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May 15, 2007

The science of killology

As Mark Earley noted in yesterday's BreakPoint, television violence can sometimes lead to the real thing. But we really didn't need a new FCC report to tell us this. Eight years ago, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, told us the same thing in his book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence. Grossman notes that video games use the same techniques the military uses when it is training soldiers to kill. As Chuck noted in a BreakPoint commentary about Grossman's research:

Pavlov...taught dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring. Combat training uses the same kind of conditioned response to make soldiers stop thinking with the forebrain and react with the midbrain: the reflective, animal-like portion of the brain.  In other words, they're conditioned to respond to a moving target with a "don't think, just shoot" reaction....But here's the scary part. Many video games use the same techniques, but without the controlling restraints of the military environment. Soldiers only shoot and kill on orders, and firing without orders brings serious punishment. But what happens when kids play violent video games? They learn the same hair-trigger behaviors and an us-versus-them attitude--but without the context of obedience to a command," making violent video games "murder trainers."

This ought to make our skin crawl, especially in light of recent events at Virginia Tech.

The subject of video games and their impact on kids, for good or ill, is of great personal interest to me. My younger son, who was born with a Gameboy attached to his hand, starts college this fall. His intended major: Video game design. My first thought, when he told me, was that this was a deeply unserious career choice. But I've since changed my mind. Travis is very much aware of the influence video games have on players. One of his college essays dealt with this subject, and with the cultural obligations of game designers. Travis's goal, as a future game designer and as a Christian, is to create, not games that teach kids to unthinkingly kill, but games that teach positive skills--such as how to resolve conflicts without resorting to mass murder.

I'm looking forward to playing the games he designs (or at least, watching HIM play them). Meanwhile, you can read more about Dave Grossman and the science of "killology" here.

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Oh, for crying out loud! And just how bad were those old Roy Rogers shows with all of that gunplay?

300 million people. 1 foreigner who was treated abysmally (one of his roommates never even bothered to learn his name) goes crazy, on a gun-free campus, and now it is video games and TV shows that are to blame.

There are some serious logical fallacies involved with that thesis.

I remember seeing an old movie on TV about a WW1 sharpshooter, with President Eisenhower opening the story and praising him for hunting for food for his family at the age of 8.

High schools used to have sharpshooter clubs. We all had firearms safety training, in school.

How this country has fallen from its original ideals!


Why Grossman? If you check his bibilography, none of his papers are in the psychology literature, but military literature. Why not ask Craig Anderson or Rowell Huessmann, they know more of the cognitive mechanism of video game priming aggression than Grossman.

And the conditioning thing, it may have relevance, but it only scratches the surface.

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