Michael Carneal seemed like a regular teenage boy. Growing up in Paducah, Kentucky, he was a B-grade freshman in high school. The son of a prominent attorney, Carneal “always seemed like he was a happy guy,” according to one of his schoolmates. However, Michael had inner problems and a special ability that most people did not know about.
Together, this mental disturbance and dark talent led to Michael shooting eight of his fellow high school students. He killed three of them in cold blood. Although he had never fired a real gun before, let alone a pistol, Michael Carneal could shoot with better accuracy than the average law enforcement officer. Of the eight shots he fired at fellow students the morning of Dec. 1, 1997, he had eight direct hits, three of them fatal. How in the world did Michael Carneal learn to shoot like this? More importantly, how did he end up in a state of mind so evil that it caused him to walk into Heath High School that morning with six guns and use them on his fellow classmates?
He learned it.
Carneal’s parents believe he was trained to shoot by violent video games. Michael spent hours playing games like Doom, Quake and Mortal Kombat. Getting absorbed in these violent forms of entertainment not only taught him how to kill, but how to want to.
The Carneal account is vivid proof that “violent video games are the mental equivalent of putting an assault rifle [or any other weapon used in a computer game] in the hands of every child in America,” according to Lt. Col. David Grossman, a military professor and former army ranger. “A friend of mine refers to them as ‘murder trainers.’ By sitting and mindlessly killing countless thousands of fellow members of your own species without any ramifications or repercussions, we are teaching skills and concepts and values that transfer immediately anytime they get a real weapon in their hand.”
Colonel Grossman is saying that it doesn’t matter if a person is using a handheld computer controller or a real gun—in his or her mind, that person is making the conscience choice to inflict violence on a fellow human being. The controller in their hand might be harmless, but the conditioning of the mind to commit and enjoy murder is not.
This problem is growing more severe as video games continue to rise in popularity. In the United States in 1995, the sales figure for entertainment software (computer and video games) was $3.2 billion. In 2002, it rose to $6.9 billion. In 2012, consumers spent $20.8 billion on video games, hardware and accessories.
A 2003 study based on interviews with 8- to 17-year-olds, showed that 35 percent of children have videogame systems in their bedrooms. The facts demonstrate that more and more young people are spending their time playing video games. So the question is, what kinds of games are teens playing?
Video game research shows that eight out of 10 top video games contain graphic violence. For example, in Grand Theft Auto V (rated No. 1), players beef up their scores by gunning down their enemies, establishing crime rings, having sex with prostitutes and then beating them to death.
Video games are more “real” now than ever. Game designers constantly strive to make their games as much like real life as possible. Each new game touts itself as having the most “realistic” characters and “real-life” violence.
But do violent video games really have an effect on the teenage mind? Is Colonel Grossman accurate when he infers that killing via a handheld computer controller translates to killing someone with a real gun? For years now, entertainment software companies and teens have argued that the violent video games they make have no detrimental effect on the minds of those that play them. At the same time, however, government authorities, parents and conservative groups have argued that these games are a leading contributor to society’s high crime rate. Numerous surveys show that tv and video game violence can and does lead to increased aggression and violence in young people.
In order to see if violent video games lead to violent attitudes in teens, take a look for a moment at the effect they have on another group of people, one that we don’t usually associate video games with. When you see what these games do to the minds of these individuals, you might think twice about what the same games are doing to your mind.
Video Games—A Soldier’s Training
Since its inception, the U.S. Army has undertaken extensive training to teach its soldiers to kill. For years, soldiers improved their shooting skills by firing at bull’s-eye targets. It was not long after World War ii, however, that the army realized that this training was not entirely effective. Too often, soldiers were finding it hard to make the transition from firing at inanimate targets to firing at real, live people.
Many soldiers just couldn’t bring themselves to shoot another human being in real life. To remedy this problem, the Army incorporated pop-up, human-shaped targets into its combat training. The situation improved—more soldiers had no problem shooting the enemy. But some still had inhibitions. A large number of soldiers still found themselves unable to take human life. The Army needed a more effective, more realistic training simulator so that its soldiers could practice killing “real” people better.
