Are violent video games turning our children into cold-blooded killers?
In the aftermath of many mass shootings, the suspected perpetrators are often found to have spent countless hours behind the controls of first-person shooting games that simulate real-life combat situations.
Take the case of Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old naval contractor who allegedly gunned down 13 people last month at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. Alexis is said to have spent up to 16 hours per day playing military-themed games like “Call of Duty.”
“He played all the time. That was his passion,” said Michael Ritrovato, a friend of Alexis who spoke to ABC News. “It got so bad – was in his room all the time… he’d be late for work. He just didn’t want to get up early. The reason was because he was staying up all night playing video games.”
In Norway, confessed mass murderer Anders Breivik testified in court that he used a virtual “holographic aiming device” from the computer game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” to hone his marksmanship skills before embarking on the July 2011 massacre that claimed 77 innocent lives.
“It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real,” Breivik said of the game. “That’s why it’s used by many armies throughout the world. It’s very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems.”
In the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, law enforcement sources allegedly told CBS News that suspected shooter Adam Lanza “was motivated by violent video games and a strong desire to kill more people than” Breivik. In the same report, senior correspondent John Miller, a former assistant director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, cited law enforcement sources when describing Lanza’s gaming room: “He takes that game room and completely blacks it out so you—once you close the door, the only reality in that room was him and that TV screen with his tactical shooting game.
Whether or not video games actually played a significant role in influencing the minds of these alleged killers remains a hotly debated issue. However, it cannot be denied that the United States government paved the way for this medium and continues to use the technology for training and recruitment of its soldiers.
“For several decades—from the 1960s to the early 1990s—the armed forces took the lead in financing, sponsoring, and inventing the specific technology used in video games,” wrote Professor Corey Mead in his book War Play: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict. “Without the largesse of such military agencies as DARPA, the technological foundation on which the commercial game industry rests would not exist. Advanced computing systems, computer graphics, the Internet, multiplayer networked systems, the 3-D navigation of virtual environments—all these were funded by the Department of Defense.”
According to Mead, defense contractors that helped develop much of the military’s virtual-reality training apparatus were hit with severe budget cuts following the passage of the Federal Acquisitions Streamlining Act of 1994. To maintain their livelihoods, defense contractors began peddling their taxpayer-funded technologies to the commercial gaming industry and created what has been termed “the military-entertainment-complex,” which Mead describes as, “the relentless exchange of technologies, personnel, and money that defines the bond between the military and the video game industry.”
Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, is considered a leading authority on media violence. He maintains that interactive point-and-shoot video games introduce children to the “same weapons technology that major armies and law enforcement agencies around the world use to ‘turn off’ the midbrain ‘safety catch,’” which prevents most human beings from killing its own kind. According to Grossman, the U.S. Army perfected the art of killing after WWII, when they discovered that only 15 -20% of riflemen fired their weapons at an exposed enemy target. To remedy this, they replaced bull’s-eye targets with man shaped pop-up targets that fall when hit. They also introduced a reward/punishment system to encourage proficiency. As a result, the rate of fire increased to about 55% in Korea and around 95% in Vietnam.
In the Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, Grossman explained that this same kind of military conditioning exists in video games, where participants develop the motor skills to turn killing into an automatic response, “but without the stimulus discriminators and the safeguard of discipline found in military and law enforcement conditioning.”
Although video game obsession can be considered as a possible contributing factor in many of these mass shootings, it is certainly not the only trait these suspects have in common. Many have also been found to be social outcasts with a history of mental illness and psychiatric drug use. Could it be that this lethal combination of vulnerabilities makes one an ideal mind-control candidate who can be manipulated into taking part in elaborate psychological operations? When investigating any high-profile crime that could be used as an excuse to violate our freedom and liberties, no stone should be left unturned.