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Violent Media and Common Sense

I have read many of Lee Child’s novel about his character, Jack Reacher. I was a bit perplexed that Tom Cruise chose to portray Jack Reacher in the recent film based on the book. In my mind, Jack is a tall, muscular guy more on the level of the Rock rather than the smaller Tom Cruise. My daughter wanted to see the show so we went and it was right on the money! Tom Cruise captured the personality and quirks of Jack Reacher. I would pay to see him in other movies as Jack Reacher. During the movie, there was a protracted and very well done car chase scene. I was gripping my seat, gritting my teeth and grunting with each collision. Great chase scene!

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After the movie I was almost out of the parking lot when my daughter screamed, “Dad, slow down! You’re not Jack Reacher!” I stopped in dismay. I had been gunning my car engine and trying to outrace the other cars leaving the parking lot. I had been driving like Jack Reacher and never realized it! This has happened to me many times before. I watch a television show, a movie, or read a book and find myself acting out the emotions or behavior I just encountered in that fictional setting. One time, after losing a domino game to my wife and her mother, I let lose with a casual string of curse words, including the F bomb that would have made a rap artist blush. Where did that come from? I realized I had spent all day with two of my medical colleagues whose language was mostly such curse words and without realizing it, MY BEHAVIOR WAS CHANGED!

In recent interviews about violent video games and their effect on players, I have been astounded at the denial by the video gaming industry that playing such games has NO effect on behavior. Not even a little. Not even a smidgen. Nothing! Walk away from five hours of Grand Theft Auto and you don’t drive any differently; you don’t feel aggressive or violent. There is NO EFFECT on behavior. And before you get mad at me, video game industry read ALL of what I have to say!

25 years worth of studies have proven differently, but still those studies are all wrong! Ideas do NOT have consequences! I can walk away from anything and not be effected by my participation in that thing. The mind is NOT influenced by ideas.

What? I found it interesting on a recent radio talk show this claim was made. One of the hosts maintained that playing a first person shooter game based on Columbine in which the player can kill innocent school students was just “adult art” and would have no effect on behavior. But, the show also had at least 15 advertisements during the thirty minutes. They were breaking away from me every 6 minutes for 3 minutes of ads. Advertisement! You know, advertisement —  where an idea is put into someone’s head to CHANGE their behavior and make them want to drop what their doing and go buy that item RIGHT NOW! Why did companies spend millions of dollars per minute for recent Super Bowl ads? Because ideas DO have consequences. What we see, what we hear, what we do does effect our thinking and can change behavior. If this were NOT so, then companies would never spend 2 million dollars for a 30 second television ad.

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What we have here is a failure in common sense. It is the height of rationalization and shows that when we don’t want to believe the truth, we will embrace the lie as long as it supports our position. Common sense clearly should show us that what we hear, what we see, what we experience will have an effect on our behavior. It has been that way since man first looked up at the stars and wondered who made them. It will always be that way as long as we communicate ideas in some way.

This conclusion does not mean that violent video games cause someone to kill. There are many reasons people kill and there is some meager evidence that those individuals may use first person shooter games for practice, but we CANNOT BLAME the video game industry for such killings. This is the problem we face. Placing the blame. Again, an appeal to common sense would prove that violent content has been around for centuries. I grew up on comic books that were felt to be subversive in the 1970s. We played cowboys and indians and if some kid shot an “indian” today they would be censored by the PC police. We watched gory live footage on television from the Vietnam War. Violence in our society has always been there and has been used to capture our attention either for a news program or a magazine or a television show or a movie. Why? MONEY! That’s right. Violence, like sex, sells. It gets our attention and in our macabre fascination with death and violence, we stare slack jawed into the abyss.

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So, here’s some common sense. If you play violent video games for hours on end, it WILL effect your behavior and to deny that is lying to yourself. Admitting it means you have used good sense to prevent yourself from acting out. Being aware that what we put into our minds effects our thoughts and behavior means we have the capacity to use reason and discernment before making decisions. This is, again, common sense. Until we accept the fact that our choices are a direct result of how we think and how we think can be effected by external stimulus we can never begin to realize that we are not victims, we are choosers of our actions and WE ALONE are responsible for the consequences of our actions. In fact, it is the victim climate of our culture that makes the  gaming industry afraid to use common sense when admitting gaming effects behavior. In our sue happy culture, if the gaming industry were to admit what we intuitively know is true, some lawyer will happily sue them all for these killings. And, that is common sense!

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Paper Burns at 451 Degrees!

