Over the last couple of days there's been an interesting thread on CrimeSceneWriter concerning the connection between kids, video games and real-life violence such as the various school shootings.

It reminded me of an excellent book I read several years ago by Lt. Col Dave Grossman, a retired army ranger, psychologist and instructor at West Point who is the founder of the Killology Research Group. He is an expert in the field of human aggression and killing, particularly in war.

In his book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence, I especially recall him talking about the very practical connection between video games and real killing. Video games, now used by the military, are excellent at helping to develop eye/hand co-ordination in kids who previously never fired a real weapon. This factored into one school shooting he discussed where the kid, an expert at video games but who had no familiarity with real rifles, had a kill ratio much higher than one would expect for a first time shooter.

Ever since I covered the Columbine massacre, I've become interested in the subject of school violence. I don't agree with those who claim that, by themselves, video games, violent movies and/or books cause kids to act out in a violent manner. I think that's akin to believing pornography alone causes rape. Like rapists, young people who shoot their fellow students are motivated by a myriad of experiences. Often they include tacit permission by teachers, parents and peers who ignore or excuse pre-killing behavior such as writing bizarre but carefully researched violent stories (a Mississippi boy wrote a highly detailed paper about poisoning his family. His teacher gave him a good grade. Afterward, he killed his family with cyanide stolen from a school lab), making threats (one child planning a school shooting had scrawled "Everyone must die" and "Kill everyone" on his bedroom wall) creating violent videos (the Columbine duo did so prior to their rampage--and got a good grade), and even the three indicators of sociopathic behavior in children that, taken together, are known as the homicidal triad: bedwetting, firesetting and cruelty to animals or other children. The U.S. Secret Service calls ignoring such behavior giving "permission to proceed." I wholeheartedly agree.

But FBI studies also reveal that "fascination with violent media" is something all of the school shooters had in common. That includes video games. Have you checked out your local arcade or, worse, what the games are like on your child's computer or X-Box? Many of them call for the user to commit random violence and receive points based on their number of kills. They also feature simulations of blood and gore that are often quite realistic. One of the key elements for me, however, is the complete lack of empathy the games foster regarding collateral damage. No thought is given to stray bullets (or massive explosions) killing innocent bystanders.

That latter point was brought home to me several years when I covered a drowning . Police believed there might have been two victims after a boat capsized on a small lake north of Chicago. Witnesses reported seeing two men, both drunk, stealing the rowboat and paddling out into the lake where it overturned. One body turned up. A half hour or so later, I found the second alleged victim in a sandwich shop/video arcade. Shoes still wet, he said he swam away from his acquaintence, went home, took a quick nap and then went to buy a sandwich and play some games. When I asked why he didn't try to help the other man, he said, "I didn't know him that well, and he was scared and yelling loud enough I figured somebody would hear him."
And then, grinning and joking after the camera and tape recorder had been turned off, he went on to say something even more chilling:

"Besides in (whatever the game) if a car next to your target blows up, you don't try to save the people in it. You just save yourself."

All of this might prompt a reader to ask, as some have already, "If you're so worried about real violence, how come you write violent books?"

We'll take that up in my next post.

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