Not long ago I sat and watched a couple of boys as they played video games. While the younger boy raced cars, the older boy played a military commando game.
The object of the race was obvious: finish first. The object of the commando game was obvious, too: kill all the people you could kill before they killed you.
These games have been around for many years now. They have only become more realistic, more graphic and more accessible to children. Despite warning labels on these violent games, thousands of underage children play them.
Many people see no more harm in them than from the make-believe cowboy games of my generation.
Almost every kid I knew had a set of toy pistols with holsters and often a cowboy hat to match. We had our battles out in the yard with our friends.
One of us played the bad guy and the other one played the good guy. If there was no friend to play that role, most boys could create an imaginary enemy and have a heck of a gun battle.
Unfortunately, in those days, television had poisoned our minds and made the “Indian” into the bad guy. Much like the movies, the Indian never fared too well in our make-believe battles.
Americans finally grew beyond our “cowboy and Indian” culture. Or have we?
I’m afraid it’s just morphed into something more sophisticated. Many have replaced the American Indian with the Muslim, and our weapons of choice are much more powerful than a couple of six-shooters.
Now instead of children using their imaginations, they can see the violence and direct it with their hands and their eyes. They can select their weapons. They can see their enemy fall, bleed and blow up.
But is it any different from what I did as a child in my world of imagination? It’s just make-believe, isn’t it? Even a child knows the difference between a game and the reality of actually killing people with a real weapon, right?
After the shootings in Newtown, Conn., I have wondered if parents who allow their children and teenagers to play these violent games have felt any differently about the violence they allow into their homes with these games.
Since the average age of a gamer is around 30, I wonder if adults playing these games have felt any different.
I realize there’s a great deal of difference between shooting children and teachers and shooting an enemy on which we can project all kinds of negative feelings in order to justify killing.
However, before someone says, “It’s just a game,” or “If it’s about war, it’s different,” perhaps he or she should take a moment to hear some of the stories of those who have returned from war that endured the kind of fighting portrayed on these videos, those who have fought and survived, those who have killed to protect our freedoms.
These people do not return the same. The violence and the killing changed them.
While they fought for us, they have to fight the rest of their lives to push back the memories of the violence.
We have gotten to a point in our society where violence is not only packaged and sold, it is celebrated as welcomed entertainment.
Many parents cannot see that it can be one factor among many that can influence their children in the wrong direction.
I’m not suggesting that playing video games makes children into killers. I am saying that it’s time that we turn down the violence.
Common sense ought to tell us that the more violent tributaries that we allow to flow into a child’s mind, the more likely it is that a child will see violence as the way to solve our problems.
“According to the American Psychological Association, violent video games can increase children’s aggression,” according to an article at Dr. Phil McGraw’s website.
It quotes McGraw as saying: “The number one negative effect is they tend to inappropriately resolve anxiety by externalizing it. So when kids have anxiety, which they do, instead of soothing themselves, calming themselves, talking about it, expressing it to someone, or even expressing it emotionally by crying, they tend to externalize it. They can attack something, they can kick a wall, they can be mean to a dog or a pet.”
Right now there is a lot of self-reflection taking place across the country. While many are focusing on the gun control debate, perhaps it’s time for all parents to rethink how much violence they allow their children to be exposed to through video games, television, movies and domestic issues.
How do we as a society become less obsessed with violence? How do we replace this obsession with an obsession to help others, even when there is great cost to us personally?
Proverbs 13:2 says, “From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence.”
It is this craving for violence that we want to stem. We want to replace it with a craving for that which is beneficial to everyone. That craving needs to start early.
How do we take technology and use it to teach our children to do something loving and kind instead of doing something violent and destructive?
Surely, someone out there smarter than I am can find a way.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.