Guns Don’t Kill People?

September 15, 2011

If my son plays games on a big screen these days – they are multiplayer, graphically realistic, highly submersive role-plays.  His favorite is COD – Call of Duty, a military shoot ‘em up mission oriented game.  I shudder to think at how many people he has off’ed via this game and how many times he has had his own digital blood spilled. His training as a junior member of an elite killing team is so realistic, I feel I should be submitting a bill to the Department of Defense.

When he and his sister were younger I worried about them picking up violent, anti-social or misogynistic tendencies from TV, Music, the Movies or Computer-based Games.  I was always on the hunt for story lines that were more ennobling than literally, killing time.

I was especially pleased when Microsoft came out with a game called Flight Simulator around the time he was born, back in the 90′s.  The goal was decidedly non-violent.  Fly a plane. Land it. Anywhere in the world.  And it was quite fun. It for a while, was the biggest selling video game of all time.

What was particularly fun was that one of the defaults had a flight start in New York, my hometown. I would fly endlessly, looking for familiar landmarks. I dreamed that when my kids got old enough, I would turn them into viewsers by getting them hooked on harmless fun.

What was unfortunate, was that my favorite simulation started with the plane heading straight for the World Trade Center.

By the way, the game is no longer produced, but by the time it stopped being marketed, it was incredibly realistic, offering a wide range of aircraft, including Airbus and Boeing commercial jetliners.

No one knows for sure where the original idea to use civilian passenger jets as flying missiles in the 9/11 plot came from. It is not revealed in this time line reported in the New York Times. It is revealed that one or more of the pilots had a copy of flight simulation computer software with them by the time they were in the United States.

Is it preposterous to think Microsoft Flight Simulator, the perfect non-violent fun game,  had a role in sparking the 9/11 attack on America?

There certainly are many other well publicized murder and mayhem incidents arguably sparked by overtly violent video games, or movies or even songs.

And which would be a more direct inciter of violence? The benign simulation that sparks mayhem by evil-doers, or the overtly violent simulation that sparks mayhem by evil-doers.

I lived in Alaska during a time when a lone gunman attempted to massacre an entire town. And this guy didn’t even have electricity, let alone violent games or simulations that he was exposed to 24/7. I guess opting out and living off the grid isn’t a way to prevent violence either.

So how do we build people so they don’t kill innocents?

Is that possible, or do I need to worry about the guy playing Angry Birds on his cell phone sitting next to me on the subway?

And as for shielding my kids from popular culture – when I discovered my 5 year old daughter knew the lyrics to Magic Stick without actually hearing the song in my house, I knew the battle was lost.

It all comes in through the ether. Or is accessible on your mobile device. Anywhere. Anytime.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny Katz October 15, 2011

I think that the rumor of parents believing that their children will be affected by a violent video games and TV shows has proven to be false. Based on a very powerful speech I heard from Phil Zimbardo, a professor at Stanford and an expert on evil and love, evil is caused, in this case, by the “bad barrel.” In other words, your son’s surroundings. If you are raising him appropriately, which I presume you are, there will be no evil inside of him. Games of such violence are simply a simulation of lives that we are never going to experience ourselves. I do not believe there is a correlation between violent TV and video games and violent behavior.

viewser October 15, 2011

Danny –
Thanks so much for your comments. I think the jury is still out on this one – the American Association of Pediatrics – the largest group of physicians whose specialty is children and infant health – issued this report on how violent media affects children http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/jstmtevc.htm and its carefully worded conclusion is that they did indeed find the potential for some causal properties. It was also signed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, etc. What that means (in my mind) was that they wouldn’t rule it out, and they wanted to get more grants to study the situation.

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