The other day I reposted an article I wrote for CTLibrary.com titled, “Violence In, Violence Out.” A couple responses provided sufficient motivation to write a lengthy response–which I summarily decided should be a blog entry instead. To follow the conversation, check out the original post.
Marc V. (also known under the blogonymn, “Spudlet”) wrote:
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.
Hi, Marc, thanks for the comment!
I’m not a student of psychology or Col. David Grossman‘s field, “Killology,” but what he says rings true. I tend to believe the aversion to kill another human is a hardwired part of our natures … after all, it’s the ultimate insult to the imago dei within, and while “instinct” can be explained by evolution, this kind of hard-wiring might be best explained by design rather than some “selfish-gene” theory. (Though, that’s not what you’re getting at, I understand. But Grossman’s theory resonates with me more than your own, is all I’m saying.)
I really enjoyed your post on sin and the imagination, and the quote from Stableford is phenomenal. (Everybody, head on over to read Marc’s post, it’s worth it.)
I disagree with the Stableford character’s hyperbole, though, but not with it’s content, just with its hyperbole. I don’t agree that there would be no enjoyment without sin in our imagination. But I would agree that for most people there would be little enjoyment without sin. Obviously, I believe redemption plays a part in ameliorating this.
And, in the world that Stableford is envisioning–with every waking and non-waking action being scrutinized and analyzed–characters would experience great pressure to repress sinful behavior, stuffing it into the realm of the imagination. Thus, the statement would be much truer in that hypothetical world than in a contemporary world.
That said, I flog my article once again, “Integrity on the Internet.” In the opening of my presentation, I wrote:
C. S. Lewis’ idea that All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be acknowledges that character begins in the heart and mind. In the same way, goodness and sin begin in the mind.
A principle I once discovered and taped on my workspace cubicle read: You will never do what you never imagine doing. The opposite of that is also true: Imagination always precedes action.
Studies I’ve read about have shown that imagination can be as effective a tool for learning as actual practice. You can find the residue of these studies under search times like:
- “mental rehearsal”
- “symbolic rehearsal”
- “imaginary practice”
- “mental practice”
- “covert rehearsal”
The classic example, dating back to 1958, was first publicized by L. Verdelle Clark in his thesis for Wayne State University as “The effect of mental practice on the development of a certain motor skill” (and again when published in Research Quarterly, volume 31, in 1960 [pp. 560-569]). One account of Clark’s research reads:
“At the University of Chicago,” reported Dr. Blaslotto, “a study was conducted to determine the effects of visualization on the free-throw performance of basketball players.”
“First, the athletes were tested to determine their free-throw proficiency. They were then randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups. The first went to the gym every day for one hour and practiced throwing free throws.
“The second [group] also went to the gym, but instead of physically practicing, they lay down and simply visualized themselves successfully shooting.
“The third group did nothing. In fact, they were instructed to forget about basketball: ‘Don’t touch a basketball—don’t even think about it!’
“At the end of 30 days, the three groups were again tested to determine their free-throw proficiency.
“The players who hadn’t practiced at all showed no improvement in performance; many in that group actually exhibited a drop. Those who had physically practiced one hour each day showed a performance increase of 24 percent.
“Here’s the clincher: the visualization group, by merely imagining themselves successfully shooting free throws, improved 23 percent!”
[Excerpted from: “How visualization improves physical performance — May 27, 2003“]
The upshot of all this is that what we think about, and especially what we mentally rehearse, has consequences. Apparently, to the mind, rehearsing action in the imagination has nearly the same reinforcing and training effect as actually taking action. This is why the Scripture is rife with instruction to meditate on the Word, on God, his nature, his qualities, his blessings, and to have a disciplined thought life: keep your heart pure.
- Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
- Proverbs 2:1-6: “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
- Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
- Matthew 15:18-19: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
- Matthew 22:37: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'”
- Mark 7:1-23: (excerpt) “‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him “unclean”? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body…. What comes out of a man is what makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean.”‘”
- Luke 10:27: “[Jesus] answered: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”‘”
- Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
- Romans 8:5-6: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:11-12: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:15-16: “The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”
- Ephesians 4:22-23: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds.”
