For 27 of the 30 years of my life, I’ve been playing video games. I am the second oldest of 4 brothers and my childhood was spent jumping on Goombas and memorizing the Konami code. I remember my first run ins with video game violence, I was huge into karate and I saw Fist of the North Star at my local rental store. My parents thought it looked like a cool kung-fu game and rented it for me. I probably went an entire day without actually realizing that punching people was causing my enemies to explode from the waist up and hitting projectiles were causing people’s head to explode. I’d never seen it before, once I had I immediately showed my Dad because I thought it was funny. Initially, I don’t think he shared my humor. What my parents did, however, was ask me if I understood that punching someone wouldn’t cause them to explode. They took the time to address a concern and 4 or 5 year old me understood.
Fast forward to a few years later, I’d played NARC and other games with questionable content. I also got a Super Nintendo and played games like SMASH TV and Mortal Kombat. Mix that with a healthy blend of 80′s action flicks, ADHD and karate classes, I should be a walking time bomb of murder and destruction, right? I’ve been in a handful of fights in my life, I’ve avoided all of them to the best of my ability. I was a social outcast in highschool, listened to Marilyn Manson and played Grand Theft Auto for hours at a time. I used to film martial arts home movies with friends where we did ‘stunts’ and lit ourselves on fire and such. We always took precautions. I survived my teenage years, my friends did too, only 1 was ever arrested and that was because he played a stupid prank with fake money. We all played video games in our free time. I should be a menace to society or lack an understanding of right and wrong, correct? I should be more aggressive or resort to violence faster than someone who said ‘No!’ to games, right? No, obviously not, because I am not mentally ill, I understand the difference between video games and the real world and I know that harming another person is serious and has consequences. My parents raised me well and took time to talk about things that concerned them, they sat down and played games with me as well.
Now that I am a dad, my 5 year old plays games with me. He can beat every level of Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and many other games. He also plays games like Castle Crashers and Double Dragon with me. Sometimes he is my ‘bad guy spotter’ if I play a game like Battlefield 3 or Halo 4. I’ve sat down with him and told him that you can’t cut someone’s head off, you can’t take a real gun and shoot a person and running someone over with my car would result in indefinite jail time. He understands. He is also the smartest and most advanced kid in his school. His hand eye coordination is astronomically higher than any other kid at his education level. His problem solving skills and deductive logic are amazing. He is a bright kid and honestly, I am pretty sure he inherited his dad’s ADHD as well. I do believe that video games HAVE affected him, although they have helped him develop skills to make him better at things. He also has adopted his dad’s passivity. I am fairly certain that my wife and I are good parents and we do take the time to talk about our concerns when he sees something a little over the top.
I tell you this because there are a bombardment of theories about how video games create violent killers. They don’t. Society does. Parents that fail to address concerns with their children, take action when there are issues and allow negative elements to influence their children are far more dangerous than Mortal Kombat. Our government is putting aside 10 million dollars for the Center for Disease Control to research the link between violent media and violence. Want to know what decades of video game use did to me? It made me decide to pursue a career in gaming journalism.
Have I met people that are red flag cases? Potentially. I’ve had friends that came over to my house, played a game like Contra and then talk about shooting people for the entirety of the weekend. They’d say things like ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to shoot all those people over there?’ to which I’d reply ‘No…’. These wackos usually came from extremely sheltered environments, usually they weren’t allowed to play games or watch much TV. I seriously doubt that there were ever really solid conversations that addressed concerns over violence in media and the result was a teenage boy frothing at the mouth for violence and a raging murderboner. I’m fairly sure he grew up to be something successful (or Patrick Bateman) but I pretty much didn’t have people like that over more than once or twice.
Long story short: Kids need role models, they need parents to take an interest in their activities and discuss concerns with them. There are probably kids out there that don’t need to be exposed to games at all, like that kid I mentioned. This point is that gamers aren’t the problem in society, sick people are and until there is a way to help these people in a positive way, people will still try to point the finger at every other influence on this planet. Let’s stop trying to look for things to blame issues on and start trying to find ways to solve them instead.