It's not that criticizing games for their violent content is a problem to me; I'm more than willing to agree that there are games that should be kept out of the hands of children - just so long as you're not infringing on my right to play those games. The problem I have with most gaming critics is that they're all too willing to throw up comparisons of the games with actual combat. Perhaps their intent is to demonstrate how horrific experiences in the games can be, but to me - and a number of veterans - what they're instead saying to us is that the sum of our experiences can be reduced to Dolby Digital Sound and the latest Unreal Engine.
Mechanics vs. Motivation
There are a number of games where the mechanics of aiming a weapon are extremely accurate. Even if you ignore the crosshairs, a lot of games give you the concept of "lining up your sights" and what a "good" target is supposed to look like. But is that enough to teach someone to kill?
According to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a retired Army Ranger and West Point psychology professor, yes. Grossman goes on at great length in a number of his writings about Michael Carneal. Carneal is the 14-year-old boy that committed the Paducah, Kentucky, school shootings in 1997 that left three students dead and another five wounded. He opened fire on a group of students in a prayer circle, hitting four of them in the head, one in the neck, and three in the upper torso. Grossman points out the incredible amount of skill this demonstrates; skill that this 14-year old could only have learned by playing videogames.
"I trained a battalion of Green Berets, the Texas Rangers, the California Highway Patrol, the Australian Federal Police, and numerous other elite military and law enforcement organizations, and when I told them of Michael Carneal's achievement they were simply amazed [...] His superhuman accuracy, combined with the fact that he 'stood still,' firing two-handed, not wavering far to the left or far to the right in his shooting 'field,' and firing only one shot at each target, are all behaviors that are completely unnatural to either trained or 'native' shooters, behaviors that could only have been learned in a video game." [*]
Carneal's accuracy was amazing, there is no doubt about that. And perhaps he did learn such accuracy in the arcade (although having spent many more years in arcades than Carneal and yet not qualifying my first time with my rifle in boot camp, I'd be willing to debate the value of "arcade learning" in real-world shooting any day). But focusing on the mechanics of shooting taught by videogames ignores the much more important subject that should be the focus of any inquiry into violence: Where did the subject learn the motivation to commit such acts?
The mechanics of aiming - especially for pistols - is not particularly difficult. And I hate to break it to Grossman, but "headshots" aren't an invention of videogames. Carneal's motivation for that horrific killing spree should be the focus of Grossman's papers, not the fact that someone might learn to shoot from a videogame. The fact that Carneal targeted students in a "prayer circle" - one of them his ex-girlfriend - has more to do with that case than how much time Carneal spent in an arcade.