Video Games Make Kids Violent? Seriously?

If you have Wii Sports let me ask you a question: do you think that playing the golf game will make you a better golfer? Will it make you more inclined to play the real game? Do you have trouble telling whether you are playing Wii golf or real golf?

Of course these are silly questions. And yet the obvious logical flaw behind the above stupid questions is ignored when it comes to the topic of violence in video games and movies.

It should be obvious to anyone with working gray matter that playing a video game or watching a movie does not turn a normal person into a psychopath or a person that is more inclined to react with violence. Well, at least it should be. But certain factions, mostly on the political right but a few on the left, believe that movies, rap lyrics, video games and other forms of entertainment do exactly that; they take normal, rosy-cheeked ten-year-old boys and girls and turn them into the next teenagers to pull off a Columbine-style massacre.

This blog is sick of those who want to make our stay on this little blue ball hurtling through space a little less enjoyable by using faulty logic and just plain old stupidity. And that is precisely what these people are doing. They are offended by violence or sex because of their frail, delicate little brains that are riddled with psychoses. But it is not enough for them to avoid it for themselves while leaving the rest of us normal people alone. Nope they have to try to ruin life for the rest of us.

Usually the logic goes something like “the teenagers that did massacre/killing/Violent Crime X played video games and never committed a crime before so it must be the video games.” This so-called premise falls afoul of all sorts of logical fallacies. The most obvious of which is that video games are ubiquitous; 90% of kids have one video game system or another. If a kid massacres others it is overwhelmingly likely that he will have played video games and probably a lot of them. So what? He probably has a refrigerator in the house so let’s blame obesity. Why not, it is just as logical, which is to say just as fucking ridiculous.

Penn and Teller, on their fantastic show “Bullshit” addressed this topic and posed the following excellent analogy that crystallizes the whole silly issue:

Next time you feel like worrying about fake violent video games, try a little experiment: imagine that video games were invented 100 years before football. Picture school video game teams and uniforms and hot-ass cheerleaders with big, bouncing pom-poms. Now imagine after 100 years of extracurricular video game fun, football is invented and introduced to schools. Thousands of kids get real, no kidding, no fantasy, no make-believe broken knees, legs, ankles, cervical trauma, heatstroke, and concussions!…What would parents do? From 1931 to 2007, 665 kids died… from injuries they suffered playing football. This is not video game violence – this is real violence done to real children by other real children, all encouraged by schools and society. Every parent worries about his or her kids; every adult worries about all children, but you need to pick what you think is worth worrying about.

Which brings us to our next logical flaw: the concept of risk. Very few people, no matter how well they are educated, do not understand risk. They overstate unknown risks and gloss over known ones. They give more credence to spectacular risks and less credence to more mundane ones. For example, how many people know that you are far more likely to die taking a shower than getting eaten by a shark?

As a parent of two young kids, I speak from experience you get bombarded with stories about defective products and how they can kill your child. Just this week, while installing blinds in a bathroom, there was a prominent warning about how blinds are a strangulation hazard. Yes they are, but does that mean I should actually be worried about it? The government is apparently going to ban drop-down cribs (cribs with a side that drops down to make it easier to pick up a sleeping infant). Why? Because two children allegedly died because of them.

Whenever anyone asks me about anything related to risk my usual response is “why do you let your kid ride in a car?” Why are we worried about drop down cribs when far more children die from far more mundane activities? Should we ban letting children walk to school? Or how about riding bikes? Those activities are far more dangerous than a crib or the strings on a set of blinds.

We live in a world where literally everything and anything can be justified by appeal to “the children,” so much so that it has even become a running joke on The Simpsons. Why? Because people are fundamentally ignorant of risk. Video games pose little to no risk of turning people into killing machines and movies do not turn normal people into killers. Common sense should tell you that. So should the fact that violent crimes by teenagers are down 50% since the mid-1990’s, which coincidentally tracks the rising tide of video game sales, which now outpace DVD sales by a wide margin. If video games were causing kids to go nuts, wouldn’t we expect the opposite? Of course we would.

Like many other issues, this one is a façade. It is not about video games any more than it is about protecting kids. It is about assholes that want to force their opinions and views down our throats. It makes them feel important. It makes them feel like they are doing something good. It strokes their ego. But most importantly for them it makes them feel powerful to manipulate and control other people. And the ability to force others to your own will is a powerful carrot to pathetic minds that are simply too ignorant to understand a complex issue. Why let an ugly fact get in the way of a beautiful theory when people’s pathetic egos are at stake?

That is what many debated issues are about; ignorant, dumb people who crave power and self-esteem fighting about something they do not fully understand. This is a far bigger threat to kids than video games and movies.

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