153: The Anatomy of Violence

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I like what you said about violence becoming a universal phobia, I couldn't have put it in better terms myself. Overall, the article was very insightful, and I liked reading it a lot...good job.

Erin Hoffman: As much as I respected you for taking on EA and trying to make the industry a better place, this recent post of yours is disgraceful. And frankly, I'm going to call you out on it.

It is very obvious that you want to disagree with anything even suggesting that violent video games might affect us. But in trying to pick my article apart, your modus operandi has been to take sentences out of context and attach a new context to them. In some cases, you have been outright misleading. Here are some examples:

"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."

Funny thing, that - not only have you made a value judgement based on a single sentence in my opening paragraph, which the entire next section goes on to explain and support, but you've warped my words in an earlier post to suggest that I began this article claiming that violent video games are creating a society of murders. In fact, the line that I said was changed was on the third paragraph of the second page, and was the introduction to my exploration of why this conditioning couldn't be responsible for violent crime.

"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."

And you've just cut out most of the paragraph which explains how, leaving only parts that would be alarmist if you don't have the rest of the paragraph. The full paragraph was:

"Unintentionally, this training regimen has migrated from the firing range to the living room. Take Counter-Strike or Crysis, for example. Players fire a weapon at a human target that falls down when it is "killed." It's the same type of training used to raise the firing rate of the army from 15 percent to more than 90 percent. With many tech-savvy kids and adults growing up playing first person shooters, this means an entire generation has unwittingly undergone this military conditioning."

And here is one of the most dishonest things in your post:

"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."

The big problem here is that I connect both SPECIFICALLY to debunk it. Shortly after that passage, I wrote:

"In both incidents, the murders were premeditated, which means that their planning involved the higher, logical brain - not the mammalian brain. Violent videogames may have made the Columbine killers more capable of carrying out their crime, but they weren't the root cause."

Please note that first off, I specifically state that there is no causation. Let me repeat that. There is NO CAUSATION. Second, I also use the conditional "may" when referring to whether this conditioning had any impact on the Columbine killings at all.

Now, there is a particular writing technique that can be used when making an argument. What you do is that if you know that something is going to be brought up to counter your own argument, you bring that argument up and refute it. That way, the person who was going to bring that up has now lost his ammunition. This is precisely what I have done here. Every time there's a school shooting, somebody brings up video games. Better to refute the link right now than have it mentioned in the comments. You, however, are damning me for even bringing it up, even if I'm doing it just so that I can debunk the idea once and for all.

Frankly, I'm not willing to refute you point by point - it would be a waste of my time. What you've done is take my article, take ideas and sentences from it out of context, and use it to create an argument to refute - one which the article never supported in the first place. I believe that's called a "straw man," more or less. You're trying to paint me as an extremist, and I'm not one. You're misreading implications left and right, and in quite a few places I explicitly state otherwise. And you're throwing research in my face that regards the impact video games have on children in ordinary, every day activities, while I'm talking about how people react in a crisis. The two are not the same, Ms. Hoffman.

If you wish to disagree with my point of view, that is your business, and I welcome the discussion - if we do not question the assumptions we make and the facts around us, we cannot learn. I do not, however, welcome twisting my point of view into a pretzel for your own purposes, and rampant misrepresentation of my words.

Robert Marks

Robert, I agree that further discussion here would not be productive for either of us, and I am content to let my prior comments on your article stand. I provided detailed comments on your specific statements in the article in response to your assertion that my reading of your piece was superficial. At no point did I paraphrase or rephrase your words; I responded to them.

I did not read, and I don't read in the comments following the piece here, that what you were doing was 'debunking' at all. It reads instead as a defense of Grossman and a bending of Grossman's work into "reasonable" consideration in the discussion of a connection between violent media and violent behavior that simply is not there. If you intended to debunk what Grossman was saying, the specific thesis-level statements in your article, especially in your introduction and conclusion, were very misleading. Perhaps you used them for dramatic purposes. That you make contradictory statements regarding causation and context and follow them with a "but this is why we should take Grossman's work seriously anyway" is not a good enough excuse for me; maybe it is for others.

Regardless, your article remains and those viewing it and this discussion can and will make their own assessments, and hopefully they will read deeply and widely when considering this very important issue in videogame culture before drawing conclusions.