- Philippians 4:4-9: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
- Colossians 3:2: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
- 1 Peter 1:13-16: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”
Steven F. then called for some clarification in my writing, noting:
I assume when you reference “violence”, you were referring to the Mortal Kombat style violence? If not, and you mean any form of violence… we may need to start censoring our Bibles.
Thanks for joining the conversation, Steve, and “Howdy!”, by the way, it’s good to hear from you again!
You’re right, my terms deserve a little clarification. In the context of video games, by using the term “violent,” I am primarily thinking of actions taken by a gamer causing intentional harm to a “humanoid” opponent.
I could make an argument that “violence” could also include intentional harm to the game’s virtual “environment” but that is not my principle concern–though it might be for some. I restrict the scope of the term to “humanoid” opponents because I don’t think that firing missiles at an animated starship, or moving virtual armies into strategic position qualify as the sort of mental rehearsal that is most damaging. By analogy, I think it’s more harmful to play “House of the Dead” where characters fire a light-gun at zombified humans and other creatures than it is to play a simple target practice game–or even go to a firing range with live rounds. It’s not the action of targeting and shooting that erodes one’s resistance to violence in this case, it’s the virtual acting-out of violence against other human-like game characters. That doesn’t mean I give a pass to games featuring sexual innuendo and felonious pursuits aren’t also dangerous–they are, but that falls under a different concern of moral and mental health that violence in itself.
(Though I will admit that “Typing of the Dead” does confuse my moral categories–it’s just as dark and violent as its progenitor, but it rehearses skills more useful in the office than on the firing range!)
I’ve run the usual course of teenage and young-adult gaming addictions like many my age and younger. I started out with Atari, of course, in middle school. Then I discovered Dungeons & Dragons (not a video game, but morally debilitating in its own way) and finally dropped it after realizing what it was doing to my thinking. I plunked hundreds of dollars of quarters down the arcade mouths through high school gorging myself on the relatively tame Asteroids, Galaga, and PacMan brood and when the light gun games came out, I wore blisters on my fingers shooting dead zombies, terrorists, and radiation-bathed mutants. I spent sleepless nights playing various real-time-strategy games and living virtual lives as a developing tycoon with SimCity and variants. Today, I own an aging PlayStation2 but, honestly, I cannot bring myself to buy truly violent games to play. I don’t like what it does to my thinking. Instead, I’m happy mastering the course on a virtual all-terrain-vehicle or skiing the slopes in SSX.
But even with my tame, un-hip games, I’m all too aware of how conflict against another virtual human in the game makes it all the more addictive. Even in these games there is the temptation (even the necessity) of doing violence against the other characters in order to win. To be sure, this is a weaker class of violence than the outright removal of a pulsing virtual heart, but what does it do to our souls to play these games to such an extent that we bring a “gamers” mentality to the rest of our lives? Where does winning at any cost fit into the gospel? When the thrill of victory while sitting in my easy chair sets my heart to pumping–and I seek it out every night–what room have I left for the thrill of service, the joy of generosity, the delight of giving comfort and aid to the lonely and hurting?
Video games of almost all stripes fill a void in our over-fed, middle-class lives. And I suspect it’s a hole better filled with a life in the Spirit than a life on screen.
[tags]BlogRodent, video-games, gaming, violence, violence-in-the-media, morality, mental-rehearsing, visualization, imagination, killology, david-grossman, mortal-kombat, media, addiction[/tags]
Thanks for da plug!
I’ve been rolling around the Stableford quote some more, and it seems to me that we’re looking at the difference between heathen/worldly and Christian, saved vs. unsaved. A heathen takes ownership of his thought life and gives the standard “As long as I ain’t hurtin’ nobody …” response, while a Christian should yield all (including his thought life) to the Lord.
