Many video games are violent. Children enjoy video games. Are they just for fun or are they actually diabolical programs designed to desensitize our most vulnerable members of society to the horrors of violence and train them through repetition to become compassionless killers with superhuman reflexes? Let’s explore this topic.
For decades now, many concerned parents and advocates of children’s welfare have been making correlations between games and acts of real-world violence both self-inflicted and perpetrated on others.
In the late 1970s and early 80s a new breed of game, the “pen and paper RPG” most notably Dungeons & Dragons (TSR Inc), came under scrutiny because of several infamous incidences which resulted in the loss of several young people’s lives and left their loved ones asking a question that seems to resurface every few news cycles: Does pretend violence lead to real-world violence?
The first time video games as an impetus to violence gained widespread traction was following the infamous Columbine High School massacre. On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered Columbine High School armed with an Intratec TEC-DC9, Hi-Point 995 Carbine, a Savage 67H pump-action shotgun, a Stevens 311D double-barreled sawed-off shotgun, four knives and ninety-nine explosive devices. Roughly forty minutes later, 12 students and a teacher were dead and their killers had committed suicide. Both perpetrators of this heinous act had been fans of first-person shooters: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake (iD Software) and Duke Nukem 3D (3D Realms).
I have played all of these games to completion on multiple occasions. Harris created levels for Doom which are still in circulation today. Like Harris, I have also dabbled in level editors. In 1997, I created 3 maps for the game: Duke Nukem 3D. Harris is a mass murderer, but I have not killed anyone. So do video games turn children into killers?
The question has been studied in detail by social scientists and the consensus is that watching and participating in acts of simulated violence does indeed lower an individual’s inhibition towards acting out actual violence. To give you a personal example, in my own life after playing many hours of Grand Theft Auto IV, I hopped in my car to go grocery shopping. The experience was surreal.
In the game I had been playing, I was being routinely rewarded for acts of mayhem whereas in the real world the consequences would have been dire. I recognized a strange schism in my thought process that day. Thankfully, I had the faculties in place to recognize the difference between games and reality and did not act on “impulses trained through repetition”, unfortunately not everyone is capable of this kind of objective thought and that’s where the line between pretend and real violence begins to blur.
According to Lt. Col. Army (Ret.) Dave Grossman:
“Bottom line: From a military and law enforcement perspective, violent video games are “murder simulators” that train kids to kill. They act just like police and military simulators, providing conditioned responses, killing skills and desensitization, except they are inflicted on children without the discipline of military and police training.”
I do not disagree with the points the Lieutenant colonel made. Many video games are in fact murder simulators, but if that is the case then why hasn’t the over half of the American population that plays video game killed the other half? I think it has to do with “morality”.
Most people are taught about the sanctity of life, whether via religious or secular avenues, a vast majority of people arrive at the conclusion that killing a fellow human being is inexcusable. When someone dies in a video game, movie or a book it has an impact precisely because we’ve been taught that the loss of an individual’s life is a loss to humankind as a whole.
It is important to make a distinction between people who play video games as a form of recreation and people who act out their impulses violently and also happen to have played a video game. Video games don’t make people kill people. Video games simply make it easier for the mentally ill to practice the act of killing.
BBC News (2014, April 11) The great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26328105
Dr. David Moore and Bill Manville (2009, April 23). What role might video game addiction have played in the Columbine shootings? Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/role-video-game-addiction-played-columbine-shootings-article-1.361104
Dale Archer M.D (2013, September 2) Violence, The Media And Your Brain. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201309/violence-the-media-and-your-brain
Dave Grossman, Lt. Col. Army (Ret.) (2013, January 18). Videogames as ‘murder simulators’. Retrieved from http://variety.com/2013/voices/opinion/grossman-2640/
Maya Salam and Liam Stack (2018, February 3) Do Video Games Lead to Mass Shootings? Researchers Say No. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/us/politics/trump-video-games-shootings.html
Rachel Barclay (2014, August 28) Do Video Games Make Kids Saints or Psychopaths (and Why Is It So Hard to Find Out)? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/video-games-saints-or-psychopaths-082814#2