It’s no secret that I love to play video games. It’s an imaginary outlet to exercise fantasies. In real life, I would never be able to fly, shoot lightening from my fingers, or take down a room full of Triads. The possibilities are endless.
Also there is a study my mother me about (so I know it’s true, because my mother would never endorse this habit) where scientists concluded that Video Games exercise the part of the brain that doesn’t get stimulated by everyday activity in persons with ADD. Considering the vast amount of my friends with ADD that play video games, I figured this makes sense.
Like all things artistic and related to, I am against industry censorship. NOT APPLYING TO CHILDREN (as I discuss later), I don’t believe that radio, broadcast television, cinema, music, art, literature (especially in libraries) and video games should be censored by the federal government, and threatened with boycotts, NC-17 ratings, or AO ratings (this is why Australia sucks. Sorry, Australia, you’re no New Zealand). The only purpose of this is to justify hindering artistic vision in order to create a product of mass marketing potential. Or the government is jealous that they can no longer behead artists they disagree with. The only reason the American public agrees to this censorship is that it gives them a false sense of superiority and prudence, especially in issues dealing with sexuality (we don’t have topless women in our soap commercials, unlike certain other English speaking countries that will remain unnamed). I’ve written about this before, in an article named Mature, but this isn’t the topic for today; just the segue.
Like my love for horror movies, I also love scary games. Fatal Frame, Resident Evil, Dead Space, and Silent Hill have been some of my favorite series in video game history. In my mind, I’ve justified this participation in grotesque violence by assuring myself that I’m fully capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality, and in real life, I’ve never hurt a soul (at least not since schoolyard battle royals). Besides, in these games I am fighting ghosts, zombies, alien monsters, and demons, respectively.
Lately, however, I’ve noticed a rise in my aggressive behavior, and it seemed to be triggered by video game frustrations. I never blamed the games, however, just the fact that I lead a stressful life, and all the stress gets bottled up until I explode.
But last night I read the following, from a book written by Dr. Dan Baker (though it’s something that appears in medical textbooks everywhere): The amygdala is directly connected to the action portion of your fear system: the endocrine glands, which produce hormones. Hormones have many functions, including protecting the body from danger and ensuring survival. The primary survival hormones are adrenaline and cortisol, which are sometimes referred to as stress hormones. They could also be called fear hormones. These hormones enable you to run faster and fight harder. They trigger the release of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain that increase alertness. In doing so, though, they create most of the physical symptoms of fear, such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, the sensation of butterflies in your stomach, cold feet, jitteriness, and insomnia. These physical symptoms, in turn, reinforce the emotional feeling of fear, and can create a spiral of anxiety.”
Lost? Picture this: 4,953. This is my kill-count in a damn-near photo-realistic war game called Call of Duty. I have killed through knifing, sniping, close quarters gunfire, or explosions, nearly 5,000 avatars of actual people playing online. 5,000 images of me killing people are floating around in the unconscious of my mind, from this game alone, and I’ve only been playing since August.
Now, my conscious mind feels fine; I’ve never hurt anyone, and I have no desire to, but the reflex part of my brain, the mammalian part, the amygdala, thinks maybe I have, and has excreted massive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol over an extended period of time (sometimes five or six hours in a day), for stresses my body isn’t actually experiencing, so there is NO RELEASE! This is why all my controllers are broken, my furniture is shattered, and my knuckles are bruised.
And by the way, there are 6.4 million gamers that have a higher kill-count then I do, or to put it another way, have a higher concentration of images of violent killings in their heads. A vast majority of these gamers live in the continental United States.
I guess I could make a side note here about the addiction of video games. Addiction is not the topic I wish to discuss, but I can say first hand that after a solid Saturday of binge gaming, I turn into a mindless anti-social freakstorm, where I start babbling things like “Some coffee help me you,” and “Violent Video People Shouldn’t Play Children (Especially Games).”
I was speaking with a good friend, and immediate supervisor (in an unrelated field) about children and games. She says that not only does she censor her children’s input, but she caps the time they spend playing them as well. Her observation, justifying her concern, is that children who play a lot of games, especially violent ones, are apathetic to such real life violence, and/or just plain emotionally retarded. They don’t play well with the other kids, and creep her out like The Children of the Corn.
