There have been a lot of arguments claiming that violence in video games is the reason for our societal ills, but B.K. Mullen says that sometimes a game is just a game.
For as long as I can remember, the discussion has been going on as to whether or not violence in popular culture affects pre-teen/teens in a negative way whereby causing them to lash out in violent means. This is something I talk about fairly frequently with friends, especially when we hear on the news about school shootings and general violence among high school age groups across the country. But I have to say, in all the years I have been playing video games such as Grand Theft Auto (walk around killing people and stealing cars for fun) and listening in on bands such as Bring Me The Horizon (post-screamo-punk metal band) I think the issue of violence in young adults goes a whole lot deeper than the entertainment they absorb.
The issue is pretty much up to interpretation, but it’s difficult when everybody thinks they are a psychiatrist.
I like using examples, so I’ll use one here. For those of you unaware of the video game industry and all that it entails, I will include the best possible description of the game I am going to talk about. This particular game is called Grand Theft Auto, and has recently released its 6th (or 7th) incarnation (to be clear, the recent release is GTA:5, however there have been a couple of side story games released over the years such as GTA: Tales from Liberty City which are not “officially” part of the series).
Grand Theft Auto puts you in control of the actions of a Mob/Gang related individual in a virtual reality that mimics the actual daily settings that a living breathing human being would find themselves in such as shopping malls and small town neighborhoods. The purpose of your “missions” throughout the game is to make as much money as possible and gain as many prizes as possible. But you are also scored on the amount of people you kill in the process (there are different grades of points distinguished between civilians, hookers, police, etc). In the process of doing all this, you are able to commit car theft to be able to get around the world you are playing in easier.
So essentially the point of the game is to kill people (especially cops), steal cars, make money, and wreak as much havoc as possible.
What generally happens with individuals who play this game (me included) is that after you complete all of your missions and “finish” the game, you keep on playing around with the character. I recall many a time after school that I would go over to my friends’ house and spend an hour or so just running around in this game trying to find new and creative ways to kill people and crash cars (or both at the same time). But even this game is not the most violent I have ever experienced.
Enter the world of Red Dead Redemption, a GTA style game set in the American Old West around the years 1850-1900. Essentially the same style of game play but instead of cars, there are horses and carriages, etc. I beat the game a long time ago and yet I still play it once in a while. I even created my own game within that game, which I call “Main Street Massacre.” I go to “Main Street” in the primary town within the game, and I put on the “Federal Marshal” outfit (by wearing this outfit, no police officers will come after me for any reason), I then load up on ammunition, and begin killing everyone that comes onto Main Street. It is usually a blood bath, which I create within the world of Red Dead Redemption that lasts 30-45 minutes. Endless bodies slumped over in the streets which are now covered in blood. Among the people are all sorts, women, cowboys, politicians, police, and the elderly.
Just from reading this you would probably figure I have some serious mental health issues, but that’s the thing. I don’t. I’m one of the most easy going and happy guys you’ll ever meet in your life. I abhor the use of violence in any situation besides in self-defense, and the typical mainstream sports such as football and rugby.
What we’re dealing with here is not an external influence on our morals, we’re dealing with an extension of our moral purpose. The desire to achieve and complete goals is part of being human. We are set to a task with certain resources and are told we must achieve that task to be successful. In the midst of completing this task we are beset by other “individuals” trying to keep us from that goal, and therefore we must eradicate them in order to achieve. It’s a fact of basic human nature, and it is found in each of these games.
It’s a simple situation. You gain more points by killing more people, and the more points you acquire the more successful you are, and we all want to be successful. But people who think that this violence inspires real life actions are missing the big picture. We as humans also have a sense of reality. We know for a fact that the game we are playing is not actually happening. I am not the character I play; the situations he enters are not actual situations. It’s all fake. It’s all a game. I am sitting on my couch with a controller hitting “R2” a lot. I am NOT holding a Walther PPK putting a bullet in the head of my enemy as I stand in a courtyard in Ukraine. I know, and younger individuals these days know, that I will not get points for buying an AK-47 and taking it to work. In today’s world where there is full disclosure about how the prison system operates, nobody sees it as an achievement to be unlocked by taking out a crowd of people.
The excuse that video games are “simulated reality and therefore influential to actual reality” may have worked in the mid-90s when the older generation was confronted with and confused by the new threat of School Shootings. It was a trying time and everyone was scrambling for answers. Why would these kids want to commit to something horrific like this? Where is the influence of violence coming from? We couldn’t blame heavy metal music, that got cleared up in the courts in the late 80s. So it must be video games.
The true answer hearkens to a phrase that has been very commonly used in the past 10 years in schools and on news programs:
People don’t inherit hate, they are taught to do it.
There are more parents in the world than we would like to admit who use physical, verbal, and psychological abuse to assert their parental dominance. That was the way THEY were raised, so by gum, that’s the way they’ll raise their kids as well. In this, we see that violence begets violence. Hate begets hate, and when a person is feeling weak and dominated by their elder and needs to vent their frustration they turn to other things. Perhaps, yes, they may turn to video games. Maybe a first person shooter style where you have to take out hundreds of baddies, and in the middle of playing they think to themselves “I wish I could do that to ____.” But the game is not the root, nor is it inspiration. When someone wants to hurt another person, we are more than capable of thinking of something on our own.
Hate is taught. Reacting to challenges in life with violence and anger is learned and inspired by the way we are raised.
So when a kid goes into his high school with an assault rifle and takes out half his class and a few teachers, don’t you dare tell me it had anything to do with Call of Duty. I wanna know what kind of life this kid had. Don’t pass it off by saying he was “mentally unstable” either. We’re Americans. We’re ALL mentally unstable. Anybody who has ever had experience with the mental health community in the United States knows that even the “professionals” are still trying to figure out the human brain. But that’s a post for another day.
I wanna know what happened. What happened that pushed this individual to this extreme? What lifestyle did he have at home, and what parents taught him that the right way to deal with your frustration is to exact violent revenge on others? We may try to deny it, but we still live in a world where people who were abused have become parents, and then translate that abuse onto their own kids.
Hate begets hate.
Photo: BuzzFarmers via Flickr