Do Violent Video Games Lead to Killing?

I was checking out at an Apple store in a large metropolitan city back in April of 2012. The young man of Asian descent was helping me to check out on my own iPhone. All he had to do was supervise my payment transaction on my own iPhone and then give me a bag.

“So, what do you do?” He asked.

“I’m a doctor but I’m here for a writing week. I am a published author.”

Uh, oh! He got THAT look in his eye; a sudden interest in what I had just said and I knew the inevitable comment was coming — wait for it, wait for it!

“I’m thinking about writing a book.” He said. I groaned inwardly. I was preparing my standard responses. I don’t have time to critique your manuscript. No, I can’t introduce you to my agent. No, I can’t send your manuscript to my publisher.

But, something happened. His voice changed and became quieter and was suddenly filled with emotion. He looked off into space as he said, “I want to write about love. Over the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about love. I’ve learned about the importance of life and people and, well, love. What it really means.”

There was a disconnect between what I was thinking he meant and how he was saying it. He wasn’t talking about a broken relationship. He was talking about Love. Deep, abiding, caring, unconditional love. Then, he look me square in the eye and his eyes carried a hint of moisture.

“Last week was my five year anniversary. I’m not supposed to be here. I was the only person left alive in a classroom after the Virginia Tech shooting. Someone fell on top of me and died or I wouldn’t be here. He thought I was already dead. Someone had to die to save me.”

If you’ve ever been in an Apple store you know it is crazy busy and totally nuts filled to capacity with customers and Apple “Genuises” but suddenly all of the sound was sucked out of that store and it was just me and this guy and his story. I was shaking as I took out a business card and handed it to him.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help you. I’ll look at your manuscript. I’ll send it to my agent. I’ll call my publisher. You MUST tell your story!”


2012 will be remembered for a lot of things, but the statistic that any year would not like to have is this. 140 people were killed or wounded in seven mass shootings in 2012, making it the bloodiest year for these types of incidents in modern U.S. history.

I will be involved in several interviews in the coming weeks on this phenomenon and its relationship to the presence of evil in our society and to answer the question: “Is there a relationship between violent content and violent behavior — in other words, can such things as violent video games bring about this kind of killing behavior?”

I don’t want to spell out my answer today. But, I asked my son, Sean, age 28 who has played video games almost his entire life what thoughts he had about this. With his permission, I want to post his answer.

Sean’s current status with video games:

“Violence doesn’t end violence – it extends it.” — Toby Whithouse

I’ve played video games most of my life. Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve gaming with friends, sharing secrets dug out of magazines, and writing my own stories and strategy guides. I still know my way around the first Zelda game instinctively. I have no memory of learning what comes naturally to me with games – playing them well is like riding a bike.

I love gaming. I love good stories told well in any medium, and I love the interactive experiences that only gaming can provide.

I hate what gaming has become. Like the Christian music industry in the 2000s, I hate that gaming has become an executive’s market, making lowest-denominator products for the easiest possible market. For Christian music, that involved positive, chipper soccer mom music; for games, that involved adolescent male empowerment fantasy. I am weary of gaming for the same reason I am weary of mainstream Christian music – gaming has stopped asking the hard questions. And for gaming, that means the default setting is realistic and brown and the default verb is “kill”.

There are many artists and writers who acknowledge the problem and are doing new things to address it, but as always, they are in the minority. And so gaming has become the realm of samey brown military games with troubling jingoistic or misogynistic undertones.

I am troubled that this shift also reflects something about our culture. When we lose touch with Christ our Peace, the Prince of Peace whose Kingdom comes in peace, we tend to elevate self above all else – entitlement (both to things unearned and to holding on tightly to what we are stewards of), pride, even patriotism – these can all take His place. And when what we love is not freely given to us, we default to violence as a way to protect what we have and take what we want.

A culture of self brings us out of balance with The Lord and with each other. His kingdom comes in peace, and anything that brings us out of balance with that peace lends towards entropy, violence and chaos. We have a longing for family, for home,for permanence in who we love and what we love to do, and when we elevate those things above the God who provides them, they only amplify (rather than relieve) our pain and anger.

The media / violence debate is as old as adolescence itself, and has exhibited a common pattern on media stretching from television and comics back to the pulp adventures of the 1920s and 1930s. Anecdotally, I think the anger and aggression encouraged by games tends to arise from games not meeting the fundamental needs we want them to meet. If a game makes me angry it is most likely anger at myself, frustration at my inability to entertain myself in partnership with the game.

More broadly I think video games in the 21st century are facing the struggles that comics faced in the 30s, 50s, and 80s. The medium has grown up (and its target audience is adults in many ways) but public perception still focuses on children. Entitled kids aren’t told no by their parents about Call of Duty (as I was once told no about Doom) and they get what they want. Parents don’t take the time to know what their kids are playing, or  play with them and offer context on what they see and hear. (Our friends are good examples of doing this with books and TV too – it’s an attitude, an orientation, not a medium-specific special requirement).

As for adults who game, I have a hard time believing that gaming is any better or worse than watching TV several hours a day. People can play bad or dumb games like people can watch hours of crappy meaningless live TV. The spiritual problem transcends the medium.

Finally, to violence. I am at a loss at what to say about the shootings (though I think that the Sandy Hook kid do not play Mass Effect, at least), but most other game-related violence I’ve anecdotally heard of sound like domestic disputes or parent / child conflict that would have centered around a hundred other innate things if not games. When we don’t hold to Christ, the Giver of all good things, we jealously and violently defend what we love because we feel we have no choice, because we feel entitled.

 That form of nihilism will eventually and inevitably lead towards our death.

Check out this link to another post about violence and video games.

If you are interested in reading a thrilling, fictional book that deals with the impact of evil in our society today and how we can confront it, please check out my first book: “The 13 Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” and my second book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon”. For more on depression, check out the book I co-authored with Mark Sutton, “Conquering Depression”.

Also, I will be giving almost a dozen radio talk show interviews this WEEK so check out the EVENTS tab!

About Bruce Hennigan

Published novelist, dramatist, apologist, and physician.

Posted on January 13, 2013, in Breaking News, Speculative Fiction, Steel Chronicles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Do Violent Video Games Lead to Killing?.

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