Fantastic. Really, really well done. It's good to read a well thought out article on how games might actually have such an effect. The concepts make perfect sense, too, to me at least.

As a few people have brought up, the idea you specified murder instead of killing did originally jar with me, but after thinking about it I guess it makes sense that if you spend a lot of time gaming, you get even subconsciously the mindset that in a violent situation, weapon+hostile=attack, as opposed to taking cover or running away, in a civilian situation (as is more likely, not many of us being in the army) the same logic applies, and then it is murder. Although maybe it would have been wise to point out that while it could be training us to be murder-capable, it would be more likely to cause us to use lethal force in self defence (Assuming the majority of people are not the types to be the aggressors in mortal combat), as whether that would be considered murder is debatable.

Sorry to regurgitate your own point at you, it was more an exercise in helping myself comprehend the subject. Thanks for the very interesting read.

Singing Gremlin: I'm glad you enjoyed it. To a degree, it's the result of a lot of critical thought on my end, and getting tired of knee-jerk reactions all the time as one side or the other tried to claim that video games were either responsible for all the violence in the world, and probably went back in time to cause WW2 as well, or that violent video games have no impact on us whatsoever, nor does any type of media, and we are all essentially living in our own little bubbles.

For those who are interested, I'm reposting installments of the original Garwulf's Corner at http://garwulf.livejournal.com/ - back in 2000-2002 I ran one of the very first computer games issues columns on the Internet on Diabloii.net. Unfortunately D2.net has removed their archive, so I've been reposting the installments at a rate of one per week. You can find some of my thoughts on violence from seven years ago in one of them.

(And yes, that's a shameless plug. Why not? :-) )

Best to all,

Robert Marks

In response very generally to those concerned with this topic and Dave Grossman in particular, I would draw your attention to this essay by Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and historian (and an exponentially finer writer than I), titled "The Media Violence Myth":

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, pale, lean and a little goofy in a bad suit, struts the stage of a high school auditorium somewhere in Arkansas, his home state. He's a man on a mission, a smalltown Jimmy Swaggart, swooping and pausing and chopping the air. He's already scared the fresh-faced kids in the audience half to death, and the more scared they look, the wider he grins. "Before children learn to read," he lobs in one of his rhetorical flash grenades, "they can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. That means everything they see is real for them. When a three year old, a four year old, a five year old sees someone on TV being shot, raped, stabbed, murdered, for them it's real. It's real! You might just as well have your little three year old bring a friend into the house, befriend that friend, and then gut 'em and murder 'em right before their eyes" - some of the kids in the audience wince - "as have them watch the same thing on TV, watch someone being brutally murdered on television. For them it's all real. Television is traumatizing and brutalizing our children at this horrendously young age."

A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel with an M.Ed. in counseling, formerly an ROTC professor at the University of Arkansas, Grossman left the Army to dedicate himself to saving America from what he calls the "toxic waste" of "media violence" that is "being pumped into our nation and our children," the "electronic crack cocaine" of television and video games that he claims are "truly addictive." He's riding a bandwagon. Columbine turned it into a victory parade.

The essay goes on to cite extensive studies on television violence and concocted statistics regarding the effects of media violence on youth, the congressional-level manipulation of information in order to achieve a specific establishment cause, and deep disregard for studies done that showed that violent media actually had a *positive* and therapeutic effect on young men. From the center of the article: << "This whole episode of studying television violence," Fowles[, media scholar and cultural analyst] concluded when we talked, "is going to be seen by history as a travesty. It's going to be used in classes as an example of how social science can just go totally awry." >>

Rhodes concludes, regarding what he calls "media violence zealots" including Dave Grossman:

But there is no good evidence that taking pleasure from seeing mock violence leads to violent behavior, and there is some evidence, as Jib Fowles found, that it leads away. Bottom line: To become violent, people have to have experience with real violence. Period. No amount of imitation violence can provide that experience. Period. At the same time, mock violence can and does satisfy the considerable need to experience strong emotion that people, including children, build up from hour to hour and day to day while functioning in the complex and frustrating interdependencies of modern civilization. So can comedy; so can serious drama; but young males especially (and even not-so-young males) evidently take special satisfaction in watching mock violence, whether dramatic or athletic. "Whatever the relation of this need may be to other, more elementary needs such as hunger, thirst, and sex," concludes Norbert Elias, ".one may well find that the neglect of paying attention to this need is one of the main gaps in present approaches to problems of mental health."

