153: The Anatomy of Violence

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No, false, bad science, must I link to this again:

Grossman-ism:
Media Violence and
Mad Social Science

Anton P. Nym:
One relevant thought, one I keep forgetting to mention in debates on videogames and violence; can we measure a difference in aggressive tendencies after playing video games and after other, more traditional forms of entertainment? We need to find out whether games are more, or less, or equally as rousing as watching football, playing cowboys-and-indians (pow pow pow!), or running a race.

-- Steve

For a long while I gave up playing FPS' because of my aggression and mood swings. I've already mentioned I have health problems and I realised that my frayed temper wasn't pleasant for those close to me and I was taking the games too seriously in respect that it stopped being fun and I felt I had to win or maintain a k/d ratio for the perceived respect of my peers. I fail to see how individuals without problems worse than my own could not separate an on-screen representation from real life. My upbringing, code of ethics and common sense tells me that if I were to do what I do in a video game in reality is wrong. Yet I still find issue with in-game behaviour, I can't tolerate players shooting the on-screen corpse of a downed opponent and the tea-bagging joke's worn very thin now. This is more to do with my views on good sportsmanship.

Are the same concerns leveled at those that drive around the circuit in the wrong direction deliberately causing crashes in racing games? Are these people a potential threat to society? No more than any other person behind a steering wheel is my guess.

Jack Thompson likes to quote frequently from Jesus for Dummies. Certain individuals have taken the content of their bible and twisted it's meanings to suit their needs causing atrocities along the way, the Davidian ranch and Jonestown for example. Middle America doesn't seem to have the same concern about people reading that 'dangerous' book. Personally I'd like to see it banned.

Doomspoon:
Jack Thompson likes to quote frequently from Jesus for Dummies. Certain individuals have taken the content of their bible and twisted it's meanings to suit their needs causing atrocities along the way, the Davidian ranch and Jonestown for example. Middle America doesn't seem to have the same concern about people reading that 'dangerous' book. Personally I'd like to see it banned.

I agree completely. It's for this reason I disassociated myself with any religion. I still believe in God and occasionally pray, but I refuse to be associated with an organization so narrow minded as to say, "If you don't believe what I believe, you will go to hell." That's not something I like, nor would it be something I'd want my children exposed to. The Bible is the world's most misunderstood (whether accidentally or on purpose) book in the world. Accidentally, people sometimes just misinterpret. Intentionally, people (Jack Thompson among others) purposely twist the words to mean what they want in order to serve their own agenda. Organized religion, and its so called Holy Books, are not some divine thing passed from the heavens. They were written by man. Even those books that were first hand accounts have been edited and translated back and forth so many times that who knows what was originally said, much less what was MEANT.

Was a very interesting read. You mention at the end the idea that the implications of having a nation in which all (or a majority) of citizens have the ability to use lethal force.

To consider this idea alongside countries that have mandatory draft would probably require more research.

Speaking as a person that has practiced martial arts and has learned about firearms from family I can say that (as stated in the article) the whim for fatal violence VS the ability is pretty important. I know that those in a blind rage may WANT to kill, but their knowledge and ability make a pretty good stumbling block. Even despite my limited experience I know if I lost my cool in a fight I'd meet the floor pretty soon.

MorkFromOrk:
Excellent article.

I remember watching a documentary on S.L.A. Marshall and his findings that on the WW2 battlefield only a small percentage of soldiers were "gun-ho". His report lead the U.S. Army to institute new methods of mentally conditioning soldiers to basically become emotionless killing machines that acted out orders without pause. These methods were just about perfected come the Vietnam war hence why so many Vietnam vets are so fucked up upon returning home.

Considering how much time gamers spend running around shooting people in video games you have to wonder what the accumulative effect of such is on their minds and emotional disposition. Especially if they are not getting out and experiencing the world, other points of view and other points of reference. To say playing hours and hours of violent video games over the course of weeks, months, years, has no effect whatsoever on a person's mentality is ludicrous. People have been killed over words read in books, so it's not outlandish to think that someone's mental state may deteriorate by playing an interactive game that has them going on a murderous rampage for hours on end.

Not to mention the propaganda that can be found in video games. Pro military-industrial-complex, pro American war on terror, pro post apocalyptic world. The fact that many gamers see nothing wrong with video game violence in any extreme and will defend their "right" to play the most violent and nihilistic video games possible already proves that the brainwash is in full effect.

My understanding is that anyone who goes off to war and comes back with PTSD has problems. This doesn't have anything to do with their training, and has existed for longer than Vietnam Vets. WW1/2 soldiers would come back with similar problems. There are other differences as well, but all of them have to do with the mission environment rather than the training.

When a person is killed due to the shift in beliefs of the book reading murderer that murderer has made a conscious decision to do the deed, not through a psychologically degenerative process. Whereas a person that becomes more prepared for a combative situation though playing (violent) video games must still make a conscious decision in order to do the deed. In order for a subject to confuse a game with reality (through deterioration, or lack of mental faculties) there are many things that need to happen such as:
1 The game and the reality are similar in appearance
2 The situation within reality must relatively similar to the game (getting shot at, threatened, etc)
3 The subject must have objectives or a distinct lack of objectives that coincide with reality/game

The funny thing about propaganda is that it doesn't work as well on individuals that already disagree with the idea being pushed. As for individuals that are originally neutral they end up either staying neutral, or shifting to the side of the propaganda (but can be persuaded back if they are spoken with).

I don't understand how any of the propaganda topics you mentioned are in games as propaganda. Games tend to not take sides since the desire is to get a larger market share.
Pro m-i-c: Umm what? There's been very few games that even cover this issue, and more often than not something like this is portrayed negatively since the player will generally be charged with toppling the baddy (ex: Oddworld series).
Pro War on Terror: Which games explicitly say that it is a utterly noble endeavor? The closest thing that comes to mind is Call of Duty 4, and it has been pointed out by many that none of the characters are not the sort of poster-childs that Bush would want to hold up, without some spin.
Pro Post-Apocalyptic World: In what game is the there a good consequence to living in such an environment? The Fallout series shows that the world is a wasteland that can barely be inhabited. STALKER requires you to always be on your guard, even in town. The point of a post-apocalyptic world setting is that it is a DYSTOPIA.

