Video games and their effect on societal violence have been mentioned in the comment threads of several recent posts of late, so Michael West’s essay on the topic is especially timely (even if my posting of it is tardy). I am dubious about claims that forms of entertainment warp healthy minds, as I am old enough to have seen a series of modes and genres be condemned from various sides of the political spectrum as turning children into violence-prone monsters. Even the Three Stooges once were fingered as making kids unfeeling sociopaths. I’m also historically astute enough to know dime-novels about bloody Wild Bill Hickock shootouts, pulp novels with half-naked blondes on the cover and EC comics about shambling, face-eating corpses were similarly accused. My son played “The Godfather” video game, and five earlier versions of the “10 Violent Video Games” the Parenting website says to avoid, all with my blessing.
When my son was 18, he bought a gun, too. I’m not worried. He has many friends, a strong peer group, he has strong ethical values and character, and is kind and thoughtful. That is not to say that every new social influence is different, and that attention must be paid.
Here is Michael West’s Comment of the Day on the post, When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: Snapchat Approves A Domestic Abuse Game Ad
Video games have been out nationally for quite a while. Even video games that have abstract versions of violence…like Mario Brothers or Donkey Kong…and I mean old school versions of those games like I used to play on Apple IIe. But for us to seriously contemplate capital V, capital G, capital V Video Game Violence as a force affecting the acculturation of our youths, we ought to fast forward in time specifically to “realistic” video game violence. An estimate that will be off plus or minus a few years, the *mid* 1990s is when our culture saw First Person Shooters enter the market, with early favorites like “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D” for desktop computers and ultimately entering the console market. In other words, Video Game Violence is still a young force in our society. This makes measuring its effects a bit problematic.
As we raise our young, they are acculturated through several INPUTS…all of which communicate to some level or another the values that the culture espouses OR worse, inadvertently communicates values the culture notionally DOES NOT espouse, but accidentally promote. In a manner of speaking, “we are what we eat”. My personal take up front is that YES, video game violence, as a subset of ALL informational inputs DOES affect each individual’s acculturation. The real questions are, “how much” and “are it’s effects mitigated by other inputs”?
I would think that for video game violence to start acculturating the young towards violence, they would need to be inundated by it and have few effective counter-acculturating forces in their lives teaching them that wanton and purposeless violence is bad. For the first 20 years of video game violence, my gut tells me we can explain away its effects as having been minimally noticeable without deeply searching each individual or practically non-existent. Children of the early years of video games had plenty of other inputs in their lives as well as outlets for their minds at a vastly greater ratio than the violence int he games…first and foremost active and attentive parents.
That leaves us really with only about 15 years of any generation that could be said to be inundated by truly graphic depictions of limitless violence…most of those age cohorts are still too young to see how they turn out as adults. Again, my gut says that you’d see actual correlations, if they exist, in about another decade. And even then, I don’t think we’ll find a direct causal effect between video game violence and individuals acting on violent tendencies *except in marginal cases*.
We are inherently violent creatures. we use violence to achieve many ends…some good…some bad. Part of our acculturation process: that is our turning barbarians into citizens is the training of them to reserve violence as a tool of last resort for any problems in life. I think if we see a rise in violence in our culture, the problem isn’t *directly* attributable to cultural inputs that show violence in action. I think the problem would be attributable to all those inputs that teach children the when and where of appropriate violence.
I alluded above to the notion that “we are what we eat”…so I do, to a degree, believe that the games we play do, to some level or other contribute to our value sets AND the actions we deem appropriate in pursuing our value sets. But the effects of violent video games can ONLY be marginal in that respect.
For the vast majority of people. Because for most of us, we have plenty of other inputs that simultaneously teach us that *righteous* violence has a time and place, and that video game violence (though fun) is ONLY entertainment. Just like Hollywood violence. Just like violence in novels. Just like sex. Just like driving. Just like ALL OTHER MANNER of action we can engage in.
But, that isn’t to say that there isn’t some young boy (and especially boys) who doesn’t have a lot of “mitigating” cultural forces in their lives, who maybe, just maybe, among other Violence-Promoting activities they engage in, don’t find violent video games to be the tipping point…the “straw that broke the camels back” and that young boy, on the margins, where the marginal effects of video game violence are enough to lead to violent conduct.
Of course, in those cases, video game violence itself CANNOT be held responsible for the violent act itself…but rather a large quantity of negative inputs combined with a large deficit of positive. But, to be fair about this, we need then to abstract this discussion of violence into a larger subset of “anti-civic” behavior and attitudes. Anti-civic behavior which CAN be directly tied to NOT having positive influences in any individual’s life. I think the general disconnect from other humans in the greater community, primarily humans that provide positive acculturation (such as parents and other *responsible* adults) can contribute to this.
I think this is where you can fit Video Game Violence *into* a larger disconnect from other humans in the greater community. In which case, again, it isn’t the video games themselves *causing* violent tendencies as much as it is the isolation that cheap diversions modern culture provides that removes children from other positive influences. Parents…if your child is isolated from you because of this, then cut off video games to a rationed pittance of what they used to be and make them “play outside” with their friends or do something with you.
The reason, I think, you have to consider this problem in general terms as anti-civic behavior, is that my gut tells me that individuals react in many negative ways towards society at large because of less than ideal upbringing, and violence is a marginal fringe of greater anti-civic behavior that we just happen to notice. I think violence is merely one *symptom* of broken people…people whose brokenness is exacerbated by increased separation from their fellow man.
This separation from fellow man is not an INHERENT result of access to video games or other cheap diversions as children, but rather the result of seemingly unhindered immersion in those cheap diversions as children with insufficient COUNTERACTING influences. Less time spent…literally outside with other children…or side by side with parents…is the problem.