President Trump held a meeting on Thursday to discuss violence in video games. It’s been said that he “blames mass shooting on video games” but that’s not actually his position. That’s not anyone’s position. Nobody thinks that a child who plays a violent game will automatically go out and kill real people. Nobody thinks that video games are the only factor contributing to the problem. The pro-video game people prefer to rail against an argument nobody is making because they cannot respond to the extremely logical and irrefutable argument people are making. Here’s what President Trump said:
We have to look at the internet because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds and their minds are being formed. And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.
Shaping young people’s thoughts, forming their minds — yes, of course it has that effect. Of course a child is influenced by the images and ideas and sounds and messages that bombard his brain. Of course it isn’t healthy for a child (or anyone else) to spend hours a day playing any sort of video game, least of all violent video games.
You can cite the studies “proving” that violent video games don’t contribute to violence in kids. I can cite the studies “proving” they do. And we can go round and round, throwing studies at each other until it finally dawns on us that maybe some things can’t really be proven or disproved with a study. Maybe some things are far too complex and buried far too deeply in the human mind to be quantified and categorized by a guy in a lab coat with a clipboard.
Some mass shooters weren’t video game fans. Some were. The Sandy Hook school shooter was obsessed with video games. He made 83,000 online “kills” before he went out and killed 20 children. Are you going to tell me that you’re positive his hours upon hours upon hours spent stewing in virtual violence had nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with his murder spree? And how are you going to prove that? With a study? A survey of some other parents and kids will tell me what was going on in the dark recesses of the Sandy Hook school shooter’s mind?
Perhaps we should just try to apply some common sense to this issue. Here’s what common sense tells me: A moderate video game habit, not involving graphic and violent games, will not harm a child. As of 2014 (the number is surely higher now), the average American over the age of 13 played video games for about an hour a day. An hour a day for a child is probably already too much, no matter what type of game. If that were his only screen time, it might be fine. But it’s not. He’s also on his computer, on his phone, watching TV. Almost half of all parents report that the TV is “always” on in their house. That’s not good. Kids need to read books; they need to play outside; they need to have conversations with their parents, they need to develop interests and hobbies and skills that don’t involve staring into glowing boxes.
If the average time spent on video games is about an hour a day, that means a significant amount of people spend significantly more time playing them. I personally know of some kids who play video games for 2 or 3 hours a day, maybe more. No matter if the games are violent or not, that’s not healthy. I don’t care what your studies say. As a human being with a brain, I am able to determine that a child should not spend every moment of his free time escaping into virtual reality. He should be a human being doing human things. All of this time in video game land isolates him.
If I wanted to win the study-for-study competition, I’d point to the multiple studies showing a link between depression and video game usage. But I won’t point to them, because common sense should already confirm the link. A person needs sunlight, human interaction, human experience, fresh air. It is depressing to live a life deprived of those things. Can we find some sort of link between the isolation caused by a video game obsession, the depression caused by the isolation, and violence? Probably. That would seem to make sense. At least we can say this about a boy who becomes violent after years of isolation in virtual reality: It sure didn’t help. Or do I need a scientist to tell me that?
What about violent video games? Well, there’s no reason to focus this part of the conversation only on kids. It’s not good or healthy for anyone to play graphic, disturbing, gory video games. Certainly it won’t make you a better person. And it’s very hard to imagine that the effect is neutral. Nothing is really neutral for human beings. Everything we do either makes us better or worse. Hours a day pretending to kill people in virtual reality must logically fall into the “worse” category.
This is where some video game apologists devolve into incoherence. Video games are a sacred cow because people are desperate to justify the last 8,000 hours of their lives that they wasted on them. So they’ll often pretend there is nothing toxic about violent games at all. They’ll say something silly like: “It’s just pretend! I’m just shooting at pixels! It’s not turning me into a serial killer!”
We all know it’s pretend. We all know the images are digital. We know you are not a serial killer. But the fact remains that you still enjoy pretending to kill people. Your favorite recreational activity is to pretend that you are killing people. You probably will never kill a single person in real life, but it’s still not good; it’s still unhealthy; it’s still pretty disturbing that you find so much joy in simulated death and destruction. I say the same thing about people who love bleak, graphic, torture porn movies. A healthy, well-adjusted, morally aware person would find no enjoyment whatsoever in those films. Not because he thinks they’re real, but simply because he has no interest in entering a fantasy world filled with blood and death.
When I was a teenager I went, regrettably, to see the movie “Hostel.” For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I’ll spare you most of the details. But suffice it to say that the whole point of the movie, the whole attraction, is to watch young people get tortured and brutalized and hacked to pieces. I hated the movie and wished I had never seen it. My friend loved it. He should not have loved it. There is nothing to love. He has not since turned into a serial killer, as far as I know. But still it is not good for a human being to take delight in such ugliness.
That’s one of the major effects the violent video games and movies certainly do have on a person: they feed the twisted part of his brain that delights in ugliness. We all have that in us, to some extent, in one form or another. But we should not indulge the instinct. We should not embrace it and fuel it. We bring ourselves into dark places when we do. Even if the dark place does not involve shooting up a school, it is still a dark place, and it is better to be in the light.
The other effect is desensitization. A person should be horrified by brutality and violence. We should be sickened by it. We should not take pleasure in it, and neither should we be neutral toward it. It’s clear that a lot of kids today — a lot of people, generally — have a certain numbness, a certain emptiness, inside of them. They do not recoil at evil. They do not feel disgust at disgusting things. This is at least partly because they spend so much of their time in a disgusting virtual world, pretending to do disgusting things for fun. The internet also plays a part in the desensitization. Social media. Movies. TV. All of these things have interfered with our ability to react and respond like human beings. So, video games are not the only culprit. But they are a culprit. And for some people — the people who play a lot of video games, and especially a lot of very violent video games — they probably are a major culprit.
I believe that everything I’ve said here is rather self-evident. The people who lash out against it mostly do so because they want to defend their own recreational interests. I’ve learned that the most offensive thing you can do in modern society is criticize a person’s entertainment choices. And I think that, maybe more than anything, proves that you should.