At the risk of being sexually exclusive (I know little girls play video games, even violent ones) boys will be boys. Like John Eldredge puts it: How many parents have tried in vain to prevent little Timmy from playing with guns? Give it up. If you don not supply a boy with weapons, he will make them from whatever materials are at hand. My boys chew their graham crackers into the shape of hand guns at the breakfast table. Every stick or branch is a spear, or better, a bazooka.
Lord knows as a kid I used to play Mortal Kombat on the playground, with my friends, where we would pretend to be fierce ninjas shooting hooks from our palms. We would battle as WarCraft characters (the RTS, mind you, this was long before World of Warcraft). The point is, we spent far more time engaging each other on the playground than actually playing the games we were imitating. Honestly, it was more fun, because Mortal Kombat is really freakin’ hard. Social interaction and complex thought stimulation through imagination. These are real world values.
Boys, and some boyish girls (they’re out there, don’t judge me for writing it), enjoy violence, and we should encourage it, but not for the sake of violence itself, but to reinforce the good that can come of it, like adventuring, courage, and the sense of victory. Saving the princess from a lonely tower isn’t nearly as exciting as saving her from marauding pirates (or ghosts, or zombies, or any combination of the three in any particular order, my favorite being zombie ghost-pirates, which are half zombie, half ghost-pirates). Children are storms of imagination, and don’t you think it’s better to release that creative energy into a real accomplishment, like building a club house in the living room, and not finding all the skulls in Halo? At least encourage their adventuring into social engagements. Despite what they may try to convince you, online “social” games are no more socializing than taking on a cell phone. The conversations are just a little more exclusive [read: nerdier].
Children, including teens, are in the most critical stage of their life: development. There are two ways a child can handle violence in Video Games: they do, or they don’t. Both can hinder development. If they really connect with the characters they are portraying, then they become impressionable to the scenarios, and start absorbing all the negative stimuli. The primitive area of their brain (still developing, mind you) acts accordingly by releasing all the stress hormones, and stores the input in their reactive memory. If a child’s brain doesn’t respond to the violence, they can become desensitized, and not just in some old-wives usage of the word, but biochemically.
The more realistic games become, the more this becomes a problem. No child in the world is scarred from an 8-bit image of Ninja Gaiden being attacked by birds, but I’m sure there is at least one child out there with irresponsible parents that has had nightmares (unconscious memory regurgitation) about being attacked by Resident Evil zombies. As a parent, you should want your children to react negatively to violent images (it’s humanizing) but you don’t want them to harbor those images.
Another quote by Dr. Baker, in regards to a description of mammalian brain, the second part of a child’s brain to develop in the womb after the brain stem: Residing in the mammalian brain is the other important culprit in the neurological symphony of fear: the amygdala. The amygdala is a memory center for emotion. In particular, it stores memories of all of your painful and threatening experiences. It’s a veritable haunted house of memory. The amygdala isn’t as primordial as the brain stem; it does have some power to evaluate fears- though not much. It’s a primitive warehouse for everything that is frightening.
So thanks to the amygdala, you can’t have both. You can’t have a negative reaction to the exposure of violent images without harboring a piece of it in the middle of your brain, whether you can consciously distinguish those images from reality or not. It’s why, though I don’t believe in the boogy-man, I become vaguely fearful of the dark if I’m alone in a house after watching Halloween. The primitive brain remembers that people die if they are in the dark, while Michael Myers is on the loose, and your rational brain, the cerebral cortex, has to calm it down.
In summation, remember what the number one killer in America is? It’s not killers, it’s not alcohol related car accidents, it’s not even cigarettes (at least not directly); the number one killer is heart disease. Sitting and stressing (and not exercising) for hours every day in front of a television will lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart disease, which can kill.
You, specifically. It can kill you.
So, if you enjoy violent and gory video games, that’s fine; I’m not one to judge. However, I am writing (as a HYPOCRITE) to encourage moderation. Like drinking, smoking, fast food, shrimp buffets, and cheese parties. But as a gross blanket statement, people shouldn’t play violent video games (especially children).
The books quoted in this blog are:
What Happy People Know by Dan Baker, Ph.D., and Cameron Stauth
Wild At Heart by John Eldredge