(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Will. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)
What has every school shooting from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Virginia Tech and beyond had in common? The shooters all played violent video games.
I recently went to a talk on school violence given by Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman and this is an issue he felt very strongly about and so do I. Lt. Col. Grossman has devoted his life to the study of violence in society and when someone so knowledgeable in one area comes down so firmly on one issue, we should take note. Games like Grand Theft Auto in recent history, and Doom and Quake from a few years ago, numb the mind when it comes to violence and killing, especially in children.
Grand Theft Auto has to be one of the worst perpetrators. Players can kill anyone and everyone they see, from cops to little old ladies crossing the street. And there is no shortage of methods for carrying out these brutal assaults. When children see this, the line is blurred between reality and game.
So what makes video games different from violent movies or violent music, as Matty P talked about in his post "Violence and Entertainment"? The answer is the interaction. In movies and music the watcher/listener doesn’t have any say in what happens--it has already been decided by the creator. In video games, the player can make a conscious decision that they are going to “kill” a cop or innocent bystander on the street. The player can decide how they want to do it--with their bare hands, with a baseball bat, or with a gun. They can literally stomp someone’s face into the pavement until they stop moving. In the Nintendo Wii game Manhunt 2, users actually simulate the movements of cutting their victims throat with a piece of glass or suffocating them with a plastic bag. Think about that for a minute…
One could argue whether games like this even need to be made, but if they are, tighter restrictions should be put in place to keep them out of the hands of children. These games have come under attack in the past but the game makers claim that they are being censored if vendors don’t want to sell their games. So sell them they do – to anyone who wants to buy it, regardless of age. Stores enforce age laws on things like tobacco, alcohol, firearms, and pornography. Why don’t they do it for video games?
Some critics say these games teach children how to shoot and kill. I would disagree that one can learn how to accurately shoot a gun from playing a video game, but studies have shown that children who play these games become less sensitive to violence and lose touch with what is real and what isn’t.
In conclusion, I want to draw a distinction between games like Grand Theft Auto and games like Call of Duty and other “war” games. Being a soldier or a cop is an honorable and noble profession. Being a criminal is not. There is a difference between games that reward senseless, immoral, wanton violence and games that simulate being a soldier or a cop where killing is sometimes a necessary part of the job.