What's the fuss about violent video games?

Hubs and I were chatting this morning about that shooter video game that has people in Vancouver all worked up because someone made an uploadable map for it that is an exact replica of a school in that city. And it got us talking about why people think that violent video games are a problem.

Here’s my take on it–I don’t think it’s the violence that’s the problem. I think it’s a problem that is based on two things:

1. it’s first person: the brain processes it as an actual experience. Your brain is learning that you can do these things. If it is in your POV, it is more immediate. Just like when you read a book written in 1st person. Author’s use 1st person to immerse the reader in the experience of the POV character. 3rd person carries with it a certain distance. So, if your book or your video game is in 1st person, your brain thinks it’s actually doing these things. It initiates all the physiological responses, including learning, that go along with any activity.

2. there are NO consequences for actions in a video game. You run over a pedestrian, you laugh and gain a few points. You shoot an alien, you gain points. You don’t shoot the alien and the person you’re trying to save dies, you reset. You shoot the wrong alien and it turns out that you were supposed to save them, you reset. You die, you reset. No matter what you do, or fail to do, nothing ever happens to you–there’s no arrest, no one loses a mother or a child or a friend or a lover. No one misses meals because someone stole their grocery money. No one loses their job because someone stole the money they needed to put gas in the car to get to work. No one has to live with the fear that any stranger could be the person who beats, shoots, stabs or rapes them.

And, just as in point #1, your brain processes this as an experience. It learns from it. We have a whole generation who understand, on a completely unconscious level, that everything is undoable and that there are no consequences. People who, at a totally instinctive, gut level believe that there’s no ‘after’. Because they’ve trained their nervous system, by many more repeptitions than we put into the times tables or into learning the difference between your and you’re, that after the big finish, they just turn off the system and go on with normal life. And that scares the hell out of me, because a good bit of our judicial system is predicated on the ability of people to predict and be deterred by the consequences. But knowledge ingrained at the instinctive level will never be deterred by consequences, because it’s not conscious enought to be recognized or argued with. It’s at the base of the “Why did you do something stupid like that?” and the “I don’t know.” response.

These are the people that will be checking medication in hospitals and pharmacies, designing and building our cars, determining whether a new product is safe to use or will make us sick. Don’t we want them to go the extra mile? Or at least as far as they should go? Don’t we want them to believe that their choices have very real consequences?

Sometimes the lessons we teach our children are not the ones we think we’re teaching. And the risks we worry the most about are not the ones that are the most dangerous.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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