After trying various training methods, the Army has found that one of the most effective tools in training a soldier to kill is, in fact, to put him or her in front of a large tv with a hand-held plastic m-16 assault rifle and put a first-person shooting “game” up on the screen. Sound familiar? That’s right, the United States Army uses computer games in the training of its soldiers.
In fact, Nintendo, of all companies, supplies the Army with many of its training products. Colonel Grossman (who has used these games in the U.S. Army) provides insight as to why the use of shoot-’em-up computer games is so effective in training American soldiers.
When comparing violent video games with other violent media, Colonel Grossman said, “With violent video games, you’ve entered a realm where, instead of being the passive receivers of images of human death and suffering [like watching tv], you are now pushing the button that inflicts human death and suffering on another human being.”
Sound far-fetched? It’s not. When the U.S. Army trains its soldiers using violent video games, it is training them to kill using the same method: pushing the button that inflicts violence on other human beings—at least in the soldier’s mind. By actively and purposely shooting a person via a plastic m-16, soldiers, children and teens are not just improving their shooting skills, but they are also preparing their minds for real-life violence and death. These violent video games help tear down the inherent barriers against committing violence against other people.
Video game violence causes soldiers (and whoever else plays them) to become desensitized to violence and death. If they are having such a dramatic impact on the more mature mind of an adult soldier, imagine the impact they are having on hundreds of thousands of less-developed teen minds!
But it gets worse still.
These violent video games teach players to enjoy inflicting pain, suffering and death on someone else. Oftentimes, the lead player in the video game is rewarded for killing people. In the game world, players begin to associate accomplishment and pleasure with death and suffering. Not only is the young mind desensitized to violence, it is groomed to love it.
More Than Just Shooting
In games such as Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, players can kill others using weapons like batons, knives, machetes, grenades, rocket launchers, fists and feet, as well as guns. Even when it comes to violence without using guns, this same principle of Grossman’s applies. When a young person beats up a guy on the computer screen via the handheld controller of a computer game, he is making it easier for himself to use violence against someone in real life.
Since the 1960s, over 1,000 studies have been conducted that have indicated a relationship between sustained exposure to violent media and real-life aggression in children.
A 2001 Stanford University Medical School study showed that when third and fourth graders’ video game usage was reduced to less than seven hours per week for 20 weeks, their verbal aggression decreased by 50 percent and their physical aggression by 40 percent.
The raging battle between supporters of violent video games and those who oppose them continues. Without violent video games, the entertainment industry, gaming companies, video stores and retail stores would lose countless millions, perhaps billions, of dollars. In addition, the public, including thousands and thousands of teens, have come to expect and demand violent video games.
Many teenage gamers continue to reject concerns that violent games lead to real-life aggression—not to mention the other negative returns of extensive video game usage (including laziness, poor health and weight problems).
There is something you can do, however. You don’t have to be part of the violence trend. You don’t have to be pushed along like a sheep, just going along with the crowd. Control and monitor the types of video games you play and how long you are playing them. Time is too precious to waste sitting in front of the television for hours playing violent computer games.
Even more precious, however, is your mind! If violent video games can subconsciously affect the mind of an adult soldier and train him to kill without thinking twice, what are they doing to your subconscious?
Teens everywhere want to stand up for their “rights.” They insist that they are old enough and mature enough to handle absolute freedom and to make their own decisions. They are tired of being told what to do, tired of being told how to act, tired of having their minds controlled.
But at the same time, the video game industry is growing, and thousands of young people are giving their minds over to violent video games for hours each day. Hundreds and thousands of young people are allowing their minds to be impacted and influenced by the mainstream media through these games. On one hand, we say we are in control of our lives and our minds, yet on the other hand, we end up giving our minds over to a television screen and a plastic controller for hours a week, and whatever messages the latest video game sends out, whether it be crime, degradation or murder. It’s time young people rose up and became truly responsible for what goes into their minds!
If you know the video games you play are violent, or that you play video games too much, stand up to the industry. Put down your controller, turn off the television and snatch your mind back! Then, back in control, feed your mind with positive, uplifting input that will contribute to your positive growth. Play sports, read a book, find a hobby, get a job. And swim upstream against the violent video game tide.