I have written—incessantly it could be argued—about violent video games. I have been “agin it” long before active shooters became as commonplace as French fries. I have mentioned the adult couple whose child starved to death while her parents played. I have pontificated about kids who underperform in school because they play Blood, Blood, Blood, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Kill, Kill, Kill rather than glancing at a textbook. I have pointed out the correlation between children who play violent video games (hence, VVG) and those who commit violent acts.* For myself and my family, the most cogent reason for avoiding VVG is what we could be doing instead. Potato chips, ice cream, and pizza aren’t carcinogenic. Nutritionists express concern about the healthy foods that are overlooked in favor of a steady diet of McGummies. That’s why loving parents suggest the consumption of the occasional vegetable. We’re not lined up against sugar; we’re just in favor of vitamins and minerals. Similarly, I would rather make omelets, go camping, build a rocking chair, read a book, toss a Frisbee, have a conversation, play Parcheesi, go swimming, build a snowman, or do almost anything with my kids rather than have them play VVG.
But what if—gasp!—I am just a curmudgeon? Haven’t old folks been exaggerating the dangers of that which is new and exciting for generations? Haven’t there been needless objections to same-sex marriage, rock music, and 18-year-olds voting? All reasonable people now accept that the heart wants what it wants, that the Monkees had something to say, that teenagers pick the same imperfect leaders as their parents do. Aren’t VVG just the latest in a series of new pastimes that, in the fullness of time, will be seen as commonplace and innocuous? Isn’t the concern over VVG reminiscent of the hullabaloo over hair style in the 50s and 60s?
Remember The Music Man. No one is concerned about kids playing billiards any more. Meredith Wilson was tongue in cheek when Robert Preston warned…
“One fine night
They leave the pool hall
Headin’ for the dance at the arm’ry!
Libertine men and scarlett women and
Ragtime shameless music
That’ll drag your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct.”
Similarly, everyone sides with Paul McCartney’s girl leaving home.
“Friday morning at nine o’clock she is far away
Waiting to keep the appointment she made
Meeting a man from the motor trade
She (What did we do that was wrong)
Is having (We didn’t know it was wrong)
Fun (Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy)
Something inside that was always denied
For so many years.”
Aren’t VVG just the latest in a series of new pastimes for kids that will be acknowledged as harmless in more enlightened generations subsequently? Aren’t VVG just fun?
I’m not changing my position. Nobody ever shot up a school because of a new hairstyle. The multi-billion dollar gaming industry is still of concern. Kids isolating in metaphorical basements slaughtering graphic zombie pixels till all hours is a worry. The game designers may know more about your children than you do. The programmers have meta-data on millions of kids broken down by age, gender, ethnicity, income, geography, and more. The unicorn dies and the kid turns off the game. But find a powerful weapon on the battlefield and “just one more level!” postpones family dinner indefinitely. Video games affect the same areas of the brain as do other process addictions, notably cocaine, tobacco, alcohol, and gambling. So, I’m sticking with “keep your kids away from VVG” and “VVG are dangerous.”
But, on the other hand, so is leaving the house.
Much has been made of the fact that more children have died in school shootings this year that US service men and women around the world. The odds of a member of the military dying in service to country are higher of course—there are more school kids than service people—but the statistic is sobering.
Are the current dangers to school kids actually unprecedented? Weren’t there bullies when I was growing up? Didn’t the other Homo neanderthalensis kids** also suffer from exposure to alcohol and cigarettes, from “bad” LSD and gangs of roving youths in addition to saber tooth tigers? Haven’t parents been bemoaning the dangers of kids making the wrong choices for generations? Again, are these times “unprecedented”?
As bad as VVG are for children, maybe leaving the house is worse. There is certainly something to be said for interacting with other members of your species. But if we can’t be taking our kids camping every weekend, maybe sequestering is safer than leaving the house. A drug overdose made headlines in the 60’s. Last year there were 60,000 opioid deaths. Kids routinely got harassed at my high school; now kids talk about where to sit in the cafeteria so they are not the first in the line of fire from an active shooter. Marijuana was never innocuous for developing brains. Today, kids show up in the emergency room with blood leaking from their eyes. Marijuana contaminated with PCP or horse tranquilizers is so yesterday; marijuana laced with rat poison is now.
Indeed, I may be softening my position on VVG. Anything that keeps our kids out of harm’s way has my reluctant support. Better glassy-eyed and stupid in the basement stealing imaginary cars and punching virtual prostitutes than out in the real world with fentanyl, crystal meth and other unprecedented dangers.
* In fairness it must be pointed out that the direction of the causal arrow is unclear. VVG may encourage aggression. On the other hand, belligerent kids may be more likely to seek out VVG. The smart money seems to be that violence begets violence.
** for the chronically irony impaired, I will point out that all the Homo neanderthalensis were extinct several months before I started high school.