Video games are amazing at passing time on road trips and at drilling math and spelling. And they can be a huge amount of fun.
I am also a believer in practice. One of my favourite teachers in the world was my high school music teacher, Mr. Desmond Hassell. Mr. Hassell taught me that if I crashed through my practice I was simply getting very good at playing it wrong. This slowed me down and made me look at my practicing in a whole new light.
As I observe people around me now, I see the role of practice in their lives. People who complain a lot are great at complaining. People who practice procrastination are good at that. People who practice optimism are sunny to be around and people who practice their professions with their whole heart are consummate professionals and masters of their craft, be it nursing, sales or programming.
What, then, about violent video games? What are we practicing? I am mostly talking about first person shooter games, games in which the goal is to shoot very realistic digital versions of humans.
Back in the day, our soldiers were trained using bullseye targets.
Then it was discovered (in battle) that the soldiers were unable to pull the trigger on a real, live human. So the military and law enforcement trainers went to shooting practice on targets that were shaped like human silhouettes.
The rate of soldiers being able to shoot a real, live human after this training went up considerably.
Then the military and law enforcement went to practicing shooting skills on “photo-realistic targets” (in other words, pictures of people holding guns) and the ability of our soldiers and police to shoot a real, live human went up astronomically. So. We take children, and we pop (way better than) photo-realistic pictures of humans up on the screen and we reward the children for shooting more people. We actually give the children extra points for them to shoot the person in the head. Does this seem like a good idea? The children are now experiencing practice on de-humanization, for hours every day. Hours every day.
Dave Grossman in his book “On Combat”, (page 82) writes:
“When kittens or puppies play, they gnaw at each other’s throats. When one of them gets hurt, though, the play stops and mama walks over to see what is going on. When a player gets hurt in a basketball game or a football game, the play stops and the ref hurries over to deal with the injured and the one who caused it. The purpose of healthy play is to teach the young how not to inflict serious harm upon their fellow species.
The video game industry says that the images on the screen are not real people. This is true, but puppies and kittens are not real human beings either, and we know that the way a child treats a puppy or a kitten predicts how they will treat real people. Think of a puppy as a virtual human that is used to teach kids how to interact with real people. What if you awarded a child with a cookie every time he made that puppy cry in pain? Would you consider that sick?”
The American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (basically every doctor in America) made a presentation to Congress after more than 1000 (MORE THAN 1000!) studies demonstrated that:
Children who play violent video games:
• See the world as a more hostile place
• Argue with teachers more frequently
• Are more likely to be involved in physical fights
• Don’t perform as well at school.
There have been a high number of school shootings in the States, where the child doing the shooting had uncanny accuracy (one child hit 8 children in 8 shots, 5 of which were head shots and this was only his second time shooting a real gun) and continued far beyond their initial target (the bully, the girlfriend) to kill many more people. These children are showing accuracy rates far beyond trained law enforcement officers and experienced military personnel. Coincidence? No. Many children also stopped their shooting sprees when an adult said “Stop”, just as they had trained to pause the game when an adult told them to stop and come for dinner.
I get questioned on a regular basis by parents concerned about their child taking karate. “Will it make them more violent?” The answer is emphatically no. Do you know why? Children who take martial arts or play physical sports learn the consequences of their behaviour. If you punch someone, they get hurt. If someone punches you, it hurts. If you get knocked down playing hockey, it hurts. Immediate negative feedback. And you may also get penalized, benched or in some other form of big trouble. You do not get rewarded for harming others. That would be unconscionable from any coach, trainer or sensei anywhere.
Practice makes perfect. We do not need a society of adults who are highly practiced at de-humanizing those around them.
If your child is asking for a violent video game as a gift, sit them down and explain why they’re not getting it. Will they be upset? Maybe. But they will get over it and they will come to respect your moral compass on this and other issues that you have to say no on.
If you have already got these things under your roof? Get rid of the violent video games from your house. Period. Will junior be upset? Yup. Will (s)he still play it at the neighbours’? Maybe, but 1 or 2 hours a week at the neighbours’ is far less damaging that one or two hours a day at home.
If you’re not sure if the game is violent, sit down and play it, or watch them play it. You may be shocked at the calm, professional way your 11 year old can mow down a room full of people who bleed and gurgle and pray for mercy. Video game makers won’t stop making these games until we stop buying them. Let’s make a start.
There are some great games out there. I could play MarioCart all day long. Or that snowboarding one. Play that one for a bit. Then go out and play some ball or wrestle with your 11 year old instead. Let’s have our kids practice guitar or piano or skating or painting or something that will prepare them for being amazing, compassionate, successful people.