Video Games: Violence In, Violence Out?

Video Games: Violence In, Violence Out?

This is a repost of a recent article for Enjoy, and please post your reactions. (For a related post, see, “Violence and Entertainment.”)

Is mounting teen violence evidence of the effects of violent video games?

On Tuesday, March 24, 1998, two cousins, aged 13 and 11, soldiered up. Donning camouflage and armed with handguns and rifles, they hid in the trees near Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, while an accomplice set off the school’s fire alarm. The ambush came off with military perfection: firing only 27 shots, the juvenile commandos killed 4 middle-school girls, 1 teacher, and wounded 11 others fleeing the building.

While most planned acts of violence in school are probably foiled, many attempts have been successful in recent years, including several well-publicized events. Beyond the immediate tragedy and bloody aftermath, one troubling aspect of these events is the lack of a profile for children prone to violence. Apparently, children “snap” into violence, and there’s simply no predicting the fracture.

But something is clearly causing a “tipping point,” driving children to violence in increasing numbers. The catalyst, many say, is violent media — specifically, gory video games that desensitize players to violence, train them in deadly shooting skills, and reward killing without consequences.

In the 2005 editorial “Deadening the Heart,” Christianity Today editors address the issue, first citing the opposition, Steve Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You, who claims violent video games are actually healthy and good. According to Johnson, violent video games may “function as a kind of safety valve — they let kids who would otherwise be doing violent things for the thrill of it, get out those kind of feelings sitting at home at a screen. … This may have a deterrent effect on violence.”

In rebuttal, however, the article offers up the American Psychological Association’s (APA) view. After 70 studies and 20 years of research into violent video gaming effects, the APA calls for “reduction of violence in interactive media used by children and adolescents” because such games “increase aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and angry feelings among youth.”

But surely violent video games aren’t really training children to be aggressive, violent, or murderous, are they? After all, we’re only talking about harmless pastimes where nobody really gets hurt. How can this be harmful?

Enter Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (retired), who created the theory and field of study called killology — the psychology of killing. In his Christianity Today article “Trained to Kill,” Grossman asserts that people have a God-given, hardwired aversion to killing another human being, but that certain practices and behaviors can reduce or eliminate this resistance.

After 25 years as an infantry officer and psychologist studying how to enable soldiers to kill, Grossman says killing simply does not come naturally: “You have to be taught to kill.” His basic axiom applies to soldiers, police — and children. While abuse and violence in the home can be a factor, Grossman believes the most pervasive teacher of killing skills for children is violent entertainment in television, film, and video games. Through the media’s moral, behavioral, and psychological conditioning, our youth have become desensitized pseudo-psychopaths with “Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome” (AVIDS). Fortunately, Grossman believes there is a cure; and he provides practical strategies in his article to “confront the culture of violence as entertainment.”

One way Christians are fighting back is by creating alternative non-violent games. John J. Thompson profiled a groundbreaking video game in a CT article titled “Trained to Thrill?Catechumen, a Christian video game with a secular-sized budget, had recently been released and was exploding out of the Christian niche while garnering positive reviews in secular media.

Creator Ralph Bagley was pleasantly surprised by the secular market’s increasing demand for his quality first-person shooter game minus the blood and gore. Instead of performing decapitations and pumping-heart extractions, Catechumen players use “Swords of the Spirit” to blast opponents, evaporating demonic monsters and causing evil Roman guards to kneel in penitence. Along the way, players “power up” by acquiring scrolls that display some 300 verses from the Bible — exposing players to the Word of God. Parents are delighted. Kids are stunned: “I never knew the Bible said that cool stuff.”

More recently, building on the phenomenal cultural wake generated by the Left Behind franchise, Tyndale House Publishers and Left Behind Games will be offering their version of a real-time-strategy game titled: Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Set in a post-Apocalyptic (and post-Rapture) Manhattan, the game pits the Tribulation Forces against the Global Community Peacekeepers in a war for souls and a search for clues left behind by the Raptured. The player’s job is to craft a strategy that persuades neutral civilians to choose sides — the right side — and to keep morale high while seeking out “tribulation clues.” While receiving positive reviews, the game has not been without controversy.

Other Christian groups have also taken up Grossman’s gauntlet for confrontation. Writing for CT in “Moral Combat: More Christians Campaign Against Media Violence,” Jody Veenker describes one such effort.

In January 2004, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) organized participants from as far away as Vancouver to protest the Chicago Planning Department’s award of a $2.2 million grant to Midway, the makers of Mortal Kombat — wherein gamers merrily decapitate virtual opponents. Dressed as the Magi and singing carols, the protesters brought “Games for sharing, dolls for caring, never for violent play.” “Our goal,” says CPT director Mervin Stoltzfus, “is violence reduction, whoever it is linked to. Games that focus on killing raise kids who think it is OK to kill.”

Meanwhile, in “A Temple Tax on Video Games,” CT tells about Tom Parrish’s approach: While pastoring Oldfield United Methodist Church in Sylacauga, Alabama, he didn’t hoist a protest placard. Instead, after noticing a dozen of his church’s teens plunking significant coin into video games, he sat down with the teens and devised a unique plan that transformed the hypnotic — and expensive — passion of video gaming into the joy of giving.

Video gaming entertainment is here to stay, but violence doesn’t have to. Whether it’s by campaign, choice of game, simple moderation, or abstinence, the Christian culture is beginning to respond to the violence and is employing some pretty creative ways to address it.

(Note: Most of the articles mentioned above require paid membership at, but if you’re the kind of person who enjoys articles from Christianity Today, Leadership, Books & Culture, and Christian History & Biography, it may well be worth it. For what it’s worth, while I was once employed by Christianity Today, I do not personally benefit from any transactions through these sites.)

Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today International. Used with permission.

[tags]BlogRodent, CTLibrary, Catechumen, Christian, Christianity-Today, Christianity-Today-Library, columbine, Dave-Grossman, Eternal-Forces, evangelical, Jonesboro, killology, Left-Behind, Left-Behind-Games, Left-Behind:-Eternal-Forces, media-violence, Mortal-Kombat, real-time-strategy, religion, RTS, school-shootings, Tyndale-House, Tyndale-House-Publishers, video-games, video-violence[/tags]

9 thoughts on “Video Games: Violence In, Violence Out?

  1. Marc V

    Good article. I’m wrestling with the statement about people having “a God-given, hardwired aversion to killing another human being”. I think it falls more in the basic survival instinct: if I kill someone, then the same could happen to me.

    I posted on a sense of sin last night, and about our thought lives. Do video games help to fill in the gaps of our virtual reality/imagination? Or are they just a weak substitute?

    If there were no sin in our adventures in imagination there would be no enjoyment in them.

    True? Video games can allow us to participate in arenas we would otherwise never visit. Sometimes it’s a pro football stadium, or a jet fighter, or an alien planet. Some folks enjoy running over people to score points, or shooting anything that moves.

    With the PS3 due out soon, and the Wii (GameCube’s next iteration), it’s incumbent on parents to limit what their youngsters can “visit”, particularly as the scene on the screen becomes more realistic. It’s one thing to shoot down army guys in an old Nintendo game. It’s much more intense in high-def (or is that high-death?) 64 bit dual processor power.

  2. Steven F

    You refer to “violent” video games, but never clarify what you mean when you use the word “violent”. The example you give (Mortal Kombat) is less a violent game than a blood-and-gore game.

    There are many games out that have combat (“violence” in some people’s minds) but have no blood-and-gore aspects, and there are some games that have no blood-and-gore, but which I will not allow in my home (GTA comes immediately to mind).

    I assume when you reference “violence”, you were referring to the Mortal Kombat style voilence? If not, and you mean any form of voilence… we may need to start censoring our Bibles.

  3. Pingback: More on “Violence In, Violence Out.” » BlogRodent

  4. SJR

    This statement is posted from an employee of Left Behind Games on behalf of Troy Lyndon, our Chief Executive Officer.

    There has been in incredible amount of MISINFORMATION published in the media and in online blogs here and elsewhere.

    Pacifist Christians and other groups are taking the game material out of context to support their own causes. There is NO “killing in the name of God” and NO “convert or die”. There are NO “negative portrayals of Muslims” and there are NO “points for killing”.

    Please play the game demo for yourself (to at least level 5 of 40) to get an accurate perspective, or listen to what CREDIBLE unbiased experts are saying after reviewing the game at

    Then, we’d love to hear your feedback as an informed player.

    The reality is that we’re receiving reports everyday of how this game is positively affecting lives by all who play it.

    Thank you for taking the time to be a responsible blogger.

  5. Rich Post author

    Sandi and Troy, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but it would help your cause if you didn’t use boilerplate to post your defense on any weblog that happens to mention your video game.

    On the face of it, your comment sounds like you’re angry at me for criticizing your video game, when the opposite is true. Even a cursory read of my article should demonstrate that I mentioned your video game in a positive light.

    Further, I don’t expect you to know this, but I’ve written about this elsewhere, at the Out of Ur weblog hosted by my former employer, Christianity Today. Here is a repost of my comments there:

    Out of Ur

    A new video game uses violence and murder to spread the love of Christ


    I haven’t played the game yet — but naturally, that won’t stop me (and countless others) from reviewing it sight unseen. :-)

    As I mentioned in a note over at CTLibrary (“Violence in, Violence Out”), video games teach us something while we are ostensibly being entertained. What we think about has consequences. Or, as C.S. Lewis has said, “We eventually become what we pretend to be.”

    That said, I think it’s worth pointing out that most of the pre-release press I’ve seen on the Left Behind game over-sensationalizes the “blood and gore,” making it sound like a first-person-shooter. It’s not: it’s a real-time-strategy game.

    There are fundamental differences between the two types of games, and I’m not yet convinced that the Left Behind game is as heinous as many make it sound. I reserve judgment until I’ve seen it for myself.



    (Originally posted on .)

    And your closing line, “Thank you for taking the time to be a responsible blogger,” smells like a back-handed compliment. Are you saying I already am a responsible blogger and you’re conratulating me, or are you encouraging me to take the time to some day become responsible?

    It’s like the old saw: “Have you beaten your wife today, sir?”

    Not yet, I haven’t.

    Make of that what you will, I suppose.

    Anyhow, thank you for taking the time to be a responsible blog commenter!


  6. NYC

    Hey, with so many people having an opinion about this game, how many have actually played it? And what credibility do they have? Focus on the Family has publications which can set the record straight for everyone … at

  7. Rich Post author

    First Sandi and Troy, now “NYC” is posting from New York using This poster is obviously pasting boilertext as unsolicited commercial spam on my blog.

    I’m leaving the comment, for now, because it does point to a legitimate review from a third-party site. However, this is spam, it is commercial, and it is not dialog. Stop it LeftBehind, stop it Tyndale, and stop it marketing pukes. This is a weblog intended for dialog and conversation, not the unsolicited promotion of your video game.

    If anybody’s wondering why I mentioned Tyndale, it’s because Tyndale markets the materials for LB — it’s their franchise. Maybe nobody at Tyndale is responsible for this crap appearing on my weblog, but they should know about it, and they should put a stop to this nonsense.

    This is not how you generate positive public response.

    And in case you don’t know it, Focus on the Family also publishes and markets through Tyndale, so take that for what it’s worth.


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