A New Jersey teenager, Joe Stavitsky, responded to an attack on video games in Harper's magazine after Columbine with an eloquent letter in their defense. "As a 'geek,'" Stavitsky wrote, "I can tell you that none of us play video games to learn how (or why) to shoot people. For us, video games do not cause violence; they prevent it. We see games as a perfectly safe release from a physically violent reaction to the daily abuse leveled at us." Stavitsky, whose family emigrated from Leningrad when he was four to escape a communist dictatorship, concluded his letter with some pointed advice to the moral entrepreneurs. "The so-called experts should put away their pens," he advised, "and spend more time with their children or grandchildren, or better yet, adopt a child who has no home or family. Because there's only one sure way to prevent youth violence, and that is by taking care of youth." We do not take care of youth when we deny them entertainment which allows them to safely challenge the powerlessness they feel at not yet controlling their own lives and then to find symbolic resolution. Entertainment media are therapeutic, not toxic. That's what the evidence shows. Cyber bullets don't kill.

The point here is not regarding apologist concessions made to the causation discussion, but that David Grossman stands at the pinnacle of a thorough campaign to distort the truth and prevent genuine research from being undertaken. His work, his claims, and especially his statistics are all highly suspect and do not belong in any sincere discussion on the effects of media violence.

Erin Hoffman: It is very clear that you hate Dave Grossman. We get it. Now drop it. Seriously. You've become as bad as you're claiming he is.

You talk about spreading misinformation, but you're doing exactly the same thing. Grossman may be outspoken about media violence - personally I think he draws the wrong conclusion from his evidence - but the majority of his work is not campaigning against media violence, as your quoted article states. Most of the time he's training law enforcement and military organizations about the realities of combat. If you ever read On Combat, you'd find that most of the book is dedicated to law enforcement officials and soldiers. Media violence is an aside.

You disagree with how far his conclusion takes the evidence from S.L.A. Marshall, and that's fine. I disagree with it too. But you're then trying to debunk Marshall's evidence on the grounds of Grossman's conclusion, which is not fine at all, and is very faulty technique. When you consider that Marshall's evidence and recommendations led to a change in the way the U.S. Army trained its soldiers, and plugged the holes Marshall had noticed, it becomes very difficult to fault the trend he recorded, even if his own figures were very imprecise.

(And, on a personal note, I made the link between military conditioning and first person shooters in my own head while reading On Combat long before Grossman got to media violence in his book - if you look carefully, there is an convincing argument there, even if Grossman takes it too far later on in the book.)

Furthermore, the idea that because a conclusion is wrong, the evidence leading up to that conclusion must also be wrong is a very serious logical fallacy under any circumstances. I may be no psychologist, but I am a graduate student training to be a historian, and if there's one thing I've found when it comes to any sort of research, it is that the same evidence can be interpreted in many different ways, leading to many different conclusions.

And while you present the question of how media violence affects us as a closed book, it is indeed anything but. Michael A. Mohammed's superb article in this issue of the Escapist demonstrated evidence that video game violence does have a short term impact of making people more aggressive in certain circumstances, and he points out that extending these findings to the long term is a fallacy, and that not enough research has been done on the long term. To this I would add that we simply don't know what the long term effects are, because there hasn't been a long term yet. If we take Wolfenstein 3D to be the first violent first person shooter, the realistic violent video game has only been around for 16 years - less than a generation. In another 20 years or so, we may know what impact a lifetime spent playing these games will have. But for now, the data is incomplete.

You very obviously have strong opinions on this matter, but you are going about expressing them in the wrong way and in the wrong place. My article was about how people react under crisis situations, and how video games may affect their reactions in those situations. Michael A. Mohammed's article was the one about how violent video games affect us on a day-to-day level. You have, in effect, tried to hijack the discussion of my article, twisting my arguments to be the opposite of what I was actually arguing in the process. And you said, very unprofessionally, I might add:

"The point here is not regarding apologist concessions made to the causation discussion, but that David Grossman stands at the pinnacle of a thorough campaign to distort the truth and prevent genuine research from being undertaken. His work, his claims, and especially his statistics are all highly suspect and do not belong in any sincere discussion on the effects of media violence."

