Violent Video Games: Do they desensitise young minds to violence?

Virtual War

Virtual War [Illustration by Shinod AP]

Violence in the media sometimes begs for imitation in real life because it is demonstrated as fun and as an effective way to get what you want. Many violent acts are perpetrated by the “good guy” whom children have been taught to emulate.

A video game has an added attraction – it frees you from any restraint. Normally, children are taught by their parents that it is not right to hit, but a video game says something totally different. It says that it is okay to bite, hit or kick if you want to win. And that is the biggest question facing us today: what is the impact of the images absorbed by children while playing video games based on violence? How far do they desensitise young minds to violence?

Studies in the US have consistently demonstrated that video games involving fantasy and violence are played more by children than games in other categories.

In his latest book High Tech High Sound, well known author, John Naisbitt, has stated that more and more children in the US have been brought into a virtual war arena through high-tech violence-based electronic games. He mentions games like Doom, whose manual tells children that “you are one of earth’s crack soldiers, hard bitten, tough and heavily armed.”

The truth is that games like Doom which have sold about 2.7 million copies in the US, take their cues from electronic games that are used by the US military to train its soldiers and harden them. Prompted by budget cuts, the US army has resorted to these electronic games as simulation exercises which help desensitise soldiers and train them to kill.

And, quick to see a profit motive, many of the adrenalin-pumping manoeuvres have been converted by the industry into video games for children’s “fun and entertainment”.

What do these electronic games do to people who play them incessantly? In his book Naisbitt has got this fact straight from the horse’s mouth – David Grossman, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army and an expert at desensitising soldiers to increase their killing efficiency.

“Violent video games hardwire young people for shooting at humans. The entertainment industry conditions the young exactly in the same way the military does,” he says.

There are many Americans who refer to the incident at Columbine High School, as a case in point. They point to the fact that that the two youngsters who shot 12 schoolmates, a teacher and themselves to death in the worst incident of its kind in the US, on April 20, 1999, had mimicked the game Doom.

This section of opinion highlights the fact that the two teenagers watched violence-based programmes on TV and played games like Doom for hours on end. In fact their version of Doom was a personalised version that the boys had modified to match the corridors of their school. “It was about them living in the moment, like they were inside the game,” said one of their friends after the incident.

Stephen Kline, a Simon Fraser University communication professor, and a researcher of electronic games and children, has found that few parents understand the nature of these game and rarely monitor it. They see it as a benign pastime. Half of the best selling games in the US are electronic violent games.

The gaming industry is using all the technology at its disposal to make the games more real. And that is the biggest challenge for people who are concerned about the brutalising impact of violence on the lives of people, especially children, on a day-to-day basis.

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