Looking at the history, the game scare we had during the 1990’s never went away. We had a game scare in the late 1970’s, there was a scare in the 1980’s, people thought it resurfaced in the 00’s and recently during the 10’s, but in reality, there has always been some people in high positions thinking some form of media is responsible for the actions of some. The most recent comment about games teaching us to kill comes from the former vice president of the US, Joe Biden. Neither this blog or me personally really gives a rat’s ass about the US politics, but Biden on The New York Times doesn’t really put me into ease how easily weight is being rolled from individual actions to media. Again.
Biden’s view on the modern media, the Internet 2.0, video games and all that, is very much biased and skewed. The fact that he calls someone, probably a developer, one of the little creeps, says all that. While he admits that not all the people in the tech industry are bad, that doesn’t really fare well against his assumptions what people think and how things are. In Biden’s view, video games teach people how to kill. Whether or not he has strong resentment for this, of because these tech industry people are rich and are making money the way he doesn’t agree with, is an open question. Biden seems to be nonsensical with parts of the interview, which isn’t exactly new for him.
The question is; do video games teach you to kill?
You can answer this in a few way, only of which few are relevant. In actuality, only few games teach you to kill, and those games are usually government and military owned and run simulators. There is a Doom 2 wad that was used to simulate missions. There are numerous other simulators, which work much better nowadays than just a Doom wad, but these are specifically designed games. They are part of military training overall and function as support to the training. Majority of the training how to kill comes elsewhere, warfare simulations are often there to teach combat tactics and such. That, in itself, does not teach how to kill someone.
That’s not what Biden means though, and we can dismiss it as an answer. What he probably means is that the normal everyday person can pick up a game and see physical violence being brought upon another either via melee combat or Modern Warfare kind of games. The assumption has often been that players learn how to move and how to use the weapons. Monkey see, monkey do. However, as I’ve mentioned few times already regarding video games and violence, mental practice can only teach you so far. A video game can’t teach you how to hold a gun or how to pull the trigger, all that has to come from somewhere else. A game can’t prepare you how the gun kicks back in your hands or how to aim down the sight. VR games are the closest thing that can manage this nowadays, but even then there is a separation. Driving simulations that are used in driving schools use full-screen VR nowadays, where car crashes are simulated on physical level, as is rolling and other dangerous events that might happen during driving. There is no headset as such, but big screens that fill the driver’s view. This is probably the best example of supporting already learned skills and knowledge via simulation. Simulation can only carry so far though when it comes to actual driving; the only real way to learn is to get behind the wheel.
What games do is teach you the mechanics and rules of the game you are playing. This is not the same as games teach you to kill. Militaristic shooters and realistic simulations do have ‘killing’ the enemy as a part of the rules and mechanics. However, that is mostly due to lack of any better terms to use. You can’t kill what isn’t living, what really doesn’t exist outside the realm of the game. This if course is the sticking point. The idea that the player is learning to kill within these virtual spaces and artificial characters is tempting. The fact that games are an interactive medium and do require user input to function easily marks it a teaching tool. However, as mentioned with the example of military specific simulators, that’s only part of the picture.
We can agree that games do simulate killing to some extent, from cartoony to realistic. This is specifically within virtual environment against virtual opponents. Despite how we associate non-living and non-human being with our own emotions and reactions, a healthy is able to discern between reality and fiction. For most people who consume computer and video games, the issue isn’t exactly relevant. People who have mental issues to some extent are another thing though, with some unable to what’s real and what’s not. This isn’t exactly just for games either, as some violent acts in history have been executed simply because a person had been convinced of their own imagination. However, that’s playing a bit around the corner; delusions don’t teach to kill. However, they can drive the will and intent for it, something games don’t specifically do. Killing requires more than just playing according to the rules. You could say humans generally know what hurts us and how. Things like helmets already tell us how weak our heads are. Protective gear shows what are our weak spots. We learn that we only have one heart and where it is located during classes. Life in general teaches what can kill a man and how easily without one needing to be taught how to kill. Knowing that a knife is sharp and cuts through meat while cooking, cuts through your finger when it slips, you know how this goes. People aren’t stupid, and we passively learn these things without trying.
Learning to kill, in cold blood, doesn’t just mean you know how to do it or what tools to use. There need to be a mindset and intent behind it. If one believes that games’ mechanics and rules are the same as in real world’s, then you could see how games teach killing. How a person can in drive over the curb over pedestrians or open fire on some one outside self-defence or warfare. We don’t exactly learn these from games though. Everyone of us have these dark thoughts where we wish to inflict harm and damage for whatever reason. If we allow these to fester, it doesn’t really matter if its games or some other form of media that functions as the trigger point. People were killing each other before video games existed just fine. It would do better if the people who have hard time dealing with these inner demons would find some way to deal with them, either through friends or professional help. However, too often these people are get shunned, worsening their situation. It is easy just to say Games teach to kill and be done with it. For whatever reason, we have the tendency of simplifying issues to something external and only seeing one black and white picture. Biden is putting too much emphasise, perhaps even credit, to an external factor when we’d need to look into the psyche more. Perhaps we don’t really want to believe people normally wouldn’t be prepared to kill for whatever reason, just because we have sense and moralities other animals don’t. As much as games may be technically teaching how to kill that virtual opponent, at the same time that exact same path can function as a release for tension and frustrations. Similar how some people can release their pent up pressure in punching a sack. Shooting an opponent is closer to punching a bag, after all. Games are, after all, games. The rest is up to the individual.