You have just said that because Grossman's conclusions are disagreeable, his entire body of evidence should be excluded from the debate. You are advocating ignoring evidence that you don't like without examination of that evidence. And, frankly, considering that Marshall's evidence not only appears to have some merit, but also has been used to frame so much of the debate, it is central to the discussion - it very much belongs in it.

If you really want to take Grossman to task, write your own article. Make it a column installment, if you want. But stop hijacking the discussion of mine. We finally have a long-overdue balanced discussion of the issues raised by Marshall's research, and I would very much like it to continue.

Robert Marks

Robert, I am sorry that you felt that either I was addressing you (I was not) or that Richard Rhodes is personally attacking you and you must respond personally to an extremely important analysis and voice on the issues of the disinformation campaign propagated through David Grossman, rather than reading it with diligence. I am puzzled that you see a comprehensively researched essay by a renowned historian dealing with the subject of your article as "thread hijacking". You really should read that essay, and if you don't know who Richard Rhodes is, you should ask your professors, who will.

Not that it's relevant to the discussion, but I don't hate David Grossman. I absolutely think that his expertise should be considered where it is applicable, as I said many comments ago. It is an absolute travesty that someone who has done the good work that he has has found himself held up as a pet poodle for the media violence zealots -- but as he has responded to the media opportunity and the opportunity to speak to children with irresponsible zealotry I have trouble summoning up much sympathy.

You yourself have said that Marshall's work is suspect. Frankly the phenomenon of WW2 and prior soldiers not firing their guns is wholly uninteresting to me *in this space* because, as has been brought up in comments, mine and otherwise, again and again, the notion of applying combat conditions to civilian life is so infinitesimally relevant in context as to be a waste of time. Yet that has been the focus of your article.

But when you bring up the school shooters in connection with Grossman, you open a whole new category of discussion. I did not open it; you did, and it was indeed unfortunate that you did so. I remain convinced on the basis of your replies that you know not what you do, but by now you should know better.

Fear not, though, I did intend to provide Rhodes's article as a resource here for those reading these comments -- and I mean it sincerely that you should read it from beginning to end, because these waters are much deeper than you know -- but I did not intend to interact further with you (see infinitesimally relevant, waste of time, etc) and intend not to reply to you again. The truth clearly discomforts you and it was never my primary intention to cause you discomfort. Rest assured, though, that you have solidly convinced me of the importance of addressing these issues, and that has assisted in a slight priority realignment that will impact my own work, and for that I sincerely thank you.

Erin: I know you weren't talking to me, and I know what you were trying to do. I think everybody else does too.

My mistake was in responding to this as much as I did. Rather than being an informed and intelligent discussion of my article, it has become the Erin Hoffman vs. Robert Marks show, and going any farther with it will only make it worse. So I won't.

To everybody else: I apologize for taking the bait.

Robert Marks

You flatter yourself, Robert. If you are ever "versus" me, you will know. If this has at any point been about something other than the issue of media violence, it has been in your mind alone. It is my hope that this lessens your anxiety, because you are clearly discomfited and I would remind you that you were never at any point under personal attack. Just so we're clear on this, and with the hope of putting an end to your personal affront.

Just to point out, this is getting dangerously close to an exercise in last words-manship.

Very good article, provides a very well balanced view on the subject. I also apreciate that you are following up on your article, more contributers should do that.

Erin is indeed informed and intelligent, and her points are better researched than yours and make more sense than yours. Indeed, I'm bookmarking this exchange as an example of how to totally dismantle a bad essay. I leave you with some advice: when you're in a hole, sir, stop digging! ;-)

Let's make a basic list of the things a soldier needs to kill in a combat situation.

agression training
practical skills training
proper context

how soldiers are desensitized has already been discusses; sufficed to say that while videogames may have an effect similar to this to some degree, they do not specifically TARGET this end result, thus any effect of desensitization is minor and negligible at best. Personnel have spent their entire careers developing programs which desensitize human beings to killing in a combat situation; it's not something a videogame developer just lucks into.

