Before anybody can even think it, what I am about to say in no way implies that violent video games leads people to commit violent acts, that violent video games are to blame for the mass shooting in Las Vegas, that governments must ban violent video games, or that violent video games are the worst moral issue facing us.
Hear it loud and clear, libertarians: I AM NOT CALLING FOR A BAN ON VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES. We good?
Nevertheless, I quiver in remembering my teen years when fellow friends and I would gather for a game of Grand Theft Auto — the most depraved video game on the market, where people can role play as the criminal outlaw wreaking havoc upon a simulated city in whatever creative way they choose.
Sitting around the TV, I remember us post-pubescent teens chuckling like giddy schoolgirls as we controlled our video game avatars into mowing down scores of CGI civilians and police with AK-47's. You can play the "story mode," but that gets boring after a while, and offers little creativity. "Rampage" was the most fun and objectives were simple: survive the longest.
You could blast people from anywhere: a rooftop for sniper fire, a hilltop for machine guns, a street corner for pistols. Kill enough people, the "wanted" level increases, and then you're knee-deep in destruction as the city becomes a warzone. Nobody survives forever; eventually, your health runs low, and you're "Wasted," or the cops arrest you, and you're "Busted." But this simulated fantasy world has no consequences, and either the hospital will miraculously resuscitate you back to health or police will forgive you of your mass-murdering ways and release you from prison. No matter what, you live to kill another day.
Simulating depravity and the most unspeakable of moral acts was our idea of "fun," and though I eventually grew up from this packaged insanity, many have not. Grand Theft Auto remains one of the most popular video games created, having sold over 235 million copies since it became popular in 2001. The "Mature" rating states that only kids 17 years or older can purchase it, but that matters little, since GTA is most popular with "middle-class, middle-aged parents." That means adults with allegedly fully-formed consciences think that simulated mass-murder is the best way to blow off some steam after a hard day's work.
Why am I mentioning any of this if studies show that violent video games do not lead to actual violence on behalf of those who partake in playing them? The same reason that C.S. Lewis demonstrated on why watching a striptease (nowadays pornography) was not only an act of moral lassitude, but also stupefying for the intellect. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis demonstrated the lunacy of watching naked women from a distance for pleasure:
Suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?
Translation: what a sad state you must be in to pay for watching a naked woman, who neither knows you nor wishes to know you, when a little sacrifice and hard work will garner you true intimacy in marriage. The same logic applies to simulating violence, and in the case of the GTA series, depraved violence. What great social purpose does it serve to simulate a mass shooting? Why simulate the most wicked and anti-social of behaviors if you would never do such a thing in reality? For what reason, why?
Nearly a decade has passed since I last played Grand Theft Auto, or any game like it. How distant I feel from my former self. Watching videos of these rampages on Youtube, the laughs I once enjoyed when watching my friends blast police as CGI civilians fled in horror, has yielded to distressed introspection over what the hell we were thinking ... if at all.