Useful And Fantastic: Violent Video Games
"People whose environment has no terror in it, do not copy the violence in terror-filled games, but people who live amid violence can learn to copy the violence they see in games which have a similar context to their own lives,'' declares Val Yule.
There are thousands of pieces of research on the effects of watching violence on TV or playing violent videogames. Most of it is worthless, because it is flawed. It ignores the importance of context – the situation in which the violence takes place. It ignores the differences in watchers, from the nice teen who never hurt his toy bunny rabbit to the half-deranged victim of childhood physical terrors.
Yet the flawed research is the basis for legal permission for the most cruel games. The US Supreme Court has agreed with a federal court's decision to throw out California's ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, saying the law violated minors' rights to watch them. It would violate the rights of producers of video games to make whatever will make them most money.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has had to deny reports it is investigating whether Geneva Conventions apply to video gamers playing war games. It had been suggested games and gamers could risk Hague War Crimes tribunals for performing virtual battlefield exploits which are forbidden in real life.
Thousands of studies in other fields show the importance of context in learning. Context determines how the learning will be applied. Life-savers learn what to do automatically in life-saving situations from watching videos of life-saving situations. Surgeons learn what to do when operating from watching videos of operations. Car-driving simulation teaches manoeuvres only brought into action automatically in the real-life situations that resemble the simulations. Nice Greek boys were taught to be thugs by gradual exposure to practicing torture under the Greek dictators (reports by Greek psychologists to an international psychiatric congress, Dublin, in the 1980s). Bombing crews learn how to bomb by watching videos very like many video games. Indeed, some aerial bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan has been like mimicking the airmen's earlier entertainment.
Only a few videos demonstrate compassionate responses to situations where compassion is only one of the many responses possible.
Research on the effects of violent video games should distinguish between the resemblance of the game to real life situations. It should analyse findings according to types of watchers. Long-term effects on children of watching adults performing cruel actions has most effect later when those children become adults. The gamer is induced to carry out the cruel actions later than when it is just observed, because he has carried the message ready for the opportunity.
Players of violent video games are immune to copying the action to the extent that they are living in a different context. Fairy-tales or science fiction do not make us copy the action in them, except for a few people whose fantasy-life is blurred with their real lives. We don't live among triceratops or goblins. But the constant efforts of video-game makers to make the action take place in realistic settings, looking ever more realistic, with actions that the viewers can emulate, is dangerous, although tempting to make because so financially rewarding to the producers. People like it.
People whose environment has no terror in it, do not copy the violence in terror-filled games, but people who live amid violence can learn to copy the violence they see in games which have a similar context to their own lives. The closer the video games resemble real life, the more likely players are will copy the action when their real lives resemble it.
This is another form of closeness. In video-games where the player must execute the violence is far more likely to be copied in real life than if the violence is only watched.
The context may not be relevant when a video-game is played, but when later people face a similar context, then the actions earlier played out can then be acted out.
But in the game itself, players face no consequences to all the mayhem they produce. Close to reality is the game called Drones, and real-life drones are closer still to the game because the initiators of the violence do not see the results of the engagements. As one military electronics engineer wrote, 'I can press a button here on this desk in Glasgow, play a little joystick game, say, "Oh, I'm finished now" . . walk away and have a nice pie, egg and chips and forget about what's actually happened. . you don't see the death and destruction. You might see the 9 o'clock news the following morning – and a whole area has been obliterated.'
What then is the difference between the game and the reality for the pressers of the buttons, which are so similar?
A child does not act out on a Bobo-doll the violence that he sees acted out by adults in an adult scenario. The violence is not relevant to him, unless his own life is filled with violence or symbolically relevant violence. But when he is an adult and faces a scene like that, he has been tutored how to act by the video. It is similar to the attempts made now to inculcate by video appropriate flood and fire behaviour in people who may meet such scenarios in the future.
There is plenty of evidence that many young people are adopting callous attitudes. This is what they have learnt from watching violence in reality or in fantasy, unless the action shown is compassionate.
Terrible pictures of car accidents can frighten innocent viewers, but those sophisticated into watching blood sports or even just frequent watching can enjoy them with a frisson of horror. Those who have a twist to self-destruction can also see in them a way to encourage them.
