Over the course of the last few months, in the wake of the Texas church shooting, I’ve been laying out an overview of how our culture has deteriorated, creating the conditions necessary to breed mass shooters, drug abuse, and suicides. In my article The Great Cultural Depression, I laid out the case, and in How the Left Breeds Mass Shooters and How Our Culture is Destroying the Nuclear Family videos, I took it a few steps further. Over the past week or two after the Parkland shooting, I’ve seen the President more than once lay some of the blame on violent video games. In the wake of the Columbine school shooting in 1999, we saw a tremendous amount of culpability placed on games such as Doom and Wolfenstein for their violence. As we have done after every mass shooting event, we have attempted to lay the blame on a single thing, whether it be guns, games, drugs, or heavy metal music.
The central question is: Are violent video games to blame?
The answer is no, not entirely.
They are certainly part of the problem. Let me preface all of this with a little bit of history on myself and my credibility regarding games. I have played video games my entire life, beginning with Zork back in the 80’s up until the modern games such as Grand Theft Auto 5. For those unaware, Zork is a text-based adventure, which means I have been playing video games since before they even had graphics. I have been involved in gaming at every stage of evolution since the beginning and continuing to the most modern of games. I have played every violent murder fest that’s ever existed from Doom to Soldier of Fortune, to Call of Duty, to Grand Theft Auto 5. I’ve played puzzle games, role-playing games, fighting, action adventure, survival and sports games by the hundreds. In other words, I will match anyone on the planet in credibility on this topic.
I remember the aftermath of Columbine. Everyone was stunned and searching for answers, and a lot of the blame centered on games, specifically Doom. Released in 1993, Doom, along with its precursor Wolfenstein 3D, was the central target of the anti-game crowd. At the time, I was 22 years old and had been playing Doom and many games like it for years. I honestly laughed when I first started hearing the argument that Doom was somehow responsible for events like these. As violent as Doom was, most of the violence centered around attacking demons from hell, and frankly the graphics just weren’t good enough to be a hyper-realistic depiction of murder and gore. I didn’t believe for a second that Doom and it’s brethren had any responsibility for the carnage we saw at Columbine. I was also young and didn’t have the overarching perspective of culture and knowledge I have now, but I still don’t lay much blame at the feet of games from back then.
Fast forwarding to 2001, the game changed. Grand Theft Auto 3 released. In my mind, this is the starting point for real questions regarding violence in games. GTA 3 was the first time I can remember where you had complete freedom. If you wanted to go on an hour-long murder fest blowing away cops and civilians with rocket launchers, you could. Want to take a high-end sports car and mow down old ladies on the sidewalk? Go for it. The degree of freedom was astonishing, and for the first time, the graphics were starting to be good enough to be realistic portrayals of violence. The next major controversy erupted around Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. There is a sequence in this game where you are embedded as a covert agent with a group of terrorists, and you mow down dozens of innocents with a machine gun in an airport. By now, graphics had become hyper-realistic, a near analog to real life. Now, games are incredibly lifelike, and the violence levels are staggering. More than violence though, another modern twist came about: hypersexuality and degeneracy. The recent Grand Theft Auto 5 has you chasing a girl around filming a sex tape, described and shown in lurid detail. Now, not only do we have hyper-realistic violence, but we also have language and sexuality that rivals the worst of most movies, and you are in complete control of it.
One thing that is clear regarding these games: The experts can’t even decide if they are harmful. I’ve read numerous studies, and for every one that says they stoke aggression and reduce empathy, you can find another that claims they don’t. You can see brain scans, psychiatric evaluations, and expert analysis, and yet come to no concrete conclusion. In this article, there are 18 arguments and studies for both Pro and Con on the question “Do video games contribute to youth violence?” No one, not even the experts, can prove definitively that Columbine or Sandy Hook came about as a result of video games. However, it doesn’t take a psychological expert to understand that the things we do the most shape our thought processes. I don’t think it’s all that controversial to suggest that playing an incredibly realistic game for 10 hours a day is going to have at least some degree of cognitive effect, especially on the young. Let me stress another point regarding games like this that is critical: I was 16 when Doom came out, 24 when GTA 3 came out, and 39 when GTA 5 came out. This means I was playing these games at a moderately high maturity level. For me, these games evolved as I aged. As I got older, the maturity of these games ramped up commensurate with my age. I was able to process the concepts and actions on the screen and not be affected by it. Now, I see young kids playing games like these, and I wonder how a little kid can process things that we see in these modern games. I used to work in a major retailer that carried video games, and I would see parents buying these games for young children. Children at young ages are essentially vessels that you pour your beliefs and ideas and influences into. They become what they are taught, which is why you see incredibly vicious children in developing nations wielding AK47s. I don’t believe we fully know the impact on a ten-year-old’s brain of hardcore realistic violence and sex as we see in our media so often these days.
After reading all that, you might surmise that I’m blaming modern games for a lot of our cultural ills. No, not entirely. We have to go deeper than that, down to the root. People want an obvious explanation to a complex problem, even when there isn’t one. I believe the root lies in desensitizing of children, of which there are many contributors. Imagine being a child today, and having access to the entirety of the internet, hyper-violent movies, games, TV, and music that glorifies murder and sexuality. By the time a child is 16, they have been bombarded with these things relentlessly for years on end. Our 16-year-olds are more desensitized than I was at 24. Then on top of all of this, after we desensitize them to virtually everything, we over medicate them with psychotropic drugs, and tell them nothing is their fault, they are just broken. We remove religious identity and values, and don’t teach them national pride and responsibility.
After all of this, we then wonder why they end up committing suicide or killing people.
Games are not the problem, but they are part of it. Our overall culture has become poisonous at an extremely high level, and young kids are not equipped to handle it. So how do we fix this? Since this article is about games, I’ll discuss that point. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I think we need harsh penalties for parents that allow children access to these games. Much in the same way we tell parents you can’t give your child a beer, or suffer the consequences. The games have rating systems, but we need much harsher penalties for parents that allow a 10-year-old to play Grand Theft Auto 5. I am almost never for government regulation and involvement, but this is a unique case and must be looked at on its own merits. The point is that we have a cultural problem, and it’s going to take a multi-faceted effort to clean it up. One thing is clear: We have to do something. If you think the situation is grave now, I’m here to tell you it is going to get much, much worse. Virtual reality is on the cusp of being not only widely available and cheap but incredibly realistic and immersive.
I love video games, and I want mature titles to play, but we cannot allow children to play a lot of these modern titles. Fortunately, there are plenty of great non-violent titles out there, so there is plenty of choice, but if we don’t take action soon, either at the parental or legislative level, I’m afraid we are in for difficult times ahead.
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Steve is the author of Forging the Iron Mind, and is the founder and CEO of Americana Prime.