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The Fulcrum

gamers

In the past few days, I’ve been involved with interviews that propose the question “Do Violent Video Games Make Teenagers Violent”. I’ve been preparing for this question for months as I research data on depression among young adults for the update of “Conquering Depression”. That book was released in February, 2001 and the world is SO much different now. My co-author, Mark Sutton, and I started talking about this update in May, 2012 when I became more aware of the prevalence of depression on an increasing basis in our culture. In a previous post, I talked about my shock to discover that in an artistic conference with 90% of people under 30 almost everyone admitted to having depression!

So far, I have been stunned by what I’ve learned just through the radio interviews. Young adults today see nothing wrong with playing violent video games in which they kill innocent people. They vehemently deny that violent video games or violent media produce changes in their behavior. And yet, the studies show just the opposite. Here is my analysis. There is a subgroup of teenagers and young adults, proportion unknown, who have the capacity to play these games and not allow them to effect their worldview. These kids all seem to have sound values, involved parents, high self esteem, and the ability to separate fantasy from reality. BUT, there is another segment of teenagers and young adults who are drawn to these games; who spend hours and hours immersed in these games; and who are unable to separate the fantasy from reality completely. It’s called the “Tetris Effect” and occurs when these gamers see elements of their game show up in their real world.

The problem and solution, as I have mentioned in my interviews is three fold.

1 — Violent video games and the video game industry continue to make these games. Violence and sex sells. But, they have also stepped up to the plate and put at least some type of rating on the games and a description of the content.

2 — Retailers are asking for IDs on teenagers to make sure they aren’t purchasing a game meant for over 17. I’m not sure how many of these retailers are doing this.

3 — And, finally, parents are not engaged in what their teenagers are playing. They have no idea about the rating system, the description and content of the games, and that they can put a parental block on game consoles.

Perhaps we need to dig deeper to understand this problem. It is a cultural problem; a society that has abandoned values we once held high. Yesterday, I showed my readers an answer from my son on his take on the current state of this problem. But, he also gave me a solution. It is striking; stunning; and for me as a father, ultimately satisfying in a way no father can even begin to imagine. I was involved in my son’s choices throughout his childhood. My wife and I told our children over and over to make the right choices and we provided spiritual and practical guidance on how to do that. We allowed them limited freedom but strong boundaries. We emphasized that THEY had to learn discernment so they could make the wise choices on their own. I think my son has done so. Here is the remainder of his response to how to deal with a society that is incredibly violent:

Let’s start with the Lord. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. He is the Center of the universe, the Fulcrum of creation, the Mass towards which all created things eventually bend. He is the True Great Intelligence, the Author of the Story we inhabit and inherit. He is beyond and above all created things (even time), yet He orchestrated our mechanics so that we are a part of His full work. He is the True Doctor – fire and ice, humor and majesty, grace and justice. He is the missing piece that resolves all of our mess into a beautiful whole. He is in all and through all, pulling all creation towards redemption. He is the true Word, the unbroken Orthodox Logos passed from Adam, Noah and Abraham through Jesus and His church to this present day. He is the Power, through the cross, to restore creation and heal wounds and deliver sinners from hell. His is all glory and dominion.

We, His church, are heirs to (and stewards of) that dominion. Filled with His love and emboldened by His Spirit, we are His explorers and heralds. We are His captive train, full proof of His sure and complete work of redemption, and a promissory note of that work’s fulfillment and true expression. We are not just beggars with bread – we are vagabonds and explorers who have been to the lost city and have seen its hidden riches. We are maps and signposts to a good Kingdom. We are evidence that the stories are true.

That Spirit of freedom, of equality, of deliverance, is the root of my passion, the theme of my song.

# Yesterday’s entry was here.

Jesus answers violence with Himself, a man of peace whose Kingdom is of peace. We are His body and temple, His bride and His family; therefore, we are peace as well. We show that peace by our love. Revile us? We love. Strike us? Love. Hate us and wish our destruction? Love and more love. God is the center of the universe, and His heartbeat is love, in mercy and in justice. His is the judgment, so filled with His Spirit and trusting in His promises, we love.

We love actively. When we love our enemies, we act in peace to both acknowledge their worth and call out the oppression in their actions. When we love one another, we do so honestly, in full faith and trust. We also do so in openness and diversity, undoing the trendy perversion of tolerance by trusting the Holy Spirit to build the community He wants, the Body He desires, rather than the same-painted tribes of our comfort or preference.

We love comprehensively. We must show that in the face of man’s deprivation or God’s plenty, our community is one of love. Jesus’ tribe is different: a God without a land, a Temple in our hearts. We must meet extortion with generosity, war with peace, hate with love.