If you want to look at statistics in violence check this out: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/wuvc01.pdf
http://www.ojp.gov/bjs/glance/cv2.htm
Violent crime has been on a decline for a long time. If you were to correlate this information with games it would mean that violent games have been reducing crime since violent games became more prevalent from the early 90s and onward. In reality I don't claim that this meaningful correlation exists since there are many (more important) factors that acted on people (economy, culture, government, etc).

First off, Vortexgods: thanks for the link. It was quite fascinating reading. I don't think Grossman can really be completely written off, though, even if Marshall was wrong. Much of what I found in On Combat about how the human body, and brain, reacts under stress made a lot of sense, and did scan with what I understand about psychology. That being said, I am writer and grad student in history, not a psychologist. However, I do find it very difficult to believe that violent media don't have SOME impact. We human beings do not live in a vacuum, and while you'll never find me saying that a video game made somebody kill, I think that there is merit to the theory that some psychological conditioning takes place.

(As somebody with a degree in Medieval Studies, though, I really have to disagree with the anti-Grossman article when it comes to the longbow. The longbow disappears mainly because of the training requirements when compared to the musket. And, Grossman's statement about bigger bangs does hold some water, although there are obvious exceptions (such as Shaka Zulu). But that is a side issue.)

Second, Royas: Actually, this is the first I've read in detail about the issues regarding Marshall. I came across Grossman while I was trying to reconstruct my great grandfather's Great War experience, and it was in reading On Combat, which has a great deal about how the human body responds to combat stress, that I found out about Marshall and firing rates. So, this was something I came across while researching something else, and that then generated this article.

That said, if I had read about the issues around Marshall and his research, I would have found a way to put them into the article somehow. The big point of this piece was to de-polarize the debate, and that is certainly part of the debate, and something worthy of note - if we accept that conditioning is attempted with army training, to what degree does it actually work?

(And, are there any military people here who can answer that question?)

Best to all,

Robert B. Marks

"My understanding is that anyone who goes off to war and comes back with PTSD has problems. This doesn't have anything to do with their training, and has existed for longer than Vietnam Vets. WW1/2 soldiers would come back with similar problems. There are other differences as well, but all of them have to do with the mission environment rather than the training."

AntiAntagonist: Actually, Grossman talks about that. He asks a very interesting question - why is that we get lots of victims of PTSD in WW1, WW2, but not in the U.S. Civil War? The answer he comes up with is that the 20th century saw the beginning of the 24-hour battlefield.

Basically, in the 19th century, battles were fought during the day, and at night everybody would be in the camp, talking about what had just happened. This allowed everybody to process and come to grips with the fighting. Once WW1 starts, however, this is no longer possible, and soldiers are no longer able to decompress at night. So, rather than being processed and come to terms with, the violent experiences just kept building up and building up, until the soldier gets overloaded.

Now, perhaps there's an entire literature about PTSD from the 19th century that I've never come across, but that argument makes sense to me - I'll accept it as convincing until I come across something that proves it otherwise.

Best regards,

Robert B. Marks

Robert B. Marks:
"My understanding is that anyone who goes off to war and comes back with PTSD has problems. This doesn't have anything to do with their training, and has existed for longer than Vietnam Vets. WW1/2 soldiers would come back with similar problems. There are other differences as well, but all of them have to do with the mission environment rather than the training."

AntiAntagonist: Actually, Grossman talks about that. He asks a very interesting question - why is that we get lots of victims of PTSD in WW1, WW2, but not in the U.S. Civil War? The answer he comes up with is that the 20th century saw the beginning of the 24-hour battlefield.

Basically, in the 19th century, battles were fought during the day, and at night everybody would be in the camp, talking about what had just happened. This allowed everybody to process and come to grips with the fighting. Once WW1 starts, however, this is no longer possible, and soldiers are no longer able to decompress at night. So, rather than being processed and come to terms with, the violent experiences just kept building up and building up, until the soldier gets overloaded.

Now, perhaps there's an entire literature about PTSD from the 19th century that I've never come across, but that argument makes sense to me - I'll accept it as convincing until I come across something that proves it otherwise.

Best regards,

Robert B. Marks

That makes sense. That's a variable I hadn't thought of, but definitely makes sense for the mission environment.

The social dynamic plays a large part. During WW I if you weren't fortunate enough to have a wealthy family and couldn't face being shot at by the enemy anymore it was conveniently arranged for your own side to shoot you instead. If you were from a wealthier background, thus an officer you were sometimes lucky enough to get treated in secluded retreat somewhere. Granted the treatments weren't that great an alternative. Prior to WW II the working classes were expendable and their welfare wasn't really of great concern to the majority of officers. Remember these are times when the rich families from home would be invited to watch battles from a safe enclosure.

My brother has a keen interest in mediaeval history and we've had similar conversations before, he does cite references to mediaeval soldiers suffering psychological trauma, I will try and get some info from him to further validate this.

AntiAntagonist:
"My understanding is that anyone who goes off to war and comes back with PTSD has problems. This doesn't have anything to do with their training, and has existed for longer than Vietnam Vets. WW1/2 soldiers would come back with similar problems. There are other differences as well, but all of them have to do with the mission environment rather than the training."

It's important to realise that PTSD isn't exclusive to military personnel although arguably they're the group that is affected the most. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and have never served in the forces, my friend with very similar behaviour to myself served with the Irish Guards and never saw combat but could feasibly be diagnosed as I have, I'm not a doctor though so it's not professional opinion.

If there is any causation between video games and violence, it needs to address the very simple fact that during the past 10 years (1995 to 2005, anyway) violence in the US has dropped from 46.1 to 21.0 incidents per 10,000 population(Bureau of Justice Statistics), and during the same time period, game sales in the US have gone from $3.2 billion to $7.0 billion. Aggravated assault, which you'd think would be the category most related to a desensitization of violence caused by videogames, is down from 9.5 to 4.3 during this period, and simple assault is down from 29.9 to 13.5 (all in cases per 10,000).

Video game use doubles. Violence is down by 50%. That's a 4-fold reduction in violence per unit of game sales. Somebody has to explain this to me.

So if I play a lot of first person shooters, and am decent with a real life gun (I live on a cattle station, there's the occasional dingo or snake that needs shooting), I am likely to have both the mental and physical capability to kill a human being? There seems to me that there's a big moral block that would stand in the way of me doing so. I think why that rate can hit 90 per cent in the military is because I guess part of the training would be convincing soldiers that it is in fact okay to kill people under military situations.

I was watching some television show that interviewed Grossman, I think they showed that video game players had a steadier heart rate in a combat zone than people without combat training or video game experience. Food for thought.

andyhavens:
If there is any causation between video games and violence, it needs to address the very simple fact that during the past 10 years (1995 to 2005, anyway) violence in the US has dropped from 46.1 to 21.0 incidents per 10,000 population(Bureau of Justice Statistics), and during the same time period, game sales in the US have gone from $3.2 billion to $7.0 billion. Aggravated assault, which you'd think would be the category most related to a desensitization of violence caused by videogames, is down from 9.5 to 4.3 during this period, and simple assault is down from 29.9 to 13.5 (all in cases per 10,000).

Video game use doubles. Violence is down by 50%. That's a 4-fold reduction in violence per unit of game sales. Somebody has to explain this to me.

Correlation isn't causation. The violent crime rate could have dropped for other reasons. Without video games it might have dropped by more - not that I think that's the case. It's just important in this debate not to slip into the same logical fallacies some other people do.

An excellent article - well done!
Perhaps it might be better to describe Grossman's 'puppy brain' as 'lizard brain' instead, though. As far as I understand it, our limbic system has changed little it was being carried around by giant prehistoric reptiles and is far from being the cute, mewling bundle of fuzz that Grossman's term suggests.
As the 'fight/flight' (and something else beginning with 'f') centre of the brain, it does have the ability to take over during times of duress. But it's not just stress that does it - it's also worth noting that narcotics and alcohol shut down the higher brain functions leaving us more and more at the whim of this primitive lump of tissue. Hence the tendency to feel aggressive/hungry/horny after a few pints/shots/chasers.
Just as some people shut down their higher-order brain functions more readily while under the influence, doesn't it stand to reason that this re-programmed lizard brain will pop out more willingly in adolescents whose social programming hasn't really bedded down? Just a thought.
I speak as a fast-approaching-forty year old who still finds it hard to take the 'path of evil' in games, even the watered-down, not-really-all-that-evil options in Fable.
For example, I was pleased to see that GTA IV offers you the choice to spare your assailants' lives, and found myself doing just that. However, even in spite of this, I still found myself eyeing the Porsche 911 parked out front with a brief sense of speculation after a protracted session of GTA play.

I blame the parents. Mine especially :)

I have spent all night tracking this material down - I take accuracy quite seriously (and even may have caused some difficulties with my editor at the Escapist as a result), but when it comes to S.L.A. Marshall, the figures are good. They're not precise, but good. I think this one has the final word on it:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/archives/1989/8901140587.asp

So, while perhaps it wasn't exactly 15% in WW2, it was down there, and in Korea it was considerably higher, and in Vietnam it was much, much higher.

Best regards to all,

Robert B. Marks, now pretty exhausted

Robert, it's important to remember that the doctrine of fire has changed over the course of those 3 wars.

It WW2, our soldiers where used and instructed in the doctrine of aimed fire: carefully aim and shoot at that person over yonder.
Well, largely.

As time has gone by, our infantry has changed to to a role involving a lot more "fire in their general direction" tactics. Oh, and to call in airstrikes, but that's beyond this discussion.

This switch in tactics is reflected in the primary infantry weapons: the 8-shot M1 shooting "full sized" .308 Winchester rounds has been exchanged for the 20-shot (mostly) M16 shooting the much smaller .223 Remington round. (ok, M1 is .308, not 30-06, right?)

Because the expected targets have changed, it's not entirely fair to attribute all change in the firing rate to the training.

****************

That said, the effect of gun availability, training in military skills, and desensitization combined must be dwarfed by other (societal) factors.

Because the Swiss have never had an issue with violent crime... and they require all men to be shipped off for a quality period of military training and then returned to their homes with a state-of-the-art small arm. (For a while that was the K31 bolt-action rifle, for the last few decades it's been some sort highly accurate select fire (fully automatic/semi automatic) rifle)

Indeed, the crime rate in Switzerland is one of the lowest in the world... and half of that is committed by tourists.

I've played FPS games which have you kill everyone in sight in fantastic ways as the sole option. I've played these games for years, and enjoyed them greatly.

Yet whenever I find myself in a game that gives you the alternative of non-lethal incapacitations, such as the Metal Gear Solid series or Crysis, I find myself compelled to advance through the game that way.

It's not that I find violence abhorrent, either. Sometimes I laugh at people being killed in movies, or try to kill people in the most goriest and creative ways in games as entertainment.

Yet when it comes to the act of killing a person, I find it more comforting to know that they're only incapacitated.

That all changes when I'm in a multiplayer game, however. Since the use of incapacitation in a hostile situation is far too lengthy, I then find myself to shoot anything mercilessly until dead.

I would consider myself lucky if all that is being used to desensitize us is shooting at a CG person or human-shaped target. From what I gather though, it is other things that lead us to have much less trouble shooting other people. It still has to do with dehumanizing the opposing side, but it's more like calling them Jews/Ni**er/Red Coats/Nazis/Islamic Terrorist/insert the bad guy for the war. There's a reason I put "Jews" in there--in WWII, they were considered sub-humans to the Nazis, and thus can be exterminated accordingly. Similarly, we are portraying more and more people as non-human, expendable trash--those whose death are not mourned.
People in the hood shoot other ni**er because they're not humans.
American soldiers shot Iraqi/Vietnamese commy because they're not humans.
They're merely enemies.

And I don't think that computer generated graphics can do this. You still realize that you're shooting another person. In fact, it is so enjoyable to a lot of people because they realize that they are playing against living humans.

If anything, video games would enable a person to be more violence in dire situation because they have thought about it. I myself know that is how I act. I play least fighting games out of all my friends, but when huge dogs run after us, I was the only one who stopped and starred it down. That is because rather than just playing and not giving it a second thought, video game causes me to reflect upon the result of running--you don't outrun a dog. You either fight it while you have the stamina, or you let it catch up to you from behind when you're winded. So to me, games are more like a big "what-if" scenario being thrown at me all the time. All it does is give me a chance to assess many worst case scenario before hand.

BoilingLeadBath:
Robert, it's important to remember that the doctrine of fire has changed over the course of those 3 wars.

