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Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing

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Offline kat

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[original image courtesy Wikipedia]

The following relates to the official publishers blurb for "Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing".

Paducah, Kentucky, 1997 (Heath High-school shooting): a 14-year-old boy shoots eight students in a prayer circle at his school. Littleton, Colorado, 1999 (Columbine): two high school seniors kill a teacher, twelve other students, and then themselves. Utoya, Norway, 2011 (Norway Attacks): a political extremist shoots and kills sixty-nine participants in a youth summer camp. Newtown, Connecticut, 2012 (Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting): a troubled 20-year-old man kills 20 children and six adults at the elementary school he once attended.

Fact Check: FALSE.

Within the context of video games causing violence or creating killers, almost without exception the individuals involved in the shootings referenced above all suffered underlying, often long-standing, problems with mental illness - depression and/or personality disorders being common, which in most instances remained undiagnosed until after the fact, and consequentially affected their trail status and outcomes.

Many also existed within environments where those around them were not duly attentive, or simply did not see any behaviours that might otherwise indicate a cause for concern sufficient to result in preventative action, care or intervention, regardless of any consequential professional diagnosis or treatment.

It is also not immaterial that many perpetrators either claimed to have been, or were later discovered to have been, bullied, abused or otherwise physically or sexually harassed, were mentally depressed or otherwise 'out of it' or were impaired of their agency in some way, and did not exhibit overt 'symptoms' or outward signs to family or friends that something untoward was going on (or in a general sense nothing considered sufficiently of concern to the persons immediate safety or raise the alarm).
What links these and other horrific acts of mass murder? A young person's obsession with video games that teach to kill.

Fact Check: FALSE.

Given the time frames in question when many of these crime occurred, video games as popular form of entertainment, being found in these individuals possession means nothing more than their being items had in the individuals possession, much the same as for books, movies, music or indeed any other material used to pass the time or 'entertain' a person - possession is not cause.

The claim is false in a number of instances because although a law suits related to the particular crimes referenced above may have been presented to the Court stating "games are to blame", it was often done from the point of view of throwing mud at the wall to see what stuck. This is especially true of cases where video games were not evidence in primary trials as a 'cause' but were referenced in later suits in an attempt to 'shop' a cause onto which a law suit could be hung (as is the case of those issued by Jack Thompson).
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who in his perennial bestseller On Killing revealed that most of us are not "natural born killers" - and who has spent decades training soldiers, police, and others who keep us secure to overcome the intrinsic human resistance to harming others and to use firearms responsibly when necessary - turns a laser focus on the threat posed to our society by violent video games.

Fact Check: FALSE

With respect to killing in general, Homo-sapiens are a top-tier predator species, as such we are physiologically "natural born killers" because we're agile, thinking, tool makers, able to manipulate our environment like no other species, skills instinctively honed as infants on into our junior years through play acting the 'hunt' and similar activities, i.e., games that involve 'chase', 'take-down' and 'fight'. In Western or Colonial societies subject to European or 'civilised' modes of thinking and behaviour, these learned skills are of little to no inherent use so fall by the wayside because killing serves no inherent purpose beyond food gathering, itself a redundant act in modern mechanised societies; food is  farmed not hunted. In non-Westernised societies, the opposite is generally true, the skills are still honed and used as they form an important aspect of daily life.

With that said, the instinct to kill people is different, it's typically a defensive act, not predatory one because being so carries greater risk of consequential harm - a hunter being killed by a cow falling on top of him/her has no consequence beyond the scope of the incident itself. Whereas being killed by another person does  because there's greater risk of others being involved or involving themselves due to our capacity to emote, to act emotionally and irrationally.

In this context being "natural born killers" and "being trained too overcome the intrinsic human resistance to harm" are different aspects of the human psyche, linked, not to the act of killing itself, but to knowledge of consequence; humans don't kill offensively under normal circumstances because we're acutely aware of the consequences or costs associated with doing so, not because we're born unable to kill so have to be trained to do it - we're quite capable of both but society doesn't require it of us so the instinct has to be reactivated, or the governors prevent our doing so selectively bypassed.
Drawing on crime statistics, cutting-edge social research, and scientific studies of the teenage brain, Col. Grossman shows how video games that depict antisocial, misanthropic, casually savage behavior can warp the mind - with potentially deadly results. His book will become the focus of a new national conversation about video games and the epidemic of mass murders that they have unleashed.

Fact check:FALSE

The only things games can be accused of doing with some degree of certainty is; 1) putting ideas in peoples heads in terms of scenarios they might act out (this is a more rational argument to make than "games made me doing it" and differs enough to be a distinct reason), and 2) desensitizing individuals to cartoon violence - killing a person in real life is not in any way like killing a game character, just ask a soldier that's engaged in front-line combat (that's if they're able to talk from laughing); there are such fundamental differences between the two experiences one might as well ask why football doesn't taste like cheese.
After-thoughts of sorts
The above is in response to a rash of content emerging in support of a new book by the same name, "Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing", authored by a long-standing go-to supporter of the "games create killers" narrative, the highly academically credentialed Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who was/is also supportive of the approach Jack Thompson took whilst he was still active[1]. Although the book has not been reviewed, given the reputation of the author, and the bias often present in other writings, it would not be surprising to discover it based upon advocacy research rather than impartial scientific data. In other words evidence filtered to fit a pre determined conclusion. For instance the assertion that there is an epidemic of mass shooting is misleading because the defining characteristics of what constitutes a "mass shooting" has changed over the decades and depends upon who is collecting the data.

Additional Reading
- Dumb things pop-culture critics say: video games cause violence.
- Dumb things pop-culture critics say: boys don't like female soldiers.
- Normalising/desensitising violence in games. An (initial) study.
- How social context influences violence-aggression relationship.

[1] Grossman is the source of the persistent myth that the Military's used Doom to desensitise soldier to kill when they were instead using a modified version of the game (MarineDoom cf. below) to teach hand/eye coordination and teamwork skills - "... the surgeon general’s office when we asked for a more current opinion, told us the Marines use the game Doom to desensitize recruits. Where did they learn that? From Grossman. We also called the Marines. They say the games are not used to desensitize Marines. They say they used a version of the software to teach eye/hand coordination and team work. The Marines deny your (Grossman) claim that it’s about desensitizing people"[ABC News "20/20 The Games Kids Play" (March 2000)]

MarineDoom "Description: This is the first of what we hope will be many efforts to provide an inexpensive fire team simulation to the fire-team.  Set up is a demonstration of the fire team in the defense. The situation is high intensity combat- with opportunity to prosecute a follow up counter attack against enemy held positions. The intent is to provide follow on improvements and enhancements following user feedback on this initial offering..."