We can only do this from a place of victory. If Jesus is not King, then we must fight to protect what we have and who we are because we might lose. We would “build the kingdom using the devil’s tools” because the are the only tools we have. We are pagans and fools, old gods in a new land with no one to worship us but ourselves.

Or.

If God is King, if Jesus is the true Caesar, the final Lord of Lords and the Center, then what do we have to lose? Who do we have to fear? If we give Him the space, He will perfect our love, overtake our dreams and ambitions with His own, and utterly, fully cast out all of our fear. We can live generously, love freely and walk wisely because He is true and His Way is true. If the stories are true, if the treasure is real, then with love and peace we can sell all we have to buy the field and the pearl. In so doing, we model Christ – King of peace and love and wisdom and justice – who gave His all to deliver us from sin and redeem all of creation. When they see His love in us, they can choose Him or reject Him, but they cannot break away from His grasp.

This is what I struggle in my unbelief to take hold of every day. This is the rest towards which I trudge and march and dance in hopes of one day fully entering. This is the redemption, the Truth on its way to set me free. This is the good news in which I stake my all, and for which I would give all I have away. This is what I wish and pray for every struggling brother, for every doubt, and this is the truth I pray against the enemy’s deception.

If you would like to discuss these issues with me in an interview, drop me an email via the CONTACT tab and I would love to accommodate you.

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A Slow Fade . . . .

POW!

BAM!

SCHTOKK!

batman

If you remember anything about 1960’s television, you remember the original Batman series. Bright, psychedelic colors. Comic book type speech balloons exploding during the scenes. And, of course, Robin with his turn of that famous phrase, “Holy (insert a danger), Batman”.

At the age of 10, I was a DC Comic fanatic. I loved Superman, Batman and Robin, Aquaman, the Flash, and Justice League of America. What I remember well about these comics was the simple stories and the triumph of good over evil and the lack of violent deaths. If death occurred, it was implied and took place off the page.

When I was 12, bored out of my skull in my parents’ home town of Saline on a long summer weekend, I entered the local drug store. They didn’t have drugs, but they had comics. I had read all of the DC Comics available but I had never read a Marvel comic. I talked about this experience in this post, but to summarize: in desperation, I bought a copy of Fantastic Four #66 . As I read the comic, I realized it was very, very different from DC Comics. There was the Thing, a deformed being who was in love with an ordinary woman. Rather than be repulsed by his appearance, this blind woman loved the Thing unconditionally! You mean someone could love even me, this little awkward fat, gestating nerd? I was also shocked when people died in the story. Not off the page, but right there in plain sight. Not particularly graphic, but they were dead and the writers were not afraid to show it. In fact, those brief and infrequent scenes of death were all the more shocking and moving because of their scarcity.

ff66

I was hooked! Here was meat where I had been sampling milk and cookies. Here was real angst I could relate to as an adolescent. I went back to the drug store and bought every Marvel comic they had and my fate was sealed. I never read another DC Comic again.

About ten years later, a friend asked me to come over and play Dungeons and Dragons. What is that, I asked? He outlined an interactive role playing game (printed out as a manual, not computerized!) featuring demons and wizards and witches and trolls and goblins. My alarms went off. Did I want to get involved with the occult? At this point in our culture, any such games smacked of Satanism and involvement with ideas that could allow the occult to enter into my life. I kindly refused.

My son was around 11 or so and he approached me about a card game called “Magic”. Together, we sat down and discussed what this card game involves. I saw a natural progression from D&D to Magic, an immersive game that substituted the manual for game cards; collectible cards. But, I realized that the ideas and concepts were very advanced and very mature — mainly for teenagers and adults. So, I told my son, “No” and together we found an alternative, role playing card games from Star Wars and Star Trek and Babylon 5. Sean was a bit disappointed in not playing Magic, but he excelled at the other games. In fact, we visited the 30th Annual Star Trek Convention in Pasadena in 1996 and Sean played a new version of the Star Trek game in a test phase. The developers told me he picked up about a dozen problems with the game playing and they were able to improve the game play before the complete release of the game.

Now, we move on to DOOM. I was not hesitant to introduce my kids to computers. Sean could play on my computer, a Commodore 128, by the time he was 2. He had his own computer by the time he was 5. I started buying him game consoles very early. I wanted him to be an early adopter of digital technology because I knew this was the world in which he would grow up. When he was 13 or 14 he wanted to buy DOOM for his computer. Once again, we sat down and reviewed the game and looked at some of the test screens. My answer was “No”. The graphics were so intensive; the first person shooter was so ruthless I didn’t think it was appropriate for his age. I promised him that by the time he was 16, I would let him play anything that was rated for his age. Instead, he and I played a Mac based game, Marathon. This game had a first person shooter perspective and I was reluctant to play because you could kill human beings and they would explode in gore. But, the game also had puzzles and mind games. I played it to the very end. Sean went on to play all three versions of the game.

