Are you really comfortable with your child being affected in such a profound way by a video game manufacturer whose fundamental motivation is to manipulate your child’s brain to continue playing so that they can realize the greatest profit possible?
Are you really comfortable submitting your child to what amounts to brainwashing by people for whom your child is essentially a disposable source of income?
Video game producers maintain that just because a violent person plays video games does not mean it was the video games that made the person violent. After all, uncountable numbers of people play violent video games without engaging in violence. Right? Perhaps. We do know that in 1999 only five percent of students aged twelve to eighteen reported being bullied in school while thirty-two percent complained of being bullied in 2007. That these numbers correspond with a rise in video game playing cannot be discounted. Mr. Safran suggests that the professed lack of a causal link between these video games and violent behavior has everything to do with science’s inability to document conclusively that the games have a detrimental effect on the neurology of children and not what actually happens.
To scientifically conclude that video games have a direct causal relationship to violent behavior, researchers would need to “feather out” some of the variables that impact behavior, i.e., environment, upbringing, genetics, diet, education, etc.
No doubt some are more susceptible to the influence of video games than others (most likely, the same players who become most immersed in the gaming experience). Certainly, the perpetrators of these mass murders have been individuals with significant social and psychological deficits. However, the number of young people drawn into these games is astronomical – nearly ninety-seven percent of twelve-to-seventeen year olds, for example.
Perhaps the most insidious thing about these games is something that Joshua Gardner pointed out in a piece for ABC News. He quoted Laura Davies, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist in San Francisco who is reluctant to support tighter controls on media of any kind but who believes too many children are exposed to too much violence through video games and that there can be consequences.
“A huge part of discipline and development is understanding consequences. Letting kids know that their actions have consequences,” said Dr. Davies. “Video games like Grand Theft Auto turn the consequences into positives. You kill a prostitute and get points, you’re rewarded.”
Video games are not only immersive but they upend any civilized moral system by rewarding murder and violence.
Even without the a clear, causal link between violent video games and violent behavior, there is one observation that we can make with certainty. The proliferation of violent video games and violent media desensitizes players to real-life violence. These games teach impressionable young people that violence is an acceptable way to solve conflicts and achieve goals.
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From a Jewish perspective, the desensitizing is perhaps most fundamental (and suggests the nexus of causality). As Rabbi Emanuel Feldman wrote in “Sandy Hook: A Jewish Antidote” on Aish.com, there are no “quick fixes” to the problem of violence but Judaism offers some insight. “The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) records an incisive tradition in which God says: ‘I have created the inclination to do evil, but I have also created an antidote, which is the Torah.’ Thus, man is not born a warm and fuzzy creature. He is born grasping and selfish, fists tightly closed, concerned exclusively with his immediate needs. Says God in Genesis 8:21: ‘The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his very inception.’ Left to his own devices, not taught the ways of civilized behavior, so will he remain throughout life: a rapacious, self-centered infant masquerading as an adult whose fists will not open until he departs this earth.”
We are profoundly physical beings. We are, by nature, heavily influenced by the physicality of life. Our senses inform us and influence us directly and profoundly – which is why the immersive quality of these violent video games is so detrimental. We experience the violence as if it were real. We are rewarded for our violent behavior in the games.
In reality, of course, because of our brute, physical nature it is only Torah that offers the antidote to our brutishness, not a reinforcement of it.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of Communications and Marketing.
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