Young People Ask . . .
Are Violent Video Games Really Harmful?
‘I AM surrounded by alien attackers, all shooting bombs at my plane. How can I protect my “men” from being kidnapped by these aliens?’ pondered 18-year-old Kym as she stared into a large color screen filled with pulsating images and battle sounds. ‘I know,’ thought Kym, as her blistered fingers pressed a series of buttons. ‘I’ll fire my “smart bomb.” That will blast them all to pieces! Wow! I’ve even destroyed four pods—10,000 points just for that! I’m going to make 100,000 points this time.’
Thus went a typical day at the video-game arcade. Perhaps you’ve played or watched others play these very popular games.* You may consider them a harmless diversion after long hours of study or work. Yet some authorities have claimed that these games are addictive and mentally damaging. Kym, for example, admits that the games left her emotionally drained. Nevertheless, she felt compelled to play them, saying: “It is just you against impossible odds. Your destiny is in your own hands.”
Are They Addictive?
Of course, any game can become addictive. But violent video games are especially so. “Your mind can wander in a game like chess. But these video games, even more than pinball, demand total concentration,” explained Sherry Turkle, a sociologist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Once you enter that world you’ve got to stay.”
Kym agrees: “The game almost hypnotizes you. You don’t hear anything. You escape from the world and all its problems. It is like being drugged. But the biggest hook is when you catch on to the game and become good at it. When you make a stupid mistake and get blown up, you know you can do better. So in goes another quarter—and another—and another. I’ve spent up to $40 [U.S.] each week. Lunch money, grocery money and money begged from my relatives—all went into the machine.”
Though most players usually can enjoy a game or two and walk away, the possibilities of addiction are real. “I never thought it would happen to me,” confessed Kym. “But I got to the point where I wore the skin off several fingers because of long hours with the games. These became my whole life.”
The Christian apostle Paul wrote: “All things are lawful for me; but not all things are advantageous.” Yes, at times even legitimate pleasures can be harmful or at least not advantageous. He added: “I will not let myself be brought under authority by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) He would not let “anything” make him its slave. Should you not feel the same?
‘But what if you don’t become addicted,’ some may argue. ‘After all, these are only games.’ But even in play we can learn certain lessons. So what do the games teach?
‘Violence and Instant Gratification’
This is what Kym said she learned. However, some advocates say that the violent games merely teach you to defend or protect. “Rather than blowing up at my history teacher, I can take it out on Asteroids,” argued a 16-year-old. Some adults, like 40-year-old Gary, even claim, “It’s like good training for life. You gotta learn how to dodge and learn when to shoot.”
But note in the accompanying box the themes of the most popular games. Are these really “good training” for life? Will they help you get along better with others? Or could they encourage the kind of thinking displayed by an 11-year-old girl charged with stabbing a 14-year-old boy to death in an argument? He had interrupted her while she was playing a video game.
“He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man, and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city,” says Proverbs 16:32. Will you learn this lesson from violent video games? On the contrary, could your heart gradually begin to ‘love violence’ to your detriment?—Psalm 11:5.
“With the game I would either get blown up or get instant gratification. But the outside world is not like that. I became very impatient,” reported Kym. This desire for quick payoffs hurt Kym’s grades for she did light preparation for schoolwork that required much more time and thought. But to become an effective adult, sustained attention to many long-term activities is needed.
“I loved the games because I could show everybody that I could do something right,” admitted Kym. “I would especially go out and play them when I felt ‘put down’ after an argument with my mom or brother. You see, once you got on a video game it didn’t matter if you were short or tall, skinny or fat, athletically inclined or not. All that counted were fast hands and outsmarting the machine. When others said of me, ‘She’s good. She can really play!’ I felt as though I was on top of the world.”
Kym’s admission is echoed by many youths deeply involved with the games. “People with trouble in the family can find a place to go where they don’t have to deal with all that they haven’t been successful at,” stated Sherry Turkle. “A place where they are totally successful.”
But how meaningful is such praise or success? The apostle Paul commanded Christians: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26) The Greek word used for “egotistical” meant “empty glory.” It suggested the strong desire to have praise from others but for valueless, empty, reasons.
Would not the “glory” from becoming the “fastest gun in space” really be empty? Would it help you to get and keep a job? Would it enrich your personality? And when your game is wiped out, is not your ego shattered?
And just who are those that are giving you such praise? “The association is terrible,” said Kym. “Filthy language and emotional outbursts were common, and the boys were always making sexual advances toward me.” So is empty praise from such individuals really what you want? Or would you not rather have genuine commendation for a meaningful accomplishment from those worthy of your respect?—1 Corinthians 15:33.
How Some Broke Free
Avoiding video-game parlors helped Kym. But she also got her mind active in other things. She forced herself to dig deeper into the Bible lessons she prepared for the weekly meetings at the Kingdom Hall she went to. When families in the congregation got together to play basketball or softball, she joined in and was refreshed. “It still took real effort. I recall praying to Jehovah God and begging him to help me not to go back to the violent games,” said Kym.
Kym was successful. So was Claudelle, a teenager whose addiction to the game Omega Race caused him to cut school classes. “I had my name on the game board in lights with the highest score,” said Claudelle, nicknamed Omega Man. “But then after I had put dollars and dollars into the game, I realized that all of this was just a racket to get my money—and it worked!”
So Claudelle began spending his leisure time learning how to swim. “This was a lot more useful—and it sure was cheaper,” continued Claudelle. “I took more interest in school and my grades improved. With the money I saved from not playing the game, I bought some nice-looking clothes. I can now concentrate easier on more serious things of life.”
Should not the “serious things of life” really be our major concern? These, which include our friendship with God and others, as well as proper work, make life genuinely satisfying. Still, to relax by playing certain games is not wrong. However, let your recreation be that which creates a refreshed and peaceful spirit that shows respect for life and love for our Creator.
See “What’s Happening With Video Games” in November 8, 1982, Awake!
[Box on page 18]
Themes of the Most Popular Video Games
● “Eat others before you are eaten”
● “Destroy the alien hordes or they will smother you”
● ‘Dodge certain large rocks or blast them’
● Protect six cities by destroying any missiles with missiles of your own
● Kill a jewel-bright centipede or a spider that jumps across the screen before it lands on you
● You must shoot your way out of a “maze world littered with homicidal robots”
● You are in a giant tank on a three-dimensional battlefield and must shoot down all your enemies