Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Empaty and Violent Video Games Part 2

I will say this about the NYTimes, they're not afraid to re-post comments from their readers and open up questions for a healthy debate. This is one aspect of our freedoms that I can appreciate: freedom of speech and press that I can damn near say anything without legal consequences. Social re-precautions are an entirely different matter. Go USA.

Last week they released an article about empathy in video games and first person shooters. Many readers, including myself, responded in droves either directly to the Times or on our personal websites. Reading the follow-up today, it's unsurprising to me to see how many myths about games and real world violence are still apparent in people's minds. And depressing. I keep hoping that humanity will evolve beyond our simple cause and effect nature, but we seem to be stuck on the blame game. So let's roll through the reader's responses and comb out the myths.

“I am a clinical social worker with many years of experience and strongly believe that there is a correlation between violent video games and lack of not only empathy but lack of an emotional and cognitive distinction between fantasy and reality,” Paula Beckenstein wrote. “Of course, this is not true for the majority of game players, but it is for those individuals whose psychological boundaries are blurred.”

First off, I'm glad the commenter clarified that for the majority of people, this isn't an issue. But there is a potential in that small minority where fantasy and reality can blur. But it's still a myth because we haven't had full clarification directly from a mass murderer or 100% conclusive studies that show this. The few people who have been interviewed were very deliberate in their actions. Games may have been played, but they are completely arbitrary since they did not influence the crime. The event was going to happen in that person's mind. And in a number of cases, the perpetrator had little to no interest in gaming. The person was already in a different mental state that games wouldn't have made a difference.

"Eventually, we will look at first-person shooters like we do high-fructose corn syrup. Do we really need our kids consuming these?” a reader wrote. ”The answer is obvious. Make food healthy, make video games healthy. And adults should control this.”

 Actually, there are a lot of myths about corn syrup as well so the comparison between a sugar substitute and video games is, well, lame. High fructose corn syrup was developed as a substitute for sugar via corn. Sugar is something that we in the US have to import. Our weather patterns are not suitable for sugar cane. However, we have corn. Lots and lots of corn. And the development of this product, which has been proven to be safe and completely good to use in moderation by the FDA, has helped develop land here and created jobs. That's a good thing. And like any food anywhere, too much of it can be bad. Yes, you can have too many carrots and harm yourself. Just like with oranges, apples, and broccoli. But just having high fructose corn syrup is not bad for you, nor is it the cause for health problems. The same can be applied to video games, and it's the one comparison between the two I will make. Playing a violent video game is not going to turn you into a psychopath.

“Why is this even a question? Of course there is a connection between violent video games and violent crimes with guns. A connection, but not a cause-and-effect connection,” wrote James Hadley, a reader from Providence, R.I. “The fact is that violence is a large and colorful component of the U.S. national mythology. The cowboy, the Alamo, the minuteman, always pictured with his rifle at the ready; these are defining images.”

Ah the American West. Where men were men, with shotguns, revolvers, and having to hunt for their meals daily. The thing that always got to me about this argument is the assumption that the U.S. is the only violent society because of our history. But really, what civilization hasn't been violent? Need we remind you about Germany in WWI and WWII? Or what about the samurai class in Japan, men revered for their swords and still looked upon with honor by their ancestors today? The Age of Enlightenment, when humanity boomed in the 17th Century, was also about the time when the French Revolution happened, and a few more uprisings in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Violent history is EVERYWHERE. It is not just a U.S. trait. You can still be in awe of the shogun today without having a gun in your hand. The argument about our violent past makes us violent today is moot.

But the Times wasn't biased and provided responses from the other side of the argument:

“This is an American problem, not a video game problem,” a reader from Cleveland wrote. 


And...

“Video games like these have been available throughout the world for years, yet do the same acts of violence and their frequency exist in these other countries or is it only in America?”  From a Canadian just a hop across the border.

This is exactly what I was writing about last week in my response piece. It's not a video game problem. It's a cultural U.S. problem. Why do mass shootings happen here and not anywhere else in the first world countries with such frequency?

As video games continue to be the top entertainment medium, these questions will linger for decades. At least until the next new popular item comes in and tries to take over. Then the debate will start over again.

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