Agression training
This is basically the training that produces agression in soldiers in combat situations, and is not to be confused with skills training or desensitization. This is the psychological mindset which teaches a soldier to put their own preservation of life aside before an objective. Certainly videogames, whose violence is impersonal and abstract, do not serve as agression training. This is the primary argument of videogame detractors, and it has no basis in fact at all.

Practical skills training
I.e., how to fire a gun. Needless to say, Halo 2 does not translate to literal marksmanship abilities.

Proper context
This is why the desensitization obtained from videogames is minor by comparison to military regimented protocols: context. If I am in a military training situation, shooting at humanoid targets, I will be open to applicable effects. Playing a videogame, I am not looking - consciously or subconsciously - to be made open to killing. Going through the motions of desensitization training is not the same as ENGAGING in desensitization training. While I may have 100% confidence and lack of hesitation to blow away a target without a second's thought on screen, this doesn't mean that even with a gun, the knowledge to use it, and the context I would be able to. Again: the military has devoted a great deal of time to developing an understanding of the psychological effects and causes of desensitization. To say that a videogame could cause a similar effect to the same degree is ridiculous.

And of course, imperative is the most important factor in a killing, and can override even a lack of all the rest. Namely, a man may have the context for killing, the skills to do so, agression and desensitization training, and yet without the imperative to kill - the desire to, either by command or because it will serve a goal, protect oneself, an interest, etc - he will not do it if he is sane. On the other hand, a great imperative to kill can completely overpower the fact that one has no proper knowledge of how to do so.
I think it is safe and reasonable to say that videogames have no effect on a person's contextual imperative to commit a murder, unless that person was a gamer and the context was being placed alone in a room with Jack Thompson.

Teknoarcanist: You've raised some very interesting points, and I hope a lot of people read your post. The degree to which a computer game could condition us is one of those questions that I think needs further examination. I think it can happen - the case of the police officer handing the gun back to the criminal shows that you can accidentally train your brain to do something unexpected, so conditioning can slip in there.

The big problem here is that, as far as I can tell, we just don't have any way of getting a good, solid measurement of this. If you think about it, if we have been conditioned to react a certain way in combat, the place where this will manifest is, well, in combat. And the average gamer isn't likely to end up there in the worst of times. The people who will end up there are military (who are already trained), police (who have also received training of some sort), and criminals (who, if they're in a gunfight with the police, are likely not stable enough to be a good example). About the only place I can think of where you could measure this is in self defense cases, and we are blessed with a low enough violent crime rate that a sample there might not be representative.

So we've got a hot-button issue without precise figures in the theory, and without a good way of measuring empirically on the practical side - and, since it doesn't extend past how we react in crisis situations, tells us pretty much nothing about how video game violence impacts our daily lives (which is a bigger and possibly more nebulous field, but Michael A. Mohammed has written a far more informed article about that than I could have, and I would strongly recommend that everybody read it before the next Escapist issue arrives and blows us all off the front page). So, until somebody figures out how to measure this, all we've got is theories.

Best regards,

Robert Marks

By the way, everybody, I've been thinking about this, and I really wanted to apologize for my behaviour over pages two and three in this thread. Unfortunately, there are some things that can get a knee-jerk reaction from me, and one of those was hit. As a result, my conduct did fall below the professional standard I try to meet, and I helped to lower, rather than raise, the level of discussion.

I am very sorry about that, and I shan't let it happen again.

Best regards to all,

Robert Marks

Very well written article, and all of it true. I actually remember the factoid about only 15% percent of soldiers firing at the enemy of their own will. Nice to hear this brought into relationship with the topic of video games.

It's also important to realize that it's not just violence that can condition us, but the illusion of realism itself. If I play FPSs a lot, I may eventually feel like I can pick up a rifle and actually DO the things I do in the game (especially if I have a strong imagination). This even if only at a subconscious level. It's important for people to maintain a firm grip on reality and understand that there is a huge difference between taking out targets with an M4 in-game, and picking up an M4 and firing at a human being in real life. If we begin to lose that connection to reality, picking up a gun and shooting people in real life may not seem all that much different.

I enjoyed this article. It's nice to see an actual gamer play devil's advocate, and look at the issue of videogames and violence with an open mind.