It WW2, our soldiers where used and instructed in the doctrine of aimed fire: carefully aim and shoot at that person over yonder.
Well, largely.

As time has gone by, our infantry has changed to to a role involving a lot more "fire in their general direction" tactics. Oh, and to call in airstrikes, but that's beyond this discussion.

This switch in tactics is reflected in the primary infantry weapons: the 8-shot M1 shooting "full sized" .308 Winchester rounds has been exchanged for the 20-shot (mostly) M16 shooting the much smaller .223 Remington round. (ok, M1 is .308, not 30-06, right?)

Because the expected targets have changed, it's not entirely fair to attribute all change in the firing rate to the training.

****************

That said, the effect of gun availability, training in military skills, and desensitization combined must be dwarfed by other (societal) factors.

Because the Swiss have never had an issue with violent crime... and they require all men to be shipped off for a quality period of military training and then returned to their homes with a state-of-the-art small arm. (For a while that was the K31 bolt-action rifle, for the last few decades it's been some sort highly accurate select fire (fully automatic/semi automatic) rifle)

Indeed, the crime rate in Switzerland is one of the lowest in the world... and half of that is committed by tourists.

Thats a good point. Plus, our military advertizes itself differently these days. Look at the average Army/Navy/Marines/Air Force commercial. They tell you they'll teach you skills and pay for college and you get to play with a bunch of cool stuff - no mention of killing people or getting shot or diseases or trauma or PTSD. And there is such extreme polarity in the way we (and by "WE" I mean United States, the backwards losers) tell our children that violence is bad and guns are bad, yet bombard them with Army ads and "Support the Troops" all day. I think this also helps explain why there is so much violence in the US of A as opposed to a place like Switzerland

And Robert: I am no military person but I've got some friends serving, and currently conditioning is a major part of training, particularly to the Marines. The main factor for this is that soldiers are younger than ever. It creeps me right the hell out when I turn on the news on a Sunday and 9 out of the 10 dead vets in Iraq are younger than me. And I'm only 25! Younger minds are easier to break, particularly when a lot of them are 18 and still not even done with puberty. They are therefore easier to convince that the indended targets are inhuman, subhuman, killable. I heard it put as the "break you down to build you up" method of training. Hope that helps answer your question.

And BoilingLeadBath: M16s use 20 to 30 rounds depending on the model (A1, A2, etc.), and the shift to smaller ammunition is a product of the Cold War because smaller diameter = better armor piercing effect and higher capacity.

L.B. Jeffries:
Very, very well done. It's a tightrope topic and you made it.

My only question is the issue of whether shooting with a controller (pressing X, etc) is the same thing as shooting a gun. Since we're now saying games condition us to pull the trigger in violent situations, doesn't a game controller still inhibit that literal connection?

May sound strange, but from my 9 months in the German army i have to say using a gun is much easier than using, as example, a knife or your fist.

And to match it with gaming, the trigger of an controller is not much less that that of a gun, it says nothing about if you at last hit someone, but it is just pushing a button despite to above mentioned weapons were you need much more of everything, rage (etc.) force and accuracy.

To the article i have to say that it shows something, and makes something clear to me wich i did not really realize this way, so i would say it is an very impressive article.

Despite the heated rhetoric from both sides of the debate about violent games, it's a truth not generally recognized or discussed. To some degree, we can blame Jack Thompson and his ilk - the moment he starts talking about games as "murder simulators," the field polarizes, and any useful discussion is lost. Indeed, the mere suggestion itself is unbelievable, and who can blame the public or the average gamer for being suspicious when so much of the debate has been fear mongering?

We do know that shaping the future behaviour of an individual is most easy the earlier you start. Take sports. Tennis. Agassi. When did he start? He was three years old I think, his father didn't give him much choice from what I heard. Years later, he's a Tennis Terminator. Football, piano, religion, chess, the list goes on.

There is no doubt that your context shapes your person and brain into excelling in a given activity, to a degree which seems more than relevant.
That's precisely why reasonnable people do understand the importance of keeping young gamers away from violent games, until they're capable of making the difference, and the US Army official shooter was certainly a good way to deshumanize teenagers in an era of trigger happy warmongers.
I think that "The Last Starfighter + a fine touch of cynicism" comment never gets old.

It was thought up until the end of World War II that if you fielded an army of 100,000 riflemen, you would have 100,000 combatants. In practice, however, there were some discrepancies suggesting this wasn't quite the case. This led General S.L.A. Marshall to publish a book in 1947 titled Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command, where he revealed that in combat only 15 percent of soldiers unsupervised by an officer had fired their weapons.

So that was not bad AI in Medal of Honor, but an historically accurate and documented simulation of behaviours as reported on the field. :)

It takes a high level of stress - whether out of anger, fear or any other source of adrenaline - for this transition to occur. If that stress does not exist, your higher, more rational brain remains in control of your actions. Even under the most stressful circumstances, there has to be the right context.

So the transition from the rational brain to the middle brain is caused by adrenaline. The middle brain usually prevents people from killing other people.
So basically, anytime people would get particularly highly enraged, distressed or else, the middle brain would kick in, thus they'd actually not kill someone, implying that most lethal crimes (to avoid using "murders" here) are the result of the rational brain?
I must be missing something there.

To demonstrate the importance of context, Grossman offers the case of a police officer who had his family and friends hold a fake gun so that he could practice disarming criminals. Each time his disarmed his subject, he would hand it back so that they could repeat the process. Later, when he found himself in a store as an armed robbery began, he struck out at the criminal and took away the handgun. Then, just as he had practiced hundreds of times, he handed it back. His middle brain did exactly what he had trained it to do, regardless of how irrational it was under the circumstances.

Basically, he trained his body and brain to repeat a procedure which would become ultimately inappropriate when time would come.
He shaped his middle brain.
This being what Grossmann thinks violent games do: breaking the subconscious barriers, so the percentage of kill will increase if one is put into a critical situation which can result in death of others.

As someone else pointed out, video games need to be compared to other things. Watching football and so on.

And while the games might make us more likely to react violently if we where having people shoot at us, they dont reach us how to react violently. What i mean is that they wont make you any more efficieant with any weapons. A tmost they will give better reaction times.

I doubt anyone will ever find a strong cause relationship between video games and violent crime.

And this conditioning might not be a bad thing. If someone is trying to kill me i would rather have my brain descide that life is worth fighting for than have it let me curl up and die.

Also, keep in mind that when shooting at a human target you are pulling a trigger and feeling recoil and whatnot. Your actualy shooting. In a videogame the connection to reality is much weaker than on a range where everyhting but target it real.

Arbre:

So the transition from the rational brain to the middle brain is caused by adrenaline. The middle brain usually prevents people from killing other people.
So basically, anytime people would get particularly highly enraged, distressed or else, the middle brain would kick in, thus they'd actually not kill someone, implying that most lethal crimes (to avoid using "murders" here) are the result of the rational brain?
I must be missing something there.

Just to clarify, are you separating "murder" by virtue of being premeditated? Many lethal crimes as you define them are reported to be committed by the perpetrator in a calm manner. There's been numerous interviews with convicted murderers that feel no remorse and on occasion openly admit to the pleasure they derived from the situation. In which case to themselves it was rational behaviour, this is a problem with the way their mind is working in comparison to the majority of society. Hence my belief that if anyone is going to go on a rampage there's plenty that should be questioned before asking whether they played certain video games. That's not to say this is true for every death through violent crime, naturally.

The 'natural born killer' debate has gone on for some time and will continue to do so. Many trained killers are burdened by the consequences of their actions and haunted by intrusive memories for doing a job they trained to do. There are some that distance themselves from it and those that even get a rush from it, these are often the percentage that make it into special forces or snipers. They're unlikely to talk openly about their experiences in most cases.

With regard to the current trend for deaths from stabbings or shootings in street crime, or past examples such as football hooliganism it is rarely a one-on-one situation. The perpetrator already justifies their actions for their colours/territory. By choosing to live outside of the law the rationale applied is no longer the rationale of the majority of society. These similar principals of indoctrination apply here.

A few things:

The percentage of crime doesn't have to say anything. Let me proove it to you; The last 50 years health care and general health have improved a lot. People live longer, and are healthy longer. But last age we also face a giant obesity problem. But do the numbers mean that obesity has no impact on our health? Think again...

As for influence of games; people are sometimes quite quick to tell about the good sides of gaming, what it teaches us; better reflexes, better hand-eye coordination, social skills from multiplayer games, math and tactical thinking, etc. If we say that games bring us these virtues, isn't the thought that games influence us in other ways and teaches us other 'virtues' as well really that strange? :)

Girlysprite:

As for influence of games; people are sometimes quite quick to tell about the good sides of gaming, what it teaches us; better reflexes, better hand-eye coordination, social skills from multiplayer games, math and tactical thinking, etc. If we say that games bring us these virtues, isn't the thought that games influence us in other ways and teaches us other 'virtues' as well really that strange? :)

Not at all, and I think most people agree with you. My honest opinion is that not enough data has been gathered on the subject to draw any truly concrete answers, simply because the current studies have been so inconclusive. There have been some studies that show young kids display higher agression after playing violent games, but I don't know if that carries over into the teen years or adulthood.

As far as the link to crime: that is a load of crap. Crime has been studied for hundreds of years and it almost always links to poverty, persecution, personal grudges, and infamous "drug-related" crime. People have plenty of other reasons to kill each other and the notion that they do it because a video game told them to is insane. Most violent crime that isn't organized is in the lower economic classes anyway - the ones who can't even afford games.

felixader:

May sound strange, but from my 9 months in the German army i have to say using a gun is much easier than using, as example, a knife or your fist.

I've heard that before and I don't think it's strange at all. Guns make combat very impersonal. You don't have you watch yourself harming another person, see your fist come across their face or your knife go through them. You don't have to watch them bleed or watch them die. And nowadays we have weapons that make enemies appear like little colored blobs on a screen instead of people. I think it all contributes to the fact that we, increasingly, don't see our fellow humans as humans. It's an interesting topic.

Samurai, I wasn't saying video games have been a part of crime, but people are drawing conclusions too simply. They accuse others of drawing conclusions too fast, but do the same themselves.

The strange part of games vs modern warfare is that games become more realistic, and warfare becomes less realistic. They become, oh irony, almost like a videogame.

Hahahahaha! I end up citing the lowered crime rate and calling attention to correlation, then say that the correlation isn't important in the same paragraph. Then people start spouting crime rate correlations.

Even worse is that unrelated correlation is called out in the article and people still pick it up in thread.

Thanks for the info, SamuraiAndPig. I knew Switzerland was low on violent crime, but wasn't aware of how low. Guess they just need to watch how much the tourists drink!

I've been considering a situation that maybe the other forumites can weigh in on:
If a person goes through proper military training then plays games (or games then training), what combination of factors do you believe lead to them killing?
Besides the obvious, or already taking into account, mental psychosis.

Really interesting article. The only thing that left me a bit perplexed was the psychological conditioning bit... I think videogames have (luckily) still more to do with shooting carboard figures than with combat simulations to produce such an impact on a gamer. If you don't have a "force is the way" mindset by the time you start playing violent games I don't think you'll ever develop it by playing them. If you already do, though, those games could very well become the fetish of your beliefs.

Girlysprite:
Samurai, I wasn't saying video games have been a part of crime, but people are drawing conclusions too simply. They accuse others of drawing conclusions too fast, but do the same themselves.

The strange part of games vs modern warfare is that games become more realistic, and warfare becomes less realistic. They become, oh irony, almost like a videogame.

I never said you did, but if it came off that way, apologies. And I agree completely that war has become less realistic. I remember a very creepy scene in Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11, which was this ongoing interview with a young soldier. He basically described being the gunner in a tank as playing a video game: you see these little person-shaped dots moving around, you line them up in the sights, press a button and get a satisfying explosion. It wasn't until weeks later when they moved into Baghdad that they saw rotting bodies, burnt skeletons, and dead kids. And as the enemy grew closer they began to see their machine gun bullets ripping through them; much more difficult than shooting at a dot on the horizion.

Excellent article, and while not everyone may agree with the statistics, it does a great job getting people to start thinking about the topic.
As a fan of the FPS (specifically Halo and Counterstrike), I can say that I would still run far and fast in a fight or flight situation. But, I can also make the distinction between a game controller and a real gun. So while these games may be slowly desensitizing or conditioning me, I'm not going to be having aggressive tendencies any time soon.
My cousin enjoys the same games that I do, and was at Virginia Tech during the shooting (going to class). She said her first response was to duck and run.
Perhaps us females are less likely to be conditioned. :-)

Well done article, and some great discussion here everyone.

