Do Video Games Create Killers?

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posted on December 5, 2016
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We often hear about “self-radicalized” jihadists, “lone wolves” who feed on the hatred found in the darkest corners of the Internet and social media before they act. This explanation for how individuals that often seemed OK to friends and family could commit such atrocities feels logical, and is certainly part of the explanation. 

As for other contributing factors, over the years people have had various ideas—some reasonable, some downright ludicrous. For example, a few in the anti-hunting crowd have gone so far as to argue that hunting can make young adults into murderers, but there is zero evidence of that; in fact, if anything, the opposite is true. There was even a bumper sticker once popular with hunters that said this well: “Kids Who Hunt, Fish And Shoot Don’t Mug Little Old Ladies,” and over the years, the statistics have shown that children who grow up hunting and participating in the shooting sports grow up to be among the most law abiding adults.

Scientists have studied the effects of violent rock and rap lyrics on the behavior of children, but for some reason we don’t take the effects of “first-person shooter” video games as seriously. When someone suggests these games may be part of the problem, due to their potential to desensitize youth to violence, many of us step back, wary of censorship. We know the Newtown killer was into these games, as were many of the other disturbed people who have perpetrated the sorts of atrocities often blamed on firearms—but then again, so are millions of people who don’t go on to commit evil acts. 

[A] few in the anti-hunting crowd have gone so far as to argue that hunting can make young adults into murderers, but there is zero evidence of that; in fact, if anything, the opposite is true.So we tend to shrug away the effects such violent and increasingly realistic games may or may not be having on impressionable minds. Censorship, we know, isn’t a solution, and studies that have tried to quantify the effects of such games have been somewhat inconclusive.

Those valid reactions typically end the discussion. But still, we wonder deep down whether there is some truth to the claim that violent video games are contributing to a violent society. It just isn’t clear what we might do about it, and the obvious remedies (censorship) seem worse than the cure.

However a recently released book, Assassination Generation by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, attempts to dissect these points one by one in search of real answers. Grossman, U.S. Army (Ret.), is a recognized expert in the field of human aggression and violent crime. He is a former West Point psychology professor and is currently the director of the Warrior Science Group. 

Grossman is not in favor of censorship. He is also opposed to gun control: He spends an entire chapter of the book diffusing the anti-gun Left’s knee-jerk ideological claim that the solution to lone-wolf violence is gun control. By citing studies and crime data, he deftly shows that gun control is not a solution and might actually make the problem worse. Instead, he offers solutions that focus on children and teens themselves, rather than on inanimate objects. 

Grossman has lesson plans for kids and in-depth strategies for parents to help them ground their children in reality. He simply, but profoundly, explains how to raise sons and daughters who have moral character, and who are deeply aware of the differences between the often-unethical world the games portray and the real world around them. 

As gun owners, we know it is these concrete moral lessons that many of today’s youths are missing. I remember how one of the first people who taught me to shoot explained the rules of gun safety, and then told me that “once you shoot a gun, it makes a hole that can’t be taken back.” He said this so seriously that I can still see his expression.By citing studies and crime data, he deftly shows that gun control is not a solution and might actually make the problem worse. Instead, he offers solutions that focus on children and teens themselves, rather than on inanimate objects.

To emphasize this, he had me shoot a glass mason jar with a shotgun. After the shot had shattered the jar into hundreds of pieces, he looked at me and told me the same thing would happen to a person. 

Over the course of years, he and others were role models to me. Because of the culture we were raised in, my friends and I grew up respecting guns. We went on to learn even more in the Boy Scouts and from members of sportsmen’s clubs. To me, and many of us, all of that was normal. But many of today’s youth don’t have these real experiences—they are too politically incorrect for some. All many children and young adults have is the false reality of video games. 

Too many parents, after their son or daughter does something that shocks them, look back and are surprised by what their children were watching in their bedrooms, or by the video games their son or daughter was playing. One thing Grossman points out again and again is that children shouldn’t get “screen time” away from parental supervision. 

The rest of his advice, and the many studies he cites, are designed to illustrate the best ways to ground youth in reality while building their moral compasses. These are great lessons for parents and grandparents. Teaching young adults about gun safety and helping them build moral character by showing them how to handle firearms and to shoot responsibly are also key parts of the solution. Too many of our kids today are living much of their lives in frightening alternatives to reality, without understanding the permanent consequences of careless and irresponsible firearm use.

While the NRA has made great strides in instituting fun and effective youth education programs, Grossman emphasizes that it’s still the responsibility of parents and guardians to ensure that these lessons are backed by an upbringing that emphasizes morality, personal accountability and the building of a strong character.

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