The tricky part concerns sin. If you don’t recognize God, can you sin or are you just “doing wrong”? I’m no great philosopher (or theologian for that matter), so I won’t get deep into it. When you bring the imago dei into your argument for aversion to killing, how would people who deny God explain their aversion to killing?
I still have a foot in the selfish camp regarding folks who don’t like murder for reasons of self-preservation, and then you have some who are selfish enough to take somebody’s life simply because they want to. I’ll go out on a limb and state that the opposite of love is selfishness. How people get beyond their selfishness to love is unexplainable (especially for teenagers!).
Finally, enough can’t be said about guarding our thought life, particularly as society embraces the Internet. We have gone from the oral tradition, to books, to movies, to television, and now the ‘net. At each stage more of our capacity for imagination has been co-opted. A few clicks of the mouse can get you ANYTHING and more than you can possibly imagine on your monitor. God help us all.
So, in your mind, even a game such as Medal of Honor, where you are a soldier fighting during some of the major battles of World War II, would be a negative “force”? Would not reading a book about the Battle of the Bulge, written from the perspective of one of the soldiers, be equally “negative”?
I’m not asking to be rhetorical. In my own life, knowledge of the horrors of battle have shaped my life for good, and not evil. Listening to the horrors of war from my father, who was one of the first ones to arrive on some of the Pacific isles after major battles, made me understand the cost of my freedoms. Reading of the sacrifices made by folks like Sgt. York, or Audie Murphy, helped solidify my understanding of freedom, by understanding the human cost.
Many games today are written more as interactive movies than traditional “games” (most console-based FRP games on the market today). Some, in fact, are more a movie with small sections where you guide a main character through a certain episode. The fact that there is some violence involved in the story, due to evil’s attempting to conquer, does not detract from the overall story’s moral tone.
I think we need to evaluate a game as a whole, rather than viewing singular events within the game. If the overall idea behind the game is violence for violence’s sake, then it deserves condemnation. If, however, the overall story is that of good over evil, where any violence is simply part of the story, then I see no problem with it.
After all, even in literature, you have massive amounts of violence in works such as Lord of the Rings, or C.S. Lewis’ Perilandra trilogy (especially in the third volume). Should we castigate these works as well, given that their “video” is one’s imagination rather than a cathode-ray tube?
(Note, though, that even if a game has a good story line, if the overall goal is to kill, I see major problems. One example of this would be God of War, where one gains skills/levels based on how much blood you can shed.)
Regarding your closing comments… Whether we should spend time in leisure pursuits, instead of spending all of our time studying the Word, or preaching, or whichever — that’s an entirely different subject than a discussion of violence in games. Personally, I believe Christ didn’t spend his entire time doing nothing but ministry — it’s obvious people wanted him at their parties, after all. :-)
Earlier, I defined violence in video games as:
Steven F asked:
I don’t know about the former, because now we’re well into my realm of ignorance–not that this should stop any good blogger (
). I’m just not familiar with Medal of Honor and I don’t know if the violent scenarios in the game and their effects outweigh the value of the game as a historical teaching tool.
However, I suspect there is a qualitative difference between an immersive game environment versus reading.
For example, the Bible contains stories and narratives that portray violence in the context of the larger story of our fallenness and God’s dealings with man. The stories exist to serve a moral purpose–to correct, to teach, and so on. But stories as narratives must be interpreted, whereas an immersive experience does not require interpretation. In fact, I suspect the more immersive an experience is, the more it defies interpretation. The most immersive experience possible–real life–absolutely defies interpretation, often till years have passed. (Reference that hoary cliche, hindsight is 20/20.) Movies are similarly immersive, but not so much so as an interactive game is. After all, a movie is a relatively static thing. For the most part, movies don’t change their endings, middles, or beginnings with each viewing (unless you’re on medication, I suppose!). There is at least an objective narrative being told, even if the storyteller refuses to supply his own point of view (as the Wachowski brothers refuse to do with their films).