This is an issue that I think we gamers have been slow to look at. Because nutters like JT have a tendency to label games as the great evil of our time, it is very easy to take the opposite stance and say that games are completely harmless. Really, more research needs to be done so that we can fully understand the effects of games on our psyche. Because both sides can argue as much as they like, but in the end we don't fully know all the facts yet.

Meh, I do airsoft. So if something is teaching me to pull the trigger it's that, though that probably applies to aiming and firing in battle situations. Most people, about 95% (if I recall) don't actually fire to kill the enemy during their first battle situations even when in war (during the goddamn Normandy the number was even higher, 98% or so).
But if person like me, has gotten into the memory and "muscle memory" the action of taking aim and pulling the trigger at a human being (be that only small blastic pellets), I'd figure people with that much experience already are more likely to kill.

That doesn't mean I'm likely to go on rampage though in fact, I'd feel horrible accidentally firing a BB gun at unproperly protected person (nor do I like the idea at firing at birds or squirrels in case I hurt them)... Truth to be told, couple times when it has been unclear whether another guy is in the game or in the enemy team, I've ceased to fire, missing a perfect shot.
So perhaps I wouldn't not be ready made warrior, since actually most guys like to fancy themselves capable of killing in certain situations, despite what the statistics show.

And it's actually that what defeats the idea of "teaching to murder" in games. Mentally balanced and healthy individual isn't prone to kill. Violence might be coded into us, but killing your own species is actually against the nature our genes give us. Good point was, that almost no mammal usually kills it's opponent of same species or won to go as far as fighting physically, as our instincts tell animals as well us only to intimidate and not take any possible fights farther when the other surrenders. Actually gonig as far as killing the other goes against the nature of normal individual.
This makes sense considering the statistics. It's the psychopaths that have no qualms with it, and for rest of us (if we are in our right mind), killing is something that actually requires huge amount of fighting against out own human/animal nature... Even after overcoming that, you won't feel good about it.

So it seems pretty stupid to claim any normal person will become so detentized to violence by games that he becomes a thrill killer. Killing takes heck of a lot more than that.

One thing that has been bothering me about the article, which Axeli brought into focus for me, was the example of the officer handing a weapon back to a criminal after disarming him, because that was the way he was trained. That is actually a serious problem in any combat training, the muscle memory must be correct. Train the way you will fight, is the way my sensei used to put it. That's what happened in the case of the officer, muscle memory took over. The problem with using that as an example of desensitization and possible hazard from violent video games is, the muscle memories for FPS playing is completely different from any muscle memories you would get from shooting a real gun. There is literally no similarity at all. You are using different movements, in a different posture, with different feedback.

I don't care how much you play FPS, the first time you pull the trigger on a real gun, you are going to be shocked. The sound will be louder than you ever dreamed, the recoil more painful, the posture more uncomfortable. That's why so many people develop flinches right from the start. Firing a weapon, especially for the first time, can be scary as hell. Like Axeli suggests, something like airsoft or paintball is far more dangerous in this context. That's a lot closer to the real thing than any FPS ever made. The muscle memory and the reflexes being trained are at least similar to real shooting. That's not to say I believe there is any real danger with those hobbies either, but at least for them, the argument might make a little sense.

L.B. Jeffries:
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?

Speaking as someone who owns both a gun and a billion videogames, I doubt it. While the game may tell us that violence is the best problem solver, any sane human being will use killing as an absolute last resort. Besides, using a gun in a videogame is completely unlike using one in real life. In a game, you tap a button with your thumb and the gun is reloaded, back to shooting. In real life, you find cover, hit the "eject clip" button (probably have to pull the thing out yourself, you ARE in a hurry), drop the empty mag, grab a new one off your belt or whatever, put the clip in the gun, pull the slide back, and NOW you can continue shooting. This is all assuming you don't make a single mistake despite the situation being serious enough to merit the use of a gun in the first place.

In short, even if video games do teach us to use violence, they aren't teaching us how to go about using it.

Royas and 666th: It is an interesting question here - is it muscle memory, or middle brain training (or are they both one and the same)? There's an example that got cut early on in the pre-final draft stage before I sent it in to the Escapist for their editor to have his go (the first draft was around 2,500 words, the final draft I handed in was around 2,000 words, and the published article was around 1,500 words - that being said, the first draft had a lot of fluff, and the shorter lengths were a great improvement). Basically, it was about calling 911.

