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Addicted to Killing

By Michael Aling

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By Michael Aling | Staff Writer | January 8, 2012

Emma Steinkellner / Illustration

Four hundred million dollars.

What would that mean to you?

What if you got it all in one day?

To the heartless creators of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” it means profit. Big profit.

“Modern Warfare 3” was the biggest entertainment release in the history of the human race.

It, like its brothers “Black Ops” and “Modern Warfare 2” before it, broke the five-day revenue record. “Modern Warfare 3” made $775 million in that time. For perspective, that’s almost four times what “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two” made in the same period.

This makes me wonder: what the heck is wrong with us?

Have we been so perverted by the thrills of video games that we don’t even realize when they lose all real value?

Are we so addicted to the flashes and sound effects that the entire teenage population flocks to the game stores, eager for new ways to kill and destroy?

By playing these video games, like the “Call of Duty” series, where all we do is kill the enemy, whoever that may be, we are disrespecting those who are actually fighting in wars.

The United States is a country that has been at war for decades, but hasn’t seen war on its own soil for far longer.

The majority of the population has forgotten what war is really like. These games give the impression that it’s exciting and adventurous, a blur of kill streaks and rewards that enable you to kill even more people.

The only thing that the games and reality have in common is that people die.

In real life, they don’t regenerate.

There are even fictionalized plot lines that seek to justify this bloodbath. These games pit players against enemies who belong to actual, real-world nations, with which the U.S. is either engaged in conflict or could have had conflict with in the past.

This can inflame existing violent tendencies and aggression against the “enemy” nations in the minds of our teenage citizens – who, let me remind you, will one day be voting on whether or not we should go to war.

The plot lines completely disrespect the reality of these situations, and desensitize us to the sacrifices that our nation’s soldiers make every day.

Of course, there are also soldiers and veterans out there who play these games that recreate war. Maybe they do it because they miss the action, or because their new life isn’t what they thought it would be.

But they’re not the soldiers who were paralyzed for life fighting to keep us free. They’re not the thousands of veterans out on the streets because they can’t put their lives back together.

And they certainly aren’t the guys who died.

These games have cultivated a violent culture where high scores in virtual contests translate in some degree to respect and admiration in real life. But not for defeating the Russians or protecting America – this respect arises from the number of kills that the player achieves, or how well he killed someone.

And somehow, this has become just as much a part of teenage life as anything else ever was. The week these games come out, you can’t hardly walk through the hallways without hearing someone talking about a kill streak or a head shot.

Even Jr. high-schoolers excitedly discuss reviews, and generally talk about the new edition in the series as if they were addicted to killing.

And you know what? It’s possible that they are.

There are many studies that have been conducted that warn of the dangers of video games in general. Personally, I have nothing against most video games – games that make you think, like Tetris, have even been proven to increase brain functionality – but there are worrying studies concerning violent video games specifically.

In general, they all point to the same net result: activity in key areas of the brain decreases. These regions of the brain include the areas that regulate emotions, aggressive behavior, and self-control.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you “think” violent video games are affecting you – if you play them in excess, if you immerse yourself in them for long periods of time, they are.

Even if you don’t believe the scientists’ argument that those three effects lead to a desensitization to violence, the simpler results are quite evident to everyone.

Of course, you can side with the opposition to these studies.

And there is opposition – by the video game industry, which is out to make money at the expense of its customers.

Virtually all the studies that support the gaming industry have been funded by the gaming industry, and so I must question their credibility – has anyone else noticed that money buys endorsement regardless of science?

And the scientists that oppose violence in video games aren’t just a few hippies scattered around the world.

A former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, is among the most open opposition, calling these games a “crushing public health problem.”

Now sure, this isn’t like the plague – everyone has the right to decide whether to bring this affliction onto themselves or not – but the industry has poisoned the media and made us believe that the negative effects are negligible, if any. When put under actual scientific scrutiny, the industry’s arguments simply fall apart.

It’s appalling to me that anyone would even be interested in these games, let alone seem to dedicate their lives to them.

Is there no value in reading a good book anymore? Or watching a well-executed movie? Or actually talking to your friends when you hang out at their house, instead of trying to kill them and anyone else in sight?

These games are a blight on our society, one that I fear we will never be rid of.

Each successive generation will be born into a society that is more and more accepting of violence. The games will only become more over-the-top, detrimental traits in people will become more obvious, the game industry giants will continue to grow, