But what about the children?

EarlyGame Talk: Video games are turning kids into killers

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Image credit: Lionsgate

Get a snack, sip on that coffee, kick back and relax. It’s time for our EarlyGame Talk.

Look. I get it. Video games sometimes get a tad bit too violent. We should have seen this coming long ago: Mario basically made a career out of stomping heads – something that even the UFC banned. I knew Mario 64 deserved an R rating the moment I witnessed Mario killing off innocent penguins.

And what’s with the mushrooms anyway? Is it not enough to promote violence? We need to trivialize drug use as well? I’ve seen Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting – I know how this one ends, Mario.

The jumpy plumber’s head-crunching adventures had us all so desensitized that we then started simulating vicious animal fights and labeled it a game for children. Not just merely animal fighting either, no, capturing them in inhumanely small spaces, treating them as property and even going as far as to brag about it: Gotta catch em all!

As a loving dog dad, I’m sick to my stomach.

After Pokémon, we as a society should’ve pulled to plug. From then on, the road to poison our children with video game violence was nicely paved and ready for travel: Along came games that no longer saw the need to put a nice and cute dressing on violent gameplay anymore: Mortal Kombat, Doom, Diablo… look no further when you wonder where humanity went wrong.

In all seriousness though, there was one moment, some ten years ago, when I was 20, where video game violence actually made me feel uncomfortable: A friend of my mother came over to visit and brought her 11-year-old kid. As these things go, I ended up having to entertain the boy while our mothers got drunk and reminisced. Naturally, this 11-year-old was certifiably smitten with my PS3 and, most importantly with GTA IV.

He asked me if he could play.

Now, I’d been a sociopathic, car-stealing, havoc-wreaking son of a gun since I played GTA 2 and watched Bad Boys in the same year – 1999, when I was 9 years old. GTA 3 and GTA Vice City followed and turned me into the coldest teenager walking the streets of Munich and by the time I had finished GTA San Andreas, everybody had long recognized my gangster.

So now an 11-year-old wants to jump on my GTA IV? No problem. Been there done that. I let him play.

Moments later, I finally gained perspective on every person who ever accused video games of creating killers: This kid jumped on the game, grabbed a baseball bat and started roaming the streets to beat up old people exclusively. Exclusively. Now, I am not sure if he had some bad experiences with elderly people of authority in the past, but as far as I know, he wasn’t Catholic, so there was no reason to assume. It took me a whole lot of 10 minutes to wrestle the controller from this devil’s spawn.

The omen damien

It was all fun and games until he put the controller down. (image credit: The Omen)

Until this Coronavirus hit, I’d never seen old people targeted like this. No, seriously, though, it was unsettling and that’s coming from me, a gamer whose digital body count is known in these streets. This experience changed me. Would I let this kid play GTA again anytime soon? No. So I kind of get why people think video games make kids violent and turn them into psychos and killers. I kind of understand, but I mainly understand this:

Violent games, movies, comics… it’s all the same.

The kids that were responsible for the horrific Columbine Massacre back in 1999 apparently played Doom. As far as I know, this was the high point of video games being blamed for violence and its something that’s brought up every other time these unfortunate catastrophes happen.

Decades have gone by and this idea of video games causing violence stuck, yet I hardly ever see the real question asked: Do video games inspire violence, or does human nature inspire violent video games? I mean… are we as mankind not simply drawn to violence? Are not our greatest worships violence-related? Nobody talks about the people of ancient courts. It’s the knights and battles we remember. We remember Hercules and his 12 labors, 11 of which included bloodshed, by the way! Rome valued the entertainment of Gladiator fights so much that they kept them going even during times of war.

Boxing and MMA are some of the greatest sports of modern times. The NHL relies on fights to keep its appeal and NFL players are dozed on painkillers to endure the tackles people come to see. Even the zoo highlights lions and tigers feeding on raw meat and we go to the movies to see Indiana Jones casually kill dozens of people who chose the wrong employer, on his way to stealing the Holy Grail. And, not to forget – again: We capture poor animals in small balls and make them fight each other and hide that charade behind cute graphics. I’m at a loss for words.

Pokemon trainers

“Hey, Rich Boy Trey, wanna let the animals we keep hostage in these tiny balls fight to the death?” (Image credit: Nintendo)

Real-life violence is by no means something we should ever truly aspire to but when we watch it, read it or play it, we do so because it appeals to our base instincts. At the end of the day, we’re mammals and even cubs and puppies simulate fighting. Fighting is as much ingrained in our DNA as reproduction and eating. It’s a survival instinct that dates back to when we chased things with large sticks.

Every time we frag someone in CS:GO or Valorant, we won. We survived. We eliminated the threat and our brain rewards this with biochemical processes that I’m too lazy to google – I just know it includes Dopamine.

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It’s not that video games are the origin of violence. It’s that they simply reflect and capitalize on one of our deepest cravings. Now, if we want to get creative, we could go the Splatoon route: A cartoony game that’s basically a tactical shooter, except it’s raining paint rather than bullets. A great idea that I applaud. But would we watch Rambo play paintball in the woods? I doubt it and until we do, how about we stop blaming video games for bad things and start looking where it matters: Education, laws and mental health care.

There’s nothing wrong with opposing violence as a whole, but there’s no point in singling out one medium just because it’s the new kid on the block and misunderstood by the older generation in charge.

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