There's this old dumb [insert stereotype here] joke that goes "What's the number for 911?" When I was reading up on combat stress, I found out that the joke is actually a reality quite often, and with very smart people. What happens is that somebody gets seriously hurt, the person next to them's body goes into "survival mode" from the stress, the logical brain shuts down, and the mammalian brain doesn't know how to dial 911. So, it's very important to spend a bit of time practicing dialing 911 on a de-activated telephone, just so that you know how to do it. I really hated leaving that part out, particularly since it's advice that could save a life or two. Unfortunately, there was no way to add it back in and still have the paragraphs flow properly.

That being said, I think you're both right that there's no way a violent video game of any sort can teach you how to use a gun. You've got to pick it up and use it. I've heard some rumours that playing first person shooters can increase one's accuracy when shooting once you do know how to fire a gun, but I've never heard of anybody putting it to the test, so that one has to count under the "unverified rumour" category. I've played a few FPS games, and I can barely hit the side of a barn without a properly ranged telescopic sight. Now, I'm no fanatic when it comes to FPSes, so perhaps I didn't get something that a more regular player might have, but my own experiences didn't really support the improved marksmanship idea.

You're absolutely right, Royas, about what firing a gun is like for the very first time. What led me to writing this article was research about my great grandfather, who served in the Imperial Russian cavalry in WW1. I'm trying to write a book reconstructing his experiences, so I was researching how people react under combat stress (hence Grossman's On Combat), and I wanted to know what it was like to fire the sort of rifle my great grandfather would have fired. Happily, one of my military friends has a WW1 Mosin Nagant carbine rifle, and he was kind enough to let me try firing a few shots out of it. Another military friend was kind enough to let me learn how to fire a rifle in the first place with his .22.

For those reading this post who don't know anything about rifles, a .22, from what I understand, has trouble doing any damage after about 150 meters (please don't take my word for that, though). A Mosin Nagant, on the other hand, can blow somebody's head off at 1,500 meters. So, my only previous experience being a .22, my friend with the Nagant warned me that it was going to have a lot of kick, and it was very loud. I lined up the target, and pulled the trigger.

The loudest sound in the universe went off beside my head while at the same time the rifle butt decided that it really wanted to be about three feet behind me, and my shoulder was a minor technicality. My friends were laughing at the look on my face for about five solid minutes. It was actually a bit surprising, though, just how fast I got used to it. By the time we did some tactical shooting (the paper silhouette barbed wire guy had a really bad day, although we had to work to make that happen), it wasn't bad at all.

Really, I think the military conditioning argument can't be extended beyond mindset, and even there, it can't be extended beyond mindset in similar circumstances to the game you're playing. I don't think there's any way you can convincingly argue that it would do anything more than make it more acceptable to your middle brain to pull the trigger on another human being when you're fighting for your life. Anything past that has to be a stretch.

(On a personal note, I really do hope that in the end, some researcher somewhere is able to provide good, solid evidence that the conditioning argument from my article is wrong. Even if it is just conditioning that could only kick in once one is in a life or death crisis, and even if that might also make us mentally harder to victimize, the thought that we have been partially brainwashed by accident is a really horrifying one.)

I hate to say it, but the training argument is overreached. It boils down to technology and racism. Principally, the guns in WWI had a much shorter range and it was necessary to wait until you could see the enemy clearly (wait until you can see the whites of their eyes men) before firing to ensure hitting them. These days, rifles are much more accurate and easier to fire at a distance, and at this point, soldiers aren't shooting at a "person" while in combat. The troops are shooting at a silhouette. Secondly, WWII was the last war were American troops were fighting Caucasians. Despite how calloused and cynical this makes me sound, it is much easier to shoot at somebody who doesn't look like you than somebody who does. Every major conflict in the past half decade in American military history has been against Asians, Hispanics, or Middle-Easterners. We aren't fighting against blond-haired blue eyed people any more and that small visual difference helps override the reality of taking another human's life.

Now I'm not trying to defend the desensitization to gore that video games can produce. But I am saying that our culture is just to incredibly large and obtuse for any facet of an medium to have an effect as pervasive as the author of the article can claim. The largest contribution to a child's demeanor is the child's parents. Of course, I could be wrong about all this; I haven't played many psychoanalysis games.

RockKillsKid: Um, I'm sorry, but that's really not true. First off, the rifles from WW1 were also used in WW2, and many of those could get a kill shot from around 1,000 meters away and up. It was the muskets from the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars that required you to wait until you could see the whites of their eyes.

(Trust me on this - my field of research is the First World War, and I've fired both the Russian and German WW1 rifles.)

Second, American military personnel did serve in Bosnia, which was a European war against white guys. A very brutal war at that.

Finally, the racism argument doesn't hold water. From what I can gather, Marshall first started noticing this trend in the Pacific, which was a war against the Japanese. Aside from which, in this day and age, skin colour doesn't mean a whole lot to anybody but white supremecists.

The one place where I would buy the technology argument is in regards to the assault rifle, which does not require you to slide a bolt every time you fire, and is easier to use. That being said, being low on ammunition would have a dampening effect regardless of what gun you have, and Marshall's trend was worrisome enough that he did write a book on it (and considering that his actual work was oral history, this means he went outside of his field to do it). So I think that while the shift to the assault rifle could have an impact here, I don't think that impact goes far enough to explain all of it.

Best regards,

Robert Marks

RockKillsKid, I'm going to have to disagree with you here. I'm not going to get into the racial issue, that's another discussion that requires it's own thread, or threads. Range, though... WWI rifles had excellent range, similar to what we have in today's hunting rifles. At that stage of the game, combat rifles were still using long barrels and full sized rifle cartridges, as opposed to today's assault rifles which are shorter and use cut down rifle cartridges. Even the rifled muskets of the civil war era were lethal in skilled hands at many hundreds of yards. I shoot a cap and ball rifled musket (I have a cousin who used to make Pennsylvania long rifles) occasionally, and I can consistently hit a head sized target at over 150 yards. That's with minimal experience with that sort of weapon. Even today's lowly .22 is potentially deadly at over a mile (hitting accurately with it at that range isn't really possible, but the actual bullet can still kill at that range).

And Robert, going from a .22 to a Nagant would be a shock to anyone. My first firearm I shot was a 12ga shotgun, and earth shattering doesn't begin to describe the experience. I actually dropped the weapon, which is what my father expected. That's why it was a single barrel shotgun, it's pretty safe to drop after it is discharged. After that, he let me use the .22 to actually learn to shoot. I really don't think that FPS improves your accuracy at all, except in that it would possibly improve eye to hand coordination. I shot competitively for years, and I really don't think anything improves your shooting, except actually shooting.

Muscle memory, reflexes, middle brain... I think we are using different names for the same thing. All I know is that when the fecal matter hits the rotary impeller, your body will do what it's been conditioned to do. That's why anyone who carries a weapon IRL should carry it the same way all the time, and practice drawing and readying the weapon correctly again and again and again... you can't practice your draw often enough. Do it thousands of times and your body will take care of the details while your higher brain tries to get it's stuff together in an attack. Same thing goes for any other motion carried out under stress, like hitting a baseball, driving a car or even just crossing the street.

there is no link to violence in videogames and violence in real life, when will people give up the "no violence in videogames" protest. if there was no violence, the game industry would not be anywhere as big as it is today...

For those who are interested, I've printed the "director's cut" of this article under its original name on my Livejournal (http://garwulf.livejournal.com/ ) - the link is http://garwulf.livejournal.com/38455.html

Among other things, there is a thought on the implications of this issue that was left out of the Escapist version, and the words "killer" and "murderer" are no longer used interchangeably (unfortunately, that is something that originally came up in the editing process, and I was too busy to catch it before it was published - mea culpa).

Please don't get me wrong - the Escapist version was very good, and I am quite proud of it. But, this "director's cut" version offers a couple of new things, and a slightly different focus - I think (and hope) it makes for interesting additional reading.

I hope everybody enjoys it.

Interesting article, and very well balanced.

I'm not sure if this was pointed out or not, but while the player can pretty much blast away to their heart's content in Modern Warfare 2- there is one particular mission where shooting civilians is penalised and loses you the mission.

As infuriating as it was at the time (the enemy combatants are not wearing uniforms), this article makes me rather grateful for it.

And this is where I'd talk about Deus Ex, if I hadn't already done so in much the same way under different contexts dozens of times on this site already.

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