Pornographic pedophilia does not make active pedophiliacs of those not predisposed to be pedophiliac but 'normal' pornography can teach ways of sexual behaviour that cut out making love.
It is shocking that so much violence and crime in real life is first presaged in film, books and even in comic strips as entertainment. American films go all over the world - teaching violence. And violence as the solution.
Enormous sums are spent on research to show whether children hit Bobo dolls after witnessing violence - without observing whether America has been becoming a more violent society as the children grow up. Domestic rage, road rage, computer rage, airline rage . . all sorts of rage are analysed separately, as they increase in our society, but common factors to them all are ignored.
Simulated cruelty and watching cruelty as entertainment is justified as good for the personality, making it more unlikely to be carried out in real life. Freud has been interpreted as saying that inhibition and self-control is unhealthy, and leads to neurosis. It is claimed that it is healthy to be uninhibited and freely express all feelings of any sort, whatever they are. This is not what Freud actually thought. What he said was that it is impossible to have a civilisation unless there was some degree of neurosis and inhibition, so that people were reasonably decent to each other. This means that to be civilised must also involve some personal unhappiness for the sake of the whole society.
A modern interpretation of 'catharsis' is that it is 'healthy' to burst out with angry and negative feelings whenever you feel like it, to give your emotions an 'outlet'. It is 'healthy' to watch aggressive and violent entertainment, as 'outlets', because the psyche of humans is rather like a plumbing system, and if aggressive feelings are dammed up, we will explode more dangerously sooner or later.
However, the old Greek idea of catharsis, worked out by Aristotle, was that classical tragedy was justified because of its healing powers. The audience was emotionally purged by feelings of pity and terror at witnessing the sufferings of noble heroes brought about by their tragic flaws. This was 'catharsis'. Freud's modern theory of catharsis through expressing feelings and thoughts that have been long buried in the unconscious, has since been greatly exaggerated. It can be like lancing an abscess for someone to come out with what has been suppressed or repressed at great emotional cost - but to keep on coming out with it is like stirring round in the open wound, preventing it from healing.
Patricks collection of 30 things what you learn about life and how to live in it from horror films. The more you watch them, the more likely the balance to tip for their lessons.
A 'Horror Movie Character's Survival Guide, I wanna live' has been going around the Internet among teenagers since mid-1999. It lists 870 messages about how you should behave in order to survive. These 870 messages can be classified into 15 categories. Only six small categories are not anti-social - Use common sense, Listen to warnings, Avoid superstitious and satanic practices, People driven by vengence always die, Never do anything morally wrong such as pre-marital sex, drugs, making fun of the hero/heroine, etc...., Don't become an evil scientist. You will be killed by your creation when it goes awry.
The other hundreds of messages carry antisocial values, however humorously presented, that make for a more unpleasant community to live in, indeed, hardly a civilised one. While a few episodes of black and sick humour make for fun and contrast, sheer weight of numbers and repetition of cynicism make an impressive imbalance that can teach lasting lessons.
1. Gradual accustomization from carrying out oneself cruel actions in a game.
2. Appetite grows by what it feeds on. People who like watching violence need ever greater violence to satisfy their tastes. Violence becomes too familiar to them.
3. Callousness grows in people who would not carry out the violence themselves. This can even be noticed in professional critics of videos and films.
4. Anti-social morality is necessary
5. Be callous
6. Be cautious - be excessively cautious
7. Be obedient and do not be an independent thinker
8. Never be curious about anything.
9. Never be brave
10. Never trust anyone
11. Never try to help others
12. Nobody else will help you
13. Things are sure to go wrong -hopelessness is inevitable
14. You do not have control over your own identity or future.
Where are teenagers learning any different morality? Is there evidence in many lives that these values are being absorbed without actually murdering anyone? There are 870 messages like these. Although the teenagers who made this compilation may have just been being cynical, we could consider, as the horror-viewers become adult, how many of these values are now appearing publicly on the American social and political scene - and possibly in other places too.
The weight of the negative messages that young people are being given in their entertainment far outweighs the positive. We see the results in their behaviour as adults.
What is the definition of 'adult' that we place before them, if it consists in obtaining pleasure from cruelty and license?