Is there anything wrong with playing violent video games? Does the answer depend on whom the video game wishes you to fight or kill or how gory the violence is?
On February 12, 1993, James Bulger, a two-year-old boy from Merseyside, England was abducted from a shopping mall, tortured and killed. The perpetrators were two 10-year-old boys. It was subsequently determined that the boys had watched a rated 18 horror film the night before.
While some sought to dimiss any correlation, the fact that the gruesome death of the young child involved peculiarities such as splashing him with paint – a direct replication of a scene from the film – prompted the trial judge to comment during sentencing that exposure to violent videos might have encouraged their actions.
I had many conversations with a congregant of mine who was president of Sega Europe, a pioneer in the videogame industry. He explained to me the process of test running games on kids, highlighting the benefits of hand-eye coordination etc., but he also stressed that he dreaded the day when technology would advance and, with it, more realistic defamatory-type games.
“These are virtual means of people letting out what they cannot get away with in real life,” he said.
When Chazal tell us, “The eye sees and the heart lusts,” they are conveying a message beyond the obvious connotation. Whatever we cast our gaze upon, let along indulge ourselves in, has an unavoidable impact on our psyche.
Playing violent video games is an ongoing indulgence that is arguably addictive. It does not jell with the dictum of “Mah hu rachum, af atah rachum.” And if there is even a slight risk of negative impact, “sakanta chamira me’issura” – avoiding the danger is more strongly required of us than avoiding an actual violation.
Besides, we’re exposed to enough violence in our real world. We don’t need to add to it in virtual reality.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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Experts debate whether or not playing violent video games induces people to commit acts of violence. But we must remember that violence existed in the world long before the invention of video games. Human history is drenched in the blood of wars, terrorism, and crime.
From an early age, children learn to “play out” acts of aggression. Games such as Cops and Robbers entail mock murdering of enemies. Even quiet games like checkers and chess involve destroying “men” on the other team. Do these activities induce violence – or are they merely pastimes that are substitutes for actual violence?
Tanach is replete with incidents of violence and bloodshed. Nearly all humans drown to death in Noah’s time; Sodom and Amorah are devastated by fire and brimstone; Moshe murders an Egyptian taskmaster; the Israelites are brutalized by Egyptian taskmasters; Egyptians suffer 10 plagues, etc.
As we go on in the books of Tanach, we confront wars, cruelty, murder. Do these narratives incite readers to acts of violence? Most of us would not think so.
It could be argued that playing violent video games is a harmless way to work out aggressive feelings. It could also be argued that playing such games is a waste of time, with possibly negative impact on one’s psychology. Let people decide what’s best for themselves and their children.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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In response to someone who asked him about hunting as a sport, the Nodah B’Yehudah wrote that even if in essence it isn’t prohibited, hunting and killing animals is cruel and related to Esav’s personality, not Yaakov’s.
Our personalities are conditioned by our actions, and engaging in violent actions (even in fantasies or for entertainment) engenders cruelty and violent tendencies.
The only possible positive aspect could be for someone who already has these tendencies and needs an outlet to express them in a manner that does not affect others adversely. However, that need and that treatment as an option has to be determined by a qualified therapist.
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator
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We live in a violent world, and modern communications has led to a bombardment of images of violent events around the world. It’s unrealistic to imagine that we can create a cocoon for our children where all is peaceful. Terrorism and anti-Semitism are real dangers.
I am not an expert who can evaluate the lasting effect on children who play violent video games, but I suspect that some games glorify killing and make violent acts acceptable, which obviously is not good. Certainly addiction to these games is unhealthy.
But prohibiting things often makes them more attractive. Serious conversations with young people about responding to a violent world is a better approach than prohibitions.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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I find a lot wrong with video games in general. Number one, children very much need to be active, and any time they’re sitting, staring at a screen, they’re being passive, acting like couch potatoes.
But even more significantly, playing video games constitutes a dulling of the mind. Instead of doing activities that are challenging, engaging, educational, or informative, they’re just zoning out. So I view playing any video game as something that may have to be tolerated, but should best be avoided if possible and certainly should not be encouraged.
That said, I don’t see that much distinction between one video game and another. The human mind is quite imaginative, and if one reads a novel about a time of war, the mind is there and one feels it. But a person is easily able to distinguish between the imaginative world and the real world. One of the signs of serious psychosis is the inability to distinguish between fantasy and real.
So when a child plays a video game and kills the enemy – whether it be with bullets, swords, or daggers – the child is well aware that this is fantasy. And if, in fact, the child has real problems distinguishing between fantasy and real, the problem is far deeper than video games and requires serious professional help.
So [my objection is not] the type of video game but rather the entire category of video games. It should be tolerated at best and better excluded altogether.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz