In an article for the Huffington Post, columnist Kari Henley claims that the laissez-faire attitude many Americans have toward "enhanced interrogation" - that is, torture - is the result of too much time spent indulging in violent media.
The use of techniques like waterboarding, physical violence and "stress positions" during interrogations of prisoners in the "war on terror" has been the subject of heated debate since the Obama administration took office and declared such tactics off-limits. While the general feeling regarding the revelations of torture by U.S. forces has been one of outrage, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that a significant number of U.S. citizens believed the use of torture was "often" or "sometimes" justified.
In her column, Henley suggests that one of the reasons Americans are tolerant of torture is the influx of violence they're exposed to in their entertainment media, which she believes "drastically decrease" people's sensitivity to real-world violence. Violent themes feature prominently in television, movies and of course videogames, and Henley claims that fact is incontrovertibly linked to our casual attitude toward violent behavior. "Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco," she wrote.
"What about these modern X-Box and online video games?" she asked. "While I happen to enjoy the 'G' rated Wii, over 11 million people are spending their time engrossed in the World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto where the point is to go around and kill people in a calculated way. Tell me again why this is supposed to be fun and relaxing?"
Henley is critical of the desensitizing effects of modern media in general but it's clear that videogames are her bugbear of choice. She quotes Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a noted game critic, who said, "We have raised a generation of barbarians who have learned to associate violence with pleasure, like the Romans cheering and snacking as the Christians were slaughtered in the Coliseum," and adds, "The line between fact and fiction is fine. If we want to stand as a leading nation in moral conduct, we must first explore why we are inundating ourselves with so many images of violence."
"I believe if we are going to truly come to terms with abiding by moral codes against extreme acts of violence, we first have to start in our own living rooms to explore the increased levels of violence we witness on a daily basis that serves as news or entertainment," Henley wrote. "We say we 'don't f**#$ torture,' yet Grand Theft Auto is our favorite video game."