While Plato wrote over 2,000 years ago, his argument has been appropriated by those who oppose video games; however, it also has a second component. In the second article “Video Games and the Wars of the Future,” Oyang Teng, writing for LaRouche’s PAC, claims that “Today’s trigger-happy gamer has the choice of hundreds of similar titles plying virtual violence as entertainment — and as training.” Comparing these two claims from both articles, it’s clear that LaRouche’s argument against video games actually makes two separate but related points. First, they condition players to become killers, and second, that video games provide practical training in how to use weapons.
These are serious charges, even though we have heard them before. And we have to concede to LaRouche that, if he is right, then a whole generation of Americans are being programmed to become proficient and brutal suicide shooters. Video games are big business. The Associated Press reported on December 19, 2007 that NPD reported a 52 percent jump in video game sales for the year. By November, over $2 billion was spent on games and accessories even as the economy began to slow down. By the time the Christmas holiday season was over, the ESA reported that a whopping $18.85 billion dollars was spent in 2007 on computers and video games.
Almost every home in America has a PC that’s capable of playing PC games, and many homes have consoles whose sole purpose is to act as a platform for game playing. Video games have come a long way from the stereotype of nerdy guys in their mother’s basement interacting with EGA monitors because no one liked them. Now, thanks to consoles such as the Wii, the Associated Press reported on January 24 that both the elderly and women are contributing to the economic growth of video games. In fact, so much so that Nintendo had to revise its earnings projections for the Wii upwards due to exceptionally strong sales.
I could continue to bore you, my fellow gamers, with statistics and economic forecasts, but the point is easily made. Video games, like it or not, have a long reach in American culture. Thus, if there’s something potentially damaging about them, especially in the way LaRouche and his writers claim, then there might be a problem. Even if the arguments seem ludicrous, they have to be answered. After all, the type of psychological damage described, including claims that “the obvious effects of such games, proves clearly that the satanic effect is the intent. What is the end of game-playing today? To shoot yourself? To shoot your friend? Or, to shoot your classmates, and then, yourself? Is that why you play?” makes video games appear to be worse than heroin or meth addiction and puts video games on par with the kind of psychological conditioning seen in the original The Manchurian Candidate.
Alright, so what’s the evidence cited in favor of video games as the harbinger of doom in American culture? First let us take up the arguments that conclude that video games psychologically condition gamers to become cold blooded suicide killers. In terms of psychological conditioning, Walsh cites several school shootings to demonstrate the harmful cause. Specifically, his article cites an incident in Finland perpetrated by Pekka-Eric Auvinen; Seung Hui Cho of the infamous Virginia Tech massacre; Robert Steinhauser, who murdered his classmates in Erfurt, Germany; Michael Carneal of Kentucky; and Clive Thompson, who hasn’t killed anyone or committed any crimes worthy of a news article, but who has written for Wired magazine and contributed columns to the Wall Street Journal. Conspicuously absent from the article is a lengthy treatment of Columbine; however, in a footnote at the bottom of the page, Walsh claims that “This author chose not to provide a full case study for Columbine, since the fact that Doom was a key cause of that atrocity is well known, although still denied. Only an idiot, or a liar, would attribute the cause of any of these school atrocities to, ‘the kids were picked on at school.’”