I must admit that it is occasionally worrisome to think about the effect that violent videogames have on our psyches. However, I feel that to just discuss that will always miss the point. The article itself says that the murders at VT and Columbine were planned out, they weren't just spontaneous.

Now, while violent videogames might 'open up' extreme violence as a solution to a problem whereas before taking such acts weren't really on the table, the underlying problem to me is that people were put in non combat situations that somehow led them to believe that the only way out was to commit murder.

Someone who should have been looking out for those people-kids, usually-wasn't, and I think we'd all agree that that's a pretty serious goddamn problem.

As with so many things that have been blamed for the collapse in society (comic books, rock n roll, television) there is an exercise in falsehood being perpetrated here. There are underlying issues with our (and any) society that need to be addressed. When things go terribly wrong, those should be signs that point to what we need to talk about, but instead we get caught up in those 'other' things to blame, instead of looking hard, inwardly, at where things went wrong in the relationships that the person who did the violence had, versus the relationship that person had with Call of Duty 4.

All that said; if we don't seriously look at what kind of effect that videogames have on us, there will never, ever be a way to turn the argument away from videogames, and toward the more difficult issues of say poverty and education.

vortexgods:
No, false, bad science, must I link to this again:

Grossman-ism:
Media Violence and
Mad Social Science

This.

Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

I'm honestly surprised and dismayed to see this here. What's interesting is that I live about four miles from RMC and have friends and colleagues in the War Studies programme there. This is very disappointing to see ultimately underresearched one-sided pseudo-science being upheld as material that we should "reasonably consider" without even a cursory amount of research into the numerous refutations of Grossman's points.

I deeply understand the desire to represent perspectives from across a spectrum of opinion, but what Grossman is doing, and what this article is doing, is destructive to progress in this discussion because it is so superficial.

Grossman's case is very unfortunate in that he is very well respected (I understand that he visited RMC recently, which I imagine precipitated this piece?) in the field of the effects of combat on soldiers. This does not even come close to making him an expert on the effects of simulated violence in a fantasy context on young people. And if we ask experts in THAT FIELD about this, we receive an answer directly at odds with Grossman's assumptions based on study in an ultimately vastly different field.

I emphasize again that I came at this subject years ago with the same intent in mind: we must seriously consider whether games can have a violence-inducing influence on the psyche. I am a game developer; on a professional level and on an ethical level with my profession I need to know whether I am harming people if I put violent content in the games that I create. I promise you that there is no one, NO ONE more concerned about this subject than game developers who are also parents. With Grossman and Thompson (Jack, how's that disbarring going for you, since you're around?) it is necessary to ask "cui bono?" ("who benefits?") -- and look historically at the degree of profit they are making specifically from raising controversy in defiance of the genuine researchers looking into these subjects. Grossman makes a majority of his living by touring and speaking; there is a marked point in his written material where he took a wild side track into addressing video game and media violence in order to sell more copy. Jack Thompson is quick to make the "cui bono?" accusation toward game developers -- his libelous demonization of the gaming community and developers is legendary, and his behavior is short to earn him the stripping of his license to practice law in Florida -- ignoring the obvious fact that he is trying to make his living off of ambulance-chasing fear- and hate-mongering in defiance of all scientific research. But bottom line, you shouldn't be asking any of us about this; you should be asking the psychologists who don't have a speaking tour and a book deal predicated on controversy.

On this subject there is a very basic point and logical error that anti-game advocates make: They conflate attraction to video games BECAUSE of violent tendencies with INFLUENCE of violent media CAUSING violence. In short: if someone has violent tendencies, they are going to be ATTRACTED to violent media. Sociologists understand this attraction; serial killers typically have an attraction to 1) real-life violence (television/newspaper coverage); 2) violent music (esp. violent lyrics); 3) media violence. That order is deliberate; serial killers, including school shooters, have an interest pyramid with real-life violence at its apex. But someone with a violent mind is naturally going to be attracted to violent media of all kinds, the same way that someone who likes dogs is going to watch a lot of pet shows. It's a natural correlation that has nothing to do with what is causing them to become violent, because obviously millions of people watch (and play) violent media who *don't* become violent. The causation question is very important and very complex, and the EXPERTS who study this are not certain of it with video games. According to Dr. Roger Mannell, Dean of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, whose expertise lies in the study of the effects of media on children, and whom I interviewed for this piece in the Escapist, the question for sociologists studying media and children is NOT whether causation can be found -- he thinks it can't -- but about what it is in a child's environment with *that minority* of children that are pre-disposed to violent behavior that actualizes their predisposition, and how that can be prevented and their behavior patterns modified before they reach actualization level.

*STUDIES* of killers, including the Columbine killings, have been done; Dr. James McGee -- authority on the "classroom avenger" -- studied 16 rampage shootings at schools by adolescents in recent years, involving 18 boys. In all 16 rampage shootings, only Columbine -- *one* instance -- showed a game connection. From Gerard Jones's _Killing Monsters_, which you are going to hear more about in a minute: "Most of the shooters showed no interest in games at all. Other elements were much more common to the eighteen boys: bullying by peers, hostility with or disassociation from parents, suicidal threats, and fascination with news coverage of earlier rampage shootings show up among all of them."

Robert, I understand where you are coming from on this in intent, but I am deeply disappointed in your decision to write on this subject with such a cursory level of research not even touching sociological, psychological, and clinical experts that have studied this field for years. Your intent may have been honorable, but on this very charged subject, rife with disinformation (it is a difficult thing to research; I do appreciate that fully), you are dead wrong, and harmfully wrong. I honestly believe that you need to retract this article, do your research, and apologize to the video game community if you ever want to be taken seriously in this space.

I'm including below some excerpts from Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super-Heroes, and Make Believe Violence to get you started, and some links to material on this site on the subject.

"After a decade of these games being played by millions of kids, Grossman and other critics have provided no evidence of the effects they have predicted. Certainly video games haven't had any significant impact on real-world crime. 'The research on video games and crime is compelling to read,' said Helen Smith, forensic psychologist, youth violence specialist, and author of The Scarred Heart. 'But it just doesn't hold up. Kids have been getting less violent since those games came out. That includes gun violence and every other sort of violence that might be inspired by a video game.'"
-- Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters, p. 167

"The peak of shooter-game play by teenagers was from approximately 1992 to 1995, by which time the games' sales had dropped, and they'd gone from being the fad of the moment to one of many genres in the industry. Violent crime dropped during those years. We've now had time for those millions of game players to reach adulthood, and the generation of 'killer kids' predicted by the games' critics has never materialized."
- Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters, p. 167

"Both her practice and her survey show that extremely angry and violent kids often show an interest in violent music, Web sites, and movies, but rarely in video games. 'I don't discount the influence some media may have on very hostile young people,' she concluded. 'But there just doesn't seem to be any connection with games.' "
-- Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters, p. 168

"Helen Smith's principal objection to theorists who try to link video games to real-life crime is the same as mine: 'They're not listening to the kids.'"
--Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters, p. 170

An Interview with Gerard Jones
Getting Real about Kids and Games

Fancy talkin' does not a rational or researched argument make, folks.

ErinHoffman, I fear you've missed the point of the article.

The question is; do violent videogames open up a part of our brain that would make violence more acceptable?

Not; do violent videogames make us (more) violent? And there's a vast difference.

Smokescreen, I disagree. That is the deep particular discussed in the article as part of Grossman's greater thesis toward a false connection between video games and real life violence.

A further resource, if what we want to talk about is the intersection of fantasy warfare and war, specifically video games and war: [i]From Sun Tzu to X-Box, by Ed Halter, whom I have met and who also disagrees with this presentation of the intersection of violent media and real-life violence. From the very first sentence of the article:

"While looking for literature on how human beings react under stress in deadly situations, I found a fascinating book, titled On Combat, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Loren W. Christensen. On Combat makes a seemingly reactionary claim, made many times before; namely, that violent videogames are creating a generation of killers. What's startling, however, is that this time, it's true."

This is an utterly false statement that over the past decade has been used to propagate and inflict terror on a generation of parents and gamers. Grossman has been making this prediction repeatedly for the past two decades and has been proved wrong. This is not about "heated rhetoric", as Robert later says; this is about fact, science, documented study, and a concerted agenda of disinformation on the part of the likes of Jack Thompson.

Robert himself touches on this in one of his replies earlier in the thread where he says he had been previously unaware of the criticism levied against Grossman's "science". He further says that he's not a psychologist, but just can't imagine that violence doesn't have an effect on the psyche.

It is this emotional, inductive assumption that has led to a vast amount of misconception and erroneous thinking, fueled by Thompson's rhetoric and that intuitive question in the back of our minds that somehow these images must be bad for us. But the science just does not bear it out, plain and simple. In this article Robert further then asks "is this turning us into killers?" and makes connections to Columbine and Virginia Tech, again flying in the face of all research specifically on those two highly-charged incidents.

The major error here is the assumption that there is no distinction between fantasy violence and perceived real violence, which is the foundation of Gerard Jones's argument, and is the psychological point that Grossman and Thompson willfully ignore research regarding. The implication in the article that target training in the Army can be transferred to the fantasy scenario of Counterstrike implies a drastic separation in context that research has proven to be critical in developing a propensity toward real violence. Fantasy violence, even in games *designed* in conjunction with the military (see Full Spectrum Warrior), are not effective military trainers and are not being used by the US Army today! Simulators *are* used, but for decision-making training -- NOT for the firing of weapons or the use of applied violence, for which there is yet no replacement.

Even if this article held true there wouldn't be a problem, the types of situation in which flight or fight takes over are the ones where you'd be safer to fight back anyways. Beyond that there's still no causation, desensitizing someone to killing makes them less squeemish it doesn't mean they could kill someone.

Erin Hoffman: I fear that you're falling into the same trap that you're accusing me of. At the very least, your reading of my article does seem to be cursory at best. I am not Dave Grossman - and while I use some of his research, if you compare my article to the video game section of On Combat, you'll see that I take his evidence and draw a very different conclusion than he does.

A lot of this is based around the evidence presented by S.L.A. Marshall, and that is problematic because Marshall based his book on observations he made about firing rates while he was reconstructing battles as an official historian in World War 2 - but he was not researching firing rates specifically, and therefore he didn't document it much farther than noticing that it was a trend to be concerned about. So, the numbers he gives are around 15-25%, but the actual firing rate could have been 45%, or even 55% - we just have no way of knowing. But, the imprecision does not invalidate the trend - all it does is track it with an estimate rather than exact figures.

Now, these figures are a matter of great debate, but if you look at the criticisms against Marshall, a lot of them aren't terribly convincing themselves, and don't go very far beyond "he wasn't taking down exact figures." So, while we may never know what the exact figures actually were, we do know that he was in a place to be able to spot the trend, that he did talk about the trend while he was doing his research in WW2 (which invalidates the idea that he made it up after), and between WW2 and Vietnam he saw the trend correct itself at the same time that the training changed from shooting at paper targets to silhouettes to mock human beings that fall down when shot.

When you take that and look at how training the mammalian brain actually works, it does become a convincing argument that this did have the effect of training the middle brain. And, I know enough military people to know that this is what training is for - so that when you move into survival mode, you know what to do.

The problem with your comments is that you're ignoring two points I make very specifically - first, you suggest that I said that this makes us more violent. No, it doesn't - in fact, I specifically say it doesn't. This training is so context specific that the only place it could kick in is in a firefight. I made this a bit more clear in my original draft, but some of that got edited out to tighten it up between my proverbial pen and publication (there was also a line that I missed when I did my approval run over it - the question I asked was originally "Is this turning us into MURDERERS"). This conditioning, in whatever degree it exists, is unlikely to ever manifest itself outside of self defense under very extreme circumstances. So, if the violent crime rate is low, the odds of this training ever manifesting itself is also low. You just won't see signs of it in crime rate figures.

Second, you talk about my discussion of Columbine and Virginia Tech as though I'm saying that video games caused them to happen. I didn't - in fact, I brought them up specifically to DEBUNK that idea. I also stated that Cho didn't play anything more violent than minesweeper. When dealing with this issue, the big spectres that haunt us are school shootings, plain and simple. You can't have a balanced article unless you face this issue head on - and I did.