Consider, again, the Bible. You have a story (2 Samuel 11) where we are told David has sexual relations with Bathsheba after first lusting from afar. And we are told these sexual relations lead to her impregnation and, ultimately, David causing the death of Uriah, her husband.
We are told the story objectively, and succintly, without intimate details. And we must either supply the interpretation or, in the case of the prophet who later forces David to the point of admission, we are given a moral framework with which the view the narrative.
But suppose a game developer came along and provided you with with a set of virtual devices that would allow you to enter the “persona” of King David so that you could witness the lovely Bathsheba’s rooftop nudity firsthand, and so that you could personally direct David’s course of seduction and sexual conquest, and so that you could experience every detail of that sexual congress.
At that point, we’ve abandoned the point of the Biblical narrative and we’ve discarded the values it aims to teach and instead, substituted a wholly different set of values and teaching goals.
The virtual “King David” game would certainly have much to teach. But it wouldn’t necessarily be good things.
So, in my little thought experiment, at least, I do still think there is an essential difference between what is taught via violence in entertainment versus what can be taught pedagogically through literature, through oral history, or even through visual storytelling.
That said, recent research is telling us that video training tools are incredibly effective at teaching propositional truths when participants can participate in virtual-reality scenarios. My question, here, is whether the value of what is taught in violent games outweighs the training-in-violence itself the games provide.
(I am not a pacifist however. If you’re training to be a soldier, you may well need these video games to hone your reflexes.)
That may well be true, and there may be many of these games that, addictive qualities aside (you World of Warcraft gamers know what I’m talking about), they may be fine. But I also suspect there’s a bit of the principle of the “weaker brother” at play here, too. The games may, indeed, be morally unobjectionable for you–perhaps even morally positive. But that may not be the case for someone with a more aggressive or violent disposition.
Sorry, Steven, that’s taking my closing comments quite a bit farther than I intended. You have inferred more than I implied.
After all, how else, how could I be sitting here in my padded chair posting relatively frivolous blog entries about leisurely pursuits?
(And thanks for the thoughtful comments.)
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video games don’t elicit violence. people, societies, organised religions and their squabbles, perpetuate violence. it’s because we’re continuously blaming the mediums via which we express ourselves, rather than ask what it is about our cultures that result in these kinds of violent expressions, that we’re still asking these irresolvable questions today. if christianity seeks to address this issue, the best and first place to start is to look at itself and its cultural history.
Claudia, thanks for your contribution, but I don’t believe you really interacted with what I wrote. I nowhere said video games elicit violence. I did state that rehearsing the violence against virtual people in video games is a way of rehearsing actual violence against real people in real life. That’s a far cry from saying the video game caused a person to act-out.
Your point that organized religions perpetuate violence is a tired and worn-out cliché and there are problems with it even at the semantic level.
First, why single out “organized” religion? Are you saying that only institutions organized around a faith principle cause violence but religions that are “disorganized” or which have no recognized body of doctrine are peaceable? Or do you really mean only the major world religions are at fault and the minor ones get a pass? Or do you ultimately mean to single-out Christians, Muslims, and Jews?
Second, why stop at “organized” religion, whatever that is? After all, what is a religion but a system of unproven beliefs that explain one’s sense of reality? For, truthfully, atheism is as much a religion as any theism or institutionalized religion is. Even atheistic scientists have a religion of sorts, for even they organize their worldview around a basic set of presumptions that cannot be pr oven by experimentation, and they direct their lives accordingly.
You say that we should “ask what it is about our cultures that result in these kinds of violent expressions.” But I submit that this isn’t the best place to start because cultures arise out of the aggregate of individuals. Inasmuch as individuals give rise to culture, it is also individuals who perpetuate violence — whether at the one-on-one level or between nations.
And, frankly, Christianity has addressed this issue. Here’s what one Christian wrote about the matter quite some time ago, long before America was ever founded:
“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.
For more on that, check out James 4 (this passage was quoted from The Message), and see a post I wrote on this passage here: “Involuntary Self-Denial and Relationship Breakdown.”