Fahrenheit451_QRay Bradbury is my favorite science fiction author. He passed away in 2012 and his legacy is still strong among science fiction and fantasy readers. But, Bradbury refused to allow his books to become ebooks. His devotion to the printed page is powerful. So powerful, he wrote an entire novel about books. I am currently re-reading “Fahrenheit 451” and last night started watching the movie again. For a film made in 1966 it is remarkably prophetic. In one scene in the living room of Montag, the fireman, his wife is asked to be a part of a theatrical production on television. There against the wall of the living room was a flat screen television that can be found in any Target store today. The “play” in which she was a part was very boring and involved two men talking about where people should sit when they arrived at their party. One of them would turn to the screen as if addressing “Linda” and ask for “Linda’s opinion”. A red light would blink and Linda would respond. It was obvious from the follow up dialogue that it did not matter what Linda said, the plot was contrived to move along without her real input. But, the idea that the television had a camera that could see the viewer was far ahead of its time.

The bland and boring television “theatrical” production existed in this story because books had been banned. Firemen spent their time burning books. Books have been outlawed by the government because they “make people unhappy”. Here is a quote from the novel:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”

This is about censorship. Someone, somewhere has a better idea of what you and I should be able to read than we do. We cannot be trusted to make the right kind of judgment about the content we are putting into our minds. We must rely on some agency to decide that for us.

In my recent interviews about video game violence, I am always asked should we ban violent video games. My answer is always a resounding “No”. Why? Because that is censorship and once we start down that slippery slope, before you know it firemen will be invading our homes and burning any creative content in our possession.

I am an author. I write thrillers with a foundation in my Christian worldview. I don’t have to tell anyone who is a Christian how toxic the social climate is now to Christianity. The New Atheists are winning the war of ideas and calling for governmental intervention. They want religion to be outlawed. They want to classify parents who teach their children Christian concepts as “pedophiles” and teaching religious concepts as “child abuse”. The post huge billboards calling for Americans to “Dump the Myth”. Dawkins, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and even Elton John have taken up the cause. Destroy Christianity at all cost. Push it out of the public sphere. Eliminate churches and religion.

If you think I’m overreacting, you are woefully uneducated about this topic. We are not some Communist controlled country like China where Christians have to go underground. But, that is coming. The threat of censorship is real, loud, and pervasive. In the scientific community, if you profess that you a believer, you are blackballed, denied tenure, and sometimes outright fired. If you voice an opinion in a country that supposedly guarantees freedom of speech, you are vilified in the media and labeled as a “hatemongerer” by the well meaning people who become themselves hatemongerers in the process!

Whether or not your a believer, this should set off every alarm in your mind! It is thought control of the highest order and it is not the only area where others want to enforce their ideas and concepts upon you! So, no, I don’t want to see violent video games banned. For one thing, that would make them even more popular!

What I do want to see is a culture that emphasizes accepting responsibility for our decisions. Instead, as a culture we foster a victim mentality. “It’s not MY fault.” is a common response to bad things that happen in our culture. If you purchase a violent video game and you play that game for hours on end and then you carry out some kind of violent action then the decision to do that is yours. You cannot blame the manufacturer or the artist who designed the game. The decision to put those ideas in your heart and mind is YOURS and yours alone. Where our culture has failed is in taking away a social foundation for ethics and behavior and replacing it with consumerism, narcissism, and denial of our reality with the replacement of reality with a virtual reality.

What we must do as a culture is cultivate an environment of responsibility on the part of all three pillars of this problem:

Video game makers have stepped up to the plate and have placed labels on their games detailing content. But, in my opinion, we need a more detailed ratings system that parents and users can understand. For instance, many games have hidden levels that contain graphic sexual content and this may not be reflected on the game label.

Retailers must accept the responsibility of NOT selling mature games to children. Nor should they market those games.

Finally, parents and USERS, should be more wary of the content of some of these games. Parents tend to be intimidated by technology and push their teenagers away into their tech world and let video games and media “entertain” and babysit their kids. Parents must do the HARD thing and get involved in their children’s lives.

Users must recognize that IDEAS have CONSEQUENCES and stop living in denial. In one recent interview, a young woman told me she had just finished playing “Grand Theft Auto” and she didn’t feel like jumping in her car and running down any pedestrians. But, what happens the next time she is in a car and feels road rage? How will her experiences in the game affect her behavior. Studies have shown that video games do affect decision making no matter how loudly the video gaming industry tries to deny it. This is common sense. What we put into our minds will change the way we act. This is well known and well understood. It is the power of propaganda, of mind washing, of advertising. We are living in denial of this reality.

But, we don’t need government censorship. Censorship should start in our MINDS. Censorship is a personal tool. You don’t want to feel the urge to kill? Find out what would motivate you to think on that and do not allow it into your mind. Know your heart. Know your mind. Know yourself! Let’s keep the right choice where it starts, in our hearts and minds. Don’t give the government that right or we’ll end up at the business end of one of Bradbury’s firemen!

