their 12-year-old son and saw another boy absorbed in an arcade game.
The youth was firing a machine gun replica at the screen, licking off simulated rounds with a rapid-fire rat-tat-tat that reverberated off the walls. “You could even hear it in the bathroom,” Andrew Hyams, 58, of Newton, said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Because the plaza is close to Newtown, Conn., Hyams said, a relative of one of the school shooting victims could have walked in and seen a player firing away, 10 days after the massacre that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults.
“People have the freedom to have whatever video games in their own homes that they want,” Hyams said. “We were struck by walking into a [state-owned] rest stop within an hour’s drive of Newtown and seeing and hearing a life-sized, mounted machine gun on a video game.”
The couple felt that such games had no place in public rest stops, and the state Department of Transportation agreed. After receiving an e-mail from the Hyams, the Massachusetts agency removed nine violent games from service plazas in Charlton, Ludlow, Lee, and Beverly.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said removing the games made sense in light of the Newtown tragedy.
“Bottom line is I think there isn’t a person who doesn’t believe that there isn’t too much violence in our society, and games can glorify that,” Davey said. “A video game in a public space could be used by anybody of any age.
“At the end of the day, those games are there to entertain kids, probably for a few minutes, while their parents are resting from a long trip. I just think it makes all the sense in the world to have it be a more passive” game.
Davey said the decision to remove the games was made by subordinates.
“It didn’t get to my desk,” he said. “My guys well below me were making the right call on this one. I’m just happy that folks in this organization are thinking and making swift changes when appropriate.”
Among the games removed by the state were Time Crisis and Beach Head 2000, which both involve shooting. The manufacturers of those games could not be reached for comment.
The name of the specific shooting game removed from the Charlton rest stop was not immediately available.
At the Natick rest stop on Thursday, three relatively tame options were available to gamers: Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Cruis’n Exotica.Travelers were generally supportive of the decision to remove violent games from other stops, but questioned whether such actions could prevent violence.
“At least they’re showing not only a little sympathy, but at least they’re taking some steps,” said Keith Cook, 39, of Charlestown, who was traveling with his 2-year-old daughter.
Remarking on the violence in Newtown, he added, “I don’t know if it lies with video games; I don’t know if it lies with parents.”
He also said he does not want his daughter playing video games of any sort when she gets older.
Chris Gerdes, 32, a truck driver who lives in California, said removing the games may be well-intentioned, but he had doubts about the effectiveness of such a move. “I think it’s just a little over the top,” said Gerdes, who sometimes plays hunting video games at rest stops. “I do sympathize, with all the stuff that’s going on.”
State transportation officials are not the only ones pushing back against violent entertainment.
Mayor Robert Dolan of Melrose said Thursday that the city is launching an initiative aimed at persuading families to get rid of their violent video games, movies, and toys by offering coupons to residents who turn in those items at the city yard.
“If a family has this discussion and maybe tries to get rid of some of this stuff, they are going to get one of these coupons,” Dolan said. “The child may be getting rid of something they like, but they are getting some value for it.”
Dolan, a father of children 4 and 7 years old, said he felt compelled to start the program following the Newtown shootings.
He hopes to have it up and running by Feb. 1.
Under the initiative, called New Year — New Direction, residents who throw away items can retrieve a coupon sheet, which will include deals at local businesses and possibly a “get out of homework free” coupon, Dolan said.
“I’m not saying people shouldn’t have [violent games and toys], but, at least in my house, things have changed since Connecticut,” Dolan said.