Violent video games are training children to kill

  • Monday, November 17, 2003 9:00pm
  • Life

The question is how to alert parents to the dangers hiding in their children’s video games without sounding like just another voice on a broken old record.

The broken record would be about violence, and it would seem that the warnings have all been issued.

But, try these three points for starters:

  • If a parent wanted their children to develop attitudes like Gary Ridgway, the confessed killer of at least 48 women, these games might provide a good training ground.

  • These video games are not spectator activities, like going to a violent movie. They use simulation techniques that are used to teach people to fly a plane, drive a car or fight wars.

  • Parents cannot trust their neighborhood stores to not sell hyper-violent video games to young children.

    Sound desperate? If so, take a look at the new video by Mothers Against Violence in America. It is part of its "Campaign for a Game Smart Community," and asks, "Do you know what video games your children are playing?"

    The Mothers Against Violence video even upsets professionals who are used to working with violence. For example, Janice Ellis, Snohomish County prosecutor, and Bruce Eklund, assistant administrator of the Snohomish County Juvenile Court, brought the group’s video to my attention. Both were dismayed with game-based human behavior that transcends mere violence.

    But, take the three concerns one at a time.

    First, people were thoroughly chilled by confessed serial killer Ridgway’s admissions and descriptions a week ago.

    Even the sanitized details within the King County prosecutor’s summary are so bad that the cover page warns that the report "… contains graphic and disturbing descriptions," which may not be suitable for every reader.

    Ridgway remembers where he dumped bodies, how he planned his killings and tricked people into his traps, the descriptions of his many cars, and the floor plans of his several homes. He doesn’t remember the faces or names of the 48 victims he admitted killing.

    In his words, "Like I said, they didn’t mean anything to me."

    He killed only women. He killed no men, he said, " ‘cause they didn’t give no sexual gratification to me."

    And, this is largely what some well-known video games do. Make victims into something much less than human. They are killed. Their heads are cut off and blood spurts from their necks.

    The dead bodies are kicked and urinated on. The killer laughs at them and makes crude sexual comments. Sex and violence weave into deadly behaviors, over and over.

    The video game scripts could be culled from Gary Ridgway’s confession.

    Second, these games are not movies. Nor are they spectator games. Rather, they are simulations.

    The games use techniques known to be effective in teaching young people to drive cars or go to war. Simulation, Eklund points out, is designed to hone the trainee’s instincts, to help them build habits that that they can carry out quickly, without second thoughts.

    Video games laced with human atrocities help young, impressionable people practice killing without care.

    The youngsters who hold the joysticks and sit at the keyboards hold the guns and axes. Young players practice cutting heads off. They rehearse shooting police officers and urinating on them.

    It is worth stating again. Every time a youngster plays one of these games, parents, they are in simulation. They practice self-talk, saying things to dehumanize their victims. They practicing laughing at others’ pain and justifying murder. The use words to humiliate others and see how dehumanizing acts feel.

    Third, the Mothers Against Violence group sent underage youngsters into familiar stores, and 15 out of 17 of the stores sold adult games to children under 12.

    Actually, it is disturbing that these games excite some adults, but the rating system might manage the damage better than selling every game to every age. But, the ratings do no good if retailers don’t honor them.

    As always, this means parents and other caring adults have to be the last line of defense for children in their own care. And, in the overwhelming number of cases in which parents protect, nurture and guide their children, their actions work.

    One danger for children lies in any tendency of parents to think "not my child."

    Before drawing that conclusion they should consider four facts.

  • Video games are expected to reach $20 billion in sales this year. That is a sizable piece of the growing economy everybody is hoping for, and it works directly against what most parents want for their children.

  • Every year, enough video games are sold to put two of them in every American household.

  • More than nine of every 10 American children play video games.

  • Research shows that playing violent video games increases children’s violent thoughts and aggressive behaviors.

    The first, last and best line of defense for most children is their parents. On the other hand, children whose parents do not defend them are more influenced by video games than are other children. Children who are protected by their parents are growing up with children who are not.

    So parents have to first protect and nurture their own children, but it helps when they also help protect and nurture other children.

    I won’t name the most violent video games because I won’t advertise them. Violent video games need only change their names or move the violence into other games. Children just need for their parents to play their video games with them.

    Bill France, a father of three, is a child advocate in the criminal justice system and has worked as director of clinical programs at Luther Child Center in Everett. Send e-mail to bsjf@gte.net.

    Parents and others who are concerned about the amount and kinds of violence children see in video games or who would like to view the 10-minute documentary by Mothers Against Violence in America can contact the group at 800-897-7697 or go to www.mavia.org. Or call Dan Bond, 425-388-7227 or Michele Rastovich, 425-388-7228.

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