(In retrospect, the line "That doesn't absolve game makers entirely of blame, however.", which was added by the editor in the editing process, I should have asked to be changed. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a two week intensive course at RMC, and I didn't have time for anything more than a cursory reading of the editor's modifications. Therefore, mea culpa on that one. The paragraph does go on to talk about the ramifications for law enforcement and education when you have a group of people more capable of using deadly force in self defense, so it's still passable.)

Finally, in regards to your statement that the military doesn't use video games for training beyond leadership training, I'm not sure where you got that idea. Most of my reading suggests that the military is using games on several levels, from flight simulators to tactical games. And, there was a documentary that aired on Space that had a simulation where a jeep was surrounded by big computer screens, and the people in the jeep would fire blanks at digital targets. Just do a google search on "video games military training" and you'll get a wealth of information on it.

Best regards,

Robert Marks

Robert: not at all. My issue, *again*, is not the specifics of what you are saying -- which I also disagree with but which have been discussed earlier in this thread, and which I think are ultimately immaterial to the video game violence discussion, having to do with combat psychology for which there are a number of theories and explanations -- but the theses that you are tying this specific, *disputed* psychological phenomenon into.

Let's look at your theses:

violent videogames are creating a generation of killers. What's startling, however, is that this time, it's true.

False. And changing "killers" to "murderers" in that sentence only makes your claim more egregious.

But it's a well-documented fact;

Also false, 100%.

Now your sub-theses.

Unintentionally, this training regimen has migrated from the firing range to the living room... this means an entire generation has unwittingly undergone this military conditioning.

Incorrect. You're juxtaposing specific military training with a fantasy-context experience; see my previous statements regarding context.

What stops a normal, unconditioned person from killing another human being in combat is the mammalian brain, which is pure instinct

Arguable; however, besides this, you're bridging here with a key phrase "in combat" (which in two words implies a VAST amount of context, specifically one in which "murder" becomes "legal sanctioned and instructed killing"), and sliding rapidly into your "murder simulator" argument; the two are separate and your bridge between them is illogical. See previous comments.

And again, all of this relies on our assumption that this statement is even scientifically correct ('what stops a person...'), which is highly suspect.

While we haven't been conditioned to be murderers, however, the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings prove that some of us are capable of committing heinous acts of violence under ostensibly mundane conditions.

And here you're bridging what you admit to be an incorrect assumption (because you're disagreeing with Grossman despite using his research, though you never backed up your disagreement with him with other research, which I provided to you in my comments) with another subject entirely, bringing up the issue of school shooters. In your phrase "under ostensibly mundane conditions" you are dismissing an entire world of social dysfunction and specific research done on this precise subject.

widespread military conditioning across our society ... it's impossible to assess its effects without facing the specters of shootings like Columbine and Virginia Tech.

Again, your statement re military conditioning is extremely weak both scientifically and according to your presentation of it in argument form. And now you are directly connecting it to Columbine and Virginia Tech. This is the specific error I refer to in my previous two posts. In this paragraph in general you are taking your weakly founded "middle brain" argument and applying it to a scenario which you have clearly not researched and on which there are a highly significant number of expert testimonies and theories regarding causes and consistent, measurable commonalities in social dysfunction that have nothing to do with 'training' of any kind.

Violent videogames may have made the Columbine killers more capable of carrying out their crime,

Incorrect. I think their months of target practice in their parents' backyard did that. Another common intense misperception.

In a society where more than 90 percent of the people who play violent videogames are capable of using deadly force under life-threatening conditions,

Here you are again jumping from "video games" to "training" and then to "deadly force", and you're also implying that self defense in a life-threatening situation is somehow threatening to society. Under this argument you should be attacking anyone who has ever been in the military; anyone who has ever received firearm training; and anyone who has served on a police force in a capacity involving weapons training and deadly force.

When Grossman described this situation in his book, he called violent games "murder simulators." It may sound extremist, but it makes sense

It absolutely does not. Even, again, assuming that your basic argument is correct, which I do not, you are confusing the term "murder" here with "combat". The vast majority of games (see Gerard Jones) are nonviolent; of those that are violent, the vast majority of THOSE do not involve "murder", unless you consider that a soldier in a war is committing murder, which I think most soldiers would like to disagree with you on. It is a highly select, small group of games that _simulate murder_, and most of those also play contextually with the situations that cause murder to occur (you can research the social statements in the _Grand Theft Auto_ games if you like; there are many, most having to do with poverty and class separation, which have long been studied by sociologists as common roots of violent crime).

The term "murder simulator" is highly charged due to the propaganda and hyperbole that you loosely reference in the opening of your article. I honestly don't think you know what you're touching on when you so casually say "but it makes sense" here. You go on to rationalize Grossman's dilution of the term "murder" without considering that on its face there is a social and clinical definition of "murder" that does not fit the context or the "training" in video games.

So long as we fail to recognize that these games are imparting a killer instinct in the most literal sense,

Incorrect. Here you are bridging, again relying upon the 'middle brain' questionable hypothesis, between target shooting and "killer instinct", a highly charged and hyperbolic term used by the anti-game lobby to convey to the public a confusing and frightening idea. The connection here between games and "killer instinct" is at best highly abstract, theoretical, and precisely the subject of the sociological research I referenced in my previous comments; it is in no way "literal".

The preponderance of violent media - not just videogames - in our culture should encourage us to be more vigilant in what we teach about right and wrong, and force us to be more thoughtful about when violence is necessary.

Again implying that video games and violent media somehow place us at increased risk for actual violence, which is refuted again and again by science.

In the right hands, lethal force is a useful tool that protects the rest of us from harm. That tool has now been placed in everybody's hands.

Again implying that the ability to defend oneself (which combat specialists will tell you cannot be conveyed by a video game) causes one to be a risk to society, in which case you are encompassing the military, the police, and anyone with any kind of self defense training.

.

My reading of your article is in no way superficial. My objection is not to your fine-detail raising of what you now seem to be asserting is a technicality in combat psychology, but to the hyperbolic theses you are attaching this information to. Your mistake is identical to Grossman's, and your theses generally amount to repeating his theses and justifying them on the basis of unfounded and irrational argumentation.

These arguments are common but have been clearly refuted by a number of experts in this field, not combat psychologists who apply their expertise across fields without further research and for clear personal gain. To reiterate and rationalize them without considering the specific applied and scientifically accepted research that refutes them is both amazingly imbalanced and irresponsible. I stand by my previous statements.

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