Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Videogame Contradiction

That was quick: Seems that video games are already being blamed for the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Yesterday, anti-video game activist Jack Thompson was expressing this opinion before anybody knew who the shooter was. Thompson says that the killer likely trained or rehearsed his actions in games like "Grand Theft Auto" or "Doom."

Last night, Dr. Phil took the same line on CNN's "Larry King Live," as pointed out in the site

"Common sense tells you that if these kids are playing video games, where they're on a mass killing spree in a video game, it's glamorized on the big screen, it's become part of the fiber of our society. You take that and mix it with a psychopath, a sociopath or someone suffering from mental illness and add in a dose of rage, the suggestibility is too high."

[Va. Tech: Dr. Phil & Jack Thompson Blame Video Games]

The underlying concept in the many anti-videogame tirades the media has featured over the last three days seems to be that violent videogames have so shaped the minds of America’s youth that the mis-shaped minds are now releasing their violence on society at large in the form of school shootings and other violent events.

But one thing almost all the school shootings have in common is that the majority of the victims are young, often the same age as the shooter, and the victims almost never fight back. Indeed, only a few victims even seem to make an effort to run away.

If so many young people have had their thinking shaped by violent videogames, why don’t more of the young victims resort to violence themselves? Why don’t they run en mass? Why don’t they attack en mass? Why don’t even one or two attack?

I believe the answer is that videogames, even the so-called ‘violent’ videogames, do not encourage violence in people at all. In fact, quite the opposite. The process of sitting down in front of a screen is inherently passive.

I suspect the popularity of videogames among young people is more directly related to why so few young people fight back rather than why a tiny number of young people freak out and engage in mass killing.

The issue of video and its effect on the human mind was covered in extraordinary detail in a classic book called “Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television,” by ex-advertising man Jerry Mander. I suspect that issues of both aggression and passivity explored in this book apply even more in the modern world where young people spend uncounted hours every day staring at television screens and computer screens.

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