I wrote a piece on Friday about video games. It was extremely popular and widely hailed as the best piece of writing The Daily Wire has ever published.
Just kidding, of course. Most people seemed to hate it with the fire of a thousand suns, and quite a few of them called for my firing and/or suicide. I got one email from a guy who said he is “gathering signatures” for my termination. I’m not sure that’s how this works, but I wish him well in his pursuits. I have been informed by others that I am stupid, insane, worthless, awful, horrible, brainless, and other adjectives that were more creative yet not fit for publication. I also learned what the term “neck yourself” means, after seeing it pop up in by inbox several times. (It means what it sounds like it means.)
And this was all in response to an exceedingly mild and heavily qualified criticism of some video games. It would appear that the only acceptable opinion of video games is that they are all absolutely wonderful. I proposed that some are not wonderful, and for that I must lose my job. You may accuse me of mischaracterizing my piece to make it seem more mild that it really was. I’m not, I promise you. I put forth two basic opinions:
1) Kids shouldn’t spend all day playing them. They should do other things, too, like run around outside and engage in face-to-face conversation.
2) Violent video games are certainly not helpful to a developing mind, and probably harmful. But I qualified “violent” by adding the words “graphic, disturbing, and gory.” I suggested that this sort of violence in entertainment — gratuitous violence, in other words — is not good for anyone.
That’s pretty much it. That was my whole thesis. Some video games are bad and you shouldn’t play video games too much. If you disagree with this thesis, then you must believe that all video games are fine and it is impossible to play them too much. But if that is your opinion, you are not just a video game fan. You are a video game worshiper. They are an idol to you, not a recreational activity. It is disturbing to discover that so many people fall into this category.
But I’m also aware that a fair number of the people who were upset about the piece did not actually read it. I want to believe that most of the people who panicked over it were panicking over the argument they assumed I made. That would be frustrating but not quite as disturbing. It would reveal that they are perhaps impatient, but not that they are so obsessed with video games that they cannot tolerate a single solitary criticism of them. And if that’s the case — that everyone is just mad because they didn’t read it — I will accept some blame. In retrospect, the title of the piece didn’t really capture the thrust of the piece itself.
There were some rational criticisms, however, even if they were not necessarily criticisms of what I actually wrote. I will respond to each of the below:
1) The government can’t ban video games just because you don’t like them. This is a First Amendment issue.
I agree. I never said the government should ban them or censor them.
2) How can you say that nobody should ever play video games?
3) Video games can’t cause someone to become a mass shooter.
I agree. I said exactly that in the first paragraph. I don’t believe — and I don’t think anyone believes — that video games have ever “made” someone into a mass shooter or “caused” a mass shooting. The question is whether, in some cases, the images, messages, and isolation involved in an obsessive violent video game habit might be one factor among many contributing to the ultimate end. I do not believe that video games are anything close to the only relevant factor. Neither do I believe you can logically claim that they are always entirely irrelevant.
4) You didn’t provide any scientific facts or data.
You’re right. I didn’t provide scientific data because I do not believe this is a scientific issue. I made a philosophical case because I believe it is a philosophical issue.
There are two basic questions here on the surface: Is it possible to play video games too much? And can video games (and other media, like movies) help to shape a person’s mind in a negative way?
But the deeper questions are really these: What does it mean to live a fulfilling human life? And what sorts of things can condition a person towards, and lead them to, despair?
Everyone used to agree that concepts like fulfillment, happiness, evil, and despair were philosophical and spiritual in nature. Now we think we can break them down into data points and put them on a bar graph. I think they were right before and we are wrong now. It is my philosophical opinion that a human being should not spend the majority of his life staring into screens and escaping into virtual reality. I think fulfillment and joy comes from what is real: family, faith, nature, experience.
A father who spends most of his free time playing with his kids is a happier man and a better father than a father who spends it playing video games. You want science to confirm this fact. I think human nature confirms it. I also think human experience confirms it. I have never met a person who watches five hours of TV a day, or plays five hours of video games a day, and yet is a well-rounded, interesting, and joyful person. That is not to say that we should never escape into the glowing box. It just means that the glowing box should not be our primary source of happiness and fulfillment.
As an extension of this point, I believe that a person who obsessively isolates himself in a virtual world — whether through video games or TV or movies or the internet — is allowing his mind to be passively shaped. These things do not actively and consciously engage our minds the way that real life experience does, or even the way books do, and that is their whole appeal. We can “turn our brains off,” as people say. But our brain is not really turned off. It is still being acted upon, and influenced, and changed. We just don’t notice it as much because we are not as consciously engaged in the activity.
I think this can be basically harmless in moderation, and if we use discernment in deciding what sorts of things we watch/play. But if we are immoderate, and undiscerning, and the content we are “escaping into” is dark, nihilistic, violent, etc., we can be driven into despair, or the despair we already feel can be heightened. We probably won’t go shoot up a school at that point, but still we will be depressed and hopeless. And that’s not good. I don’t know what will happen next, or what we will do — we probably won’t do anything but watch even more TV and play even more video games — but I know that it is not good for a person to be in such a state.
5) Not ALL violence is bad.
I completely agree. That’s why I kept qualifying the word “violence.” Gratuitous violence is bad. Violence for the sake of violence is bad. Violence as an end to itself is bad. Violence as the sole source of entertainment is bad. But violence in service of a redemptive and worthwhile story can be fine. The violence in “Saving Private Ryan” is certainly gory but it is not gratuitous. And we are not meant to gawk at it or watch the film simply for the sake of seeing it. The point is to show us what these men faced and overcame.
The violence in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is different. There is no real story. The point of the movie is not to watch a story unfold but to see teenagers get hacked to pieces. Thus, there is nothing positive to be gained from watching it. You won’t become a chainsaw wielding madman from watching it, but you will become the sort of person who enjoys watching a chainsaw wielding madman. You are indulging a part of your brain that should not be indulged. You are feeding your basest instincts. It may not be physically dangerous to do that. It may not be scientifically dangerous. But it is spiritually dangerous.
A video game that has some elements of violence in it, but where the violence is not the whole point or the main attraction, and the violence is not gratuitous or shocking or exploitative, could be perfectly fine for the right age group. Not fine enough to play for six hours a day (no video game, or TV show, or movie is fine enough for that). But fine. There are plenty of games that fall into this category. There are plenty of games that fall well outside of it. Games where you are beating prostitutes to death or shooting up an airport or anything else in that vein definitely fall outside of it. They have no constructive value and whatever effect they have on you will not be positive. They are the very definition of gratuitous.
We should be able to agree that gratuitous violence is bad. It is disconcerting that so many people will not even concede that point.