Turn Your Face and Look Away!

firstdoctyoWe are approaching the 50th anniversary of the longest running science fiction television series, Doctor Who. My daughter, Casey, got me hooked on the new Doctor Who back in 2007 and now, my entire family is hooked on Who. I decided to go back and find the original episodes of the very first Doctor Who (he has regenerated 11 times since then) in black and white on youtube. In the first episode from 1963, Barbara, a reluctant passenger on the TARDIS (the Doctor’s spaceship) is captured by cavemen when they travel back in time to early Earth. During a pivotal scene, two rival leaders of the cave people fight. Their battle is brutal as would be expected from cavemen. At the pivotal point, the winning caveman bashes the other one’s head in with a rock. A close up of Barbara fills the screen and she turns her head away from the ghastly sight.

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She turns her head away. Why? Because what she is seeing is so horrific, so appalling it is beyond thought; beyond consideration. It brought to mind that many of the shows from the 1960s have key moments when someone is so horrified they cannot bear to look. They turn their face away. They deny the evidence of their own eyes!

Fast forward to to the present. When was the last time I saw someone turn their gaze away from something because it was too ghastly to consider? Rather, what I have observed in the present is the opposite. Characters stare wide eyed and enthralled by the horrific sights they see. It is as if they cannot tear their gaze away from what is before them. In fact, many of the characters in today’s shows act rather blasé or fascinated by what they see. It is as if the capacity to be appalled, shocked, horrified no longer exists. Have we become too desensitized to the macabre, the horrible, the dead?

I asked my son, Sean, (age 28) for his thoughts on growing up in a culture that can no longer be horrified. Here is his incredible response as he reflects on a growing unease he has been feeling for months:

I’ve been chasing down this unease for months, at least since Hutchmoot, but the roots go back for years, easily into my college experience. I hope it’s not as pretentious as it sounds to say that I’m sketching out my worldview, because that’s how I can best trace the steps that lead me to a response – not just to desensitization or to political bile, but to the world, our Lord and the call to discipleship.

So what, then, is the world’s great need?

I’ve seen two trends: one over the course of my adult life and one stretching further back over my 28 years here. Over the past ten years, the information infrastructure of the whole world has been transformed – practically rewritten. For the first time in history, people of similar interest or temperament can share information and connect with one another regardless of geographic, social or cultural boundaries. As information multiplies, information and communications technologies allow tribes to form around every interest imaginable. The shift is value-agnostic : it allows people to affirm and solidify one another’s views, good or terrible, mainstream or fringe.

The upshot is two-fold. First, formulated worldviews are more numerous and extensively-documented and communicated than at any other time in human history. The Meta-Narrative windshield has been smashed, and we are looking at the thousands of fractal worldviews scattered around, crash-proof enough to still be distinguishable in the mess. Second, as a result, people are more aware than ever of this mess. At least subconsciously, we all recognize this diversity and acknowledge a need for co-existence to survive.

Second, since I was a child, the dominant language of social competition, of the interplay of ideas, has grown increasingly violent, increasingly personal and increasingly polarized. Being confrontational, once a rare tactic deployed when all else had failed, is now standard political and argumentation style. We have abandoned deliberation in an arms race to do the most harm in the fewest number of words. This adversarial frame dictates that all arguments are fights, that every fight has (close to) two sides, and that one side must win by destroying its opposite.

It is not logic, but rather a perversion of it: what was once about disagreement and discovery of truth is now a border skirmish between worldviews, a war whose casualties are multiplied by our newfound globalized tribalism. Our civil discourse doesn’t resemble an agora so much as a lynching, where the mob that’s the biggest puts to death those whose identities are different. We have returned to the era of foreign wars, of colonies and dynasties and unchecked power and ambition. In the absence of a common language, our confused interchanges know only one solid verb: to kill. This limitation frames our interpersonal struggles as a zero-sum game, a war of survival: family against family, tribe against tribe; ‘her desire shall be for him but he shall rule over her.’

But Jesus’ blood can mend even this.

I’ll stop for now and leave all of us with one thought. When Jesus of Nazareth; God in man form hung upon the cross, bloodied and dying his Divine self looked out from the dimensions of heaven and beheld his Son. God was so appalled; so horrified; so shocked by what He beheld — the sins of all time; the sins and wrong doings of all mankind from Adam’s first bite of the fruit to the horror that will end it all — every wrong and bad and awful thing and He could not look upon it; could not SEE it; could not abide it and God turned his face away!

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-46

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Tomorrow, I will show you Sean’s answer to this question of violence in our world. If you are interested in featuring me on a radio talk show, I would love to grant an interview. I am speaking on two topics, “Why are we so fascinated with the undead?” and “Are Violent Video Games leading to Violent Behavior?” Use the contact tab to drop me an email and we’ll set something up!

A Balanced Perspective on Video Media Violence

I just ran across this blog post on kotaku detailing the studies done on video game violence and their effect on players. It gives, in my opinion a good balanced review of both sides of the issue. Check it out!

http://kotaku.com/5976733/do-video-games-make-you-violent-an-in+depth-look-at-everything-we-know-today

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