I bring all of this up because I have seen a progression in our world. I’ve watched our sensitivity to the value of human life plummet as a society. It is reflected in our art. It started in comic books and movies and television shows as our culture deteriorated into postmodernism. I think the turning point was the Vietnam War. Prior to that period, our views of war and senseless death were sanitized. We did not have television coverage during the Korean War or World War II. But, the Vietnam War afforded the media an opportunity to show real war and death and carnage in its immediate, colorful, raw form.

Vietnamshooting

The media saw an opportunity for personal advancement; for sales; for money; for fame; for awards; and for advancement of anti-government agendas. Now, every day at dinner time, instead of family sitting around the dinner table discussing the ordinary events of the day they were bombarded with gory, bloody stories of this endless, pointless war. Death seeped into our culture, unfettered, unedited, immersive. The world shifted and changed in 1968 with the death of Martin Luther Kind, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the uprise of the war protests.

It has been downhill since then. Funny that the generation that embraced the sanctity of every individual human being led to the civil rights movement and the women’s equality movement also has turned that whole paradigm upside down. Now, there is very little regard for human life unless it is our own. We have become such a self centered, selfish society screaming for our needs to be met. We are so de-sensitized to death and destruction that there are those among us who actually praise the development of a video game such as “Playing Columbine” where you can assume the role of one of the killers in that horrific event and kill high school students with abandon. It’s just a game! It’s just art! It has no relationship to my behavior once I walk away from that game! Get over it!

No, it is not the after effect of such a game I worry about. It is the mindset that allowed it to be developed to begin with and the lack of discernment when one sits down to play it with the thought that there is nothing wrong here. I’m sorry, but after 57 years on this earth I am convinced that ideas have consequences. I am convinced that what we put into our minds and hearts will have an effect on our behavior. What is next? A Holocaust simulator? A game where we can imprison and torture Jewish civilians and become Dr. Mengele and experiment on them before we gas them and throw them into the ovens? Is that where we are headed?

Ravi Zacharias once said “The only thing worse than nostalgia is amnesia.” Are we forgetting what it means to be human?

No matter what spiritual values you may or may not have, there is great wisdom in what Jesus of Nazareth said about what we put into our minds and hearts:

Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

What do we treasure? What are we putting into our minds and hearts? I don’t care what studies do or do not show, common sense tells us that what we put into our minds and hearts becomes a part of what we are and how we act. It has always been that way and shall always be that way!

Tomorrow, I want to share some thoughts from my son on these issues.

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

Four Books to Help With Teenagers

 

If you want to have access to the four books I mentioned as resources for understanding violent video games and young adults in today’s digital culture, check out my EXTRAS page and you can download a simple PDF with the book titles and authors.

 

A Song All Dads MUST Listen To!

First, let me say I want to thank everyone having me on their radio shows this week. I now have 11 interviews!

In one interview that will air sometime tonight, I talked quite a bit about the relationship between father and children. Here is one of the most powerful music videos I’ve seen in a while from one of my favorite singers and authors, Andrew Peterson.

Now, one more thing. My son sent me another interesting link about video game violence:

http://www.polygon.com/2013/1/14/3875420/video-game-violence

The author makes a very valid point. While violent video games do cause changes in behavior, it is the responsibility of the player to use common sense and moderation. Ideas have consequences and it is not the idea that carries out the consequences, it is the person acting on those ideas. And, yes, there are lots of non violent video games that can involve the entire family. This situation reminds of me of Walt Disney. He would take his two daughters out on Sunday afternoon to the carnivals along the shore in Los Angeles. Back then, these carnivals were dirty and trashy with the lowest common denominator human being working there and the rides were half broken and would not allow a father to enjoy them with his children. All Walt could do was watch. But, he saw an opportunity to change that dynamic. He imagined an “amusement” park where things were clean, employees were clean cut, motivated and engaged; and where the attractions provided something for the entire family to enjoy together. He created Disneyland and the rest is history.

Maybe we parents need to consider doing this with our kids. Enjoy some positive, fun video games together as an alternative to the violent ones. Encourage them to participate with the entire family, even if it is for just a short time. The video gaming industry is beginning to get this idea and if we, as consumers, encourage these kind of experiences, maybe we can have a positive impact on the future of our children!

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!”

sadbody

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.  http://m.kotaku.com/5970039/after-sandy-hook-and-virginia-tech-im-done-with-violent-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!

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