LOS ANGELES – Video games have long been accused of sparking violence in youth, and now the hangouts where teens gather to engage in virtual violence online are under scrutiny.
In Southern California, beatings and even murders inside or near Internet cafes have caused legislators and police to take a closer look and crack down on these popular meeting places for adolescents.
"They draw a certain element of people and these have drawn the wrong element and we're taking corrective measures," said Bruce Broadwater, the mayor of Garden Grove, Calif.
In Garden Grove, gang fights, baseball bat beat-downs, and even a deadly stabbing have occurred at cybercafes. Groups of teens playing violent games online, sometimes betting money on the results, and other gang activity around the cafes are primarily to blame, legislators say.
The city council reacted by placing restrictions on the cafes, limiting hours of operation and requiring increased security on the premises. But these requirements incited anger from business owners who worry about staying afloat financially.
Vietnam Internet Center owner Diane Vo is fighting an ordinance in court that requires virtual venues to hire guards and install expensive security systems.
"We will have to file bankruptcy. We have no way of complying to all of the things they want us to do," Vo said. "They are trying to make me and my husband and all the cybercafe owners become an extension of the police force."
Cybercafes are "the latest magnet for the very same social and criminal problems that other arenas of entertainment and socializing have been in the past, from soccer and football games to rock concerts and raves," Robert Pugsley of Southwestern University School of Law told The Christian Science Monitor. "California is now serving as a convenient object lesson for others."
After one teenager was followed home from an Internet cafe before being shot and killed, and another boy was shot outside a cafe in Los Angeles, City Councilman Dennis Zine filed a motion for the Los Angeles Police Department to assess how many incidents have occurred, according to Kim Friedman, director of media relations for Zine.
"There are virtually no regulations on cybercafes in Los Angeles and that's the problem," said Zine. "We need to find out what rules and restrictions will be appropriate so we can maintain safety and it's all about safety.
"What I'm talking about is reasonable controls, reasonable restrictions and it may cost a couple of dollars, but what is a life worth?" Zine asked. "A life is worth more than a couple of dollars."
The violence has subsided in Garden Grove, but several cybercafes have shut down. Officials in Los Angeles insist that such closures aren't their goal and that they just want to prevent teenage virtual warriors from going home in real body bags.
Fox News' Amy C. Sims contributed to this report.