Fiction by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Posted on Nov 16, 2008 in Blog, Writing | 7 comments

violent video games = violent kids

A recent article on videogames.

I’m interested in video games and how they’re becoming one of the primary narrative delivery devices for kids, and especially boys these days.


  1. Dude,

    Stfu and die!

    and… Have fun!

  2. Yeah, I was thinking of you when I wrote that. Fallout 3 is rotting your brain, kid. Rotting it!

  3. This is a long and frequently tedious debate. It usually goes something like this: someone, usually from Iowa State (which gets funding from religious organizations and is also behind such scientifically solid examinations as the effect of prayer on world peace), claims that games make kids violent; other child psychologists come out saying no, your data is flawed for x, y, z, and get drowned out in the flocking media; issue dies down for 6-12 months and then the whole thing starts all over again with the researchers claiming No, Really, This Time It’s Different, and they’ve been saying that for the past twenty years, all the while violent crime continues to decline in the US. The raw fact is that there are far too many people and kids who play videogames for us not to be aware of any significant effect they would have on their behavior. Meanwhile, the real red flag behaviors are known by psychologists who actually work with children: obsession with real violence (which can be media — news coverage of serial killers is a big one), and social isolation, including isolation from their families. Violent music (violent lyrics) is also a much stronger correlated attractor than video games, but because music is a more accepted staple in American society, it comes under much less intense scrutiny — you can get arrested for selling a kid an M rated video game in some states, but not an explicit CD.

    If you’re interested in this stuff, there’s a cloud of interesting research on it… a book recently came out called _Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do_ ( http://www.amazon.com/Grand-Theft-Childhood-Surprising-Violent/dp/0743299515/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226898124&sr=8-1 ) that’s a very balanced approach to the whole thing. I really like Gerard Jones’s _Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make Believe Violence_ ( http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Monsters-Children-Make-Believe-Violence/dp/0465036961/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226898398&sr=1-1 ), and this article by Richard Rhodes is also excellent:


    Touching on how a bunch of pseudo-research riddled with flaws was used to justify a political witch-hunt against television. The same thing happened to comic books, and they weren’t big enough or organized enough to fight back and largely had their industry crushed, and now the same thing is happening to video games. I guess something has to keep the politicians employed and feeling like they’re doing something for our tax dollars. But it’s all rather wag-the-dog and disturbing.

  4. I had a friend who did some clinical psych research work on video games priming violent behaviors, and he says it’s a really thorny and unclear issue. I’ve always wondered how you can possibly account for selection bias in these cases — people with a greater fondness for/tendency toward violence are apt to be attracted to violent video games/music/media, so your sample is inherently weighted toward people already prone to violence. Unless you can have a sample where kids who have no interest in violent video games play them *anyway*, and as much as the other kids do, you can’t get rid of selection bias. (Note: I am not a psychologies, I was just longtime housemates with one, and these days even he’s doing acupuncture for a living instead…)

  5. Our own culture tends to be invisible to us. One of the confounding factors, it seems to me, is that our everyday culture includes violent messages, both implicit and explicit. There are so many sources of violent messages that it can be difficult to analyze just one. (Which echoes previous comments.)


    Someone with an interesting perspective, a career Army officer who is also a psychologist, has written a book that’s relevant: _On Killing_. The author ends the book with a chapter about a popular form of violent video games.

    He finds them disturbing, and worrisome.

    As a result, so do I.

  6. Yeah, I was shocked at the claim in ‘On Killing’ that the majority of American soldiers refused to fire their weapons at the enemy. Contrast that with ‘Generation Kill’ where the author observes not a single soldier recalcitrant to hose somebody down–enemy soldiers, a kid herding goats, women gathering water, a few camels, whatever. (Granted he had embedded himself with an elite volunteer unit, but still…And he notes plenty of regret, but that’s later…) Now is this change because of a cultural shift towards violence? And if so, is violence in video games and movies a cause or a symptom? Or is it just the result of different training strategies by the military, and so not reflective of a cultural shift at all?

    I don’t know.

    What I do know is that the best part of playing GTA, is when after you’ve gone on a killing spree and the cops have wounded you, you can heal yourself by getting it on w/a hooker. THEN you can get your money back from her by beating her w/a baseball bat. SO wrong, which why it’s SO good. I can’t imagine my granddad being down with that. But I also can’t say it’s fostered in me (or any of the many people I know who play GTA) the urge to go on killing sprees or mug hookers with a bat. Yet….

    Related: http://www.slate.com/id/2152487/

    As for video games being the new narrative medium….Yeah. Maybe, Paolo, you should have your agent pitch your novels to Behesda Game Studios instead of Little Brown.

    Or maybe you should just face the music and get a job at the mines.

  7. The article linked is a terrible example of bad journalism.

    In my opinion problems with violence are generally related to stunted emotional growth.

    One of the most effective ways to deal with aggression is to funnel it into a safe activity. Punching bag, tearing up magazines, breaking glass bottles (with safety glasses on)… and probably video games. Even just being consciously aware of violent aggressive thoughts can help to mitigate the impulse to actually be violent.

    It would be much more interesting to see what some of the modern computer games do to brain activity. Do video games increase levels of vigilance outside of the playing experience?