I think you should be aware of a product that could have potentially been made available for mass consumption next month. And if you’re a parent, then I think you should pay extra close attention because this won’t be the last time we see this sort of thing. This particular piece of merchandise was a video game. Now, considering that we live in a society where a new video game is released every 18 seconds, this might not seem like very earth-shattering news. But, in this case, it was. Allow me to explain.
You see, this little gem of a game went by the name Active Shooter and would have allowed people to role-play in school shooting scenarios in which they could either assume the role of a S.W.A.T. team member or the role of the shooter himself. You could essentially choose to rescue the innocent civilians or you could be the guy who mows them down as they flee in terror. If you chose the latter option, a box on the lefthand side of the screen would track the total number of police officers and civilians (students, teachers, janitors, I’m just guessing here) you had successfully slaughtered.
Obviously, words like “disturbing” and “alarming” don’t even begin to describe this. It’s no wonder that parents of the recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas were outraged over the pending launch of such a game. It’s also unsurprising that the outrage culminated in a Change.org petition, which garnered over 160,000 signatures. Thankfully, all of the righteous anger eventually forced American video game developer Valve Corporation to yank the game from their online digital platform known as Steam. Valve also said that they had removed the game’s original creator from Steam as well. Good for them.
But perhaps saddest of all, it’s unsurprising that a game like this was ever in the works to begin with. Can any of us say that we’re actually shocked? It was only a matter time, really. And it will only be a matter of time before another calloused, desensitized loser designs something similar. And then the cycle of outrage will return with thousands of people vomiting up arguments on both sides of the debate, while no real solutions or substantiative points are ever discussed.
The truth is that we could sit here all day citing studies that violent video games don’t contribute to violence in teenagers. We could also cite plenty of studies that say otherwise. In fact, we could literally spend hours — perhaps even several days, weeks or months — going back and forth, scrolling through an endless plethora of online studies or flipping through an infinite amount of psychological textbooks before we finally came to the ultimate realization that human nature cannot be captured by mere studies or pieces of literature. The human soul cannot be analyzed, calibrated, examined or scientifically classified by gray-haired professors working from cushioned leather desk chairs. Yes, some mass shooters — like Adam Lanza — played violent video games and were seemingly obsessed with killing people in virtual reality before they turned to actual reality. But, other mass shooters never played video games at all.
So, rather than running around in circles with studies, I think the best approach to this whole video game controversy is to simply employ a little common sense. And common sense should tell us that video games are fine for kids when they are consumed with careful parental monitoring and in moderation. I played them throughout my childhood and never felt the need to shoot up my high school. Of course, the most “violent” game I ever played was probably GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 console — a game which my parents weren’t terribly fond of because of its first-person shooter design. Ironically, I had more fun with games like Star Fox, Mario Kart, Super Mario and Cruis’n USA.
Moreover, my parents were careful to restrict our video game consumption to an hour or two a day at the most, and to also balance it with longer amounts of time spent on activities like reading, playing outside, conversing with our friends, attending church activities, and engaging in personal hobbies. For me, that meant playing the guitar and writing. My siblings and I weren’t consumed by video games because we were taught to enjoy other things as well. That’s simply not the case for many kids today.
As of 2017, almost 60% of frequent gamers “play multiplayer games at least once a week, spending an average of 7 hours playing with others online and 6 hours playing with others in person,” according to an annual report from The Entertainment Software Association. Most young people are playing video games for almost 2 hours per day and this doesn’t include the amount of time they spend on smartphones, laptops, tablets and watching TV (in a culture that already devalues human life at every opportunity.) Their entire lives have become immersed in glowing screens devoid of any meaning or purpose. It’s no wonder Generation Z is also often referred to as “iGeneration.” I don’t have a PhD in behavioral psychology, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is extremely unhealthy, regardless of whether or not the digital content is violent or passive. Spending an exorbitant amount of time drowning in video games and social media will only cause a person to become more detached from reality and more isolated from relationships. That’s not good.
When it comes to violent video games, it’s not just kids and teens who are affected. Any human being of any age can be — and often will be — affected by images that are gory, bloody, graphic and disturbing. I feel rather confident in saying that playing games like Active Shooter or Carmageddon or Hatred or Saw will not make you a better person. These sort of games take your mind into dark places that they simply shouldn’t go.
I know all of the video game apologists will erupt into hysterics and argue that “They’re just imaginary! They’re not real! I’m not going to murder anybody or steal a car or chop someone up into pieces or attack a school!” I find this sort of response utterly nonsensical, childish and ridiculous. It’s the sort of response you would expect from an immature individual hellbent on rationalizing the last 6,000 hours he just spent wasting his life with a gaming console and lots of pizza and potato chips.
By the way — just to be clear — I know video games aren’t real. I know they’re “imaginary.” I know a lot of people play them and never become mass murdering psychopaths. We all know that. But that doesn’t change the fact that many people — perhaps even you — find pleasure in pretending to kill imaginary people in a virtual reality setting as a personal recreational hobby. Sure, you might never do anything like that in “real life.” You probably won’t ever feel the urge to stroll into a school or shopping mall and kill hordes of innocent civilians. But, it doesn’t make the activity you are partaking in any less unhealthy and morally questionable.
Speaking of unhealthiness, that’s the biggest problem with these graphically violent games (and movies and TV shows): they satiate the sadistic parts of our mind that find pleasure in twisted things like murder, death, blood, gore, torture, etc. Every human brain has that part, but we can choose whether or not to actively feed it. Moreover, violent media gradually desensitizes and numbs our perception of real-world atrocities and brutalities. If we consume it on a regular basis, we may no longer be sickened or appalled by the things that should truly sicken and appall us.
That would be — and indeed already is — a great tragedy. And it is why, ultimately, we should cease this utterly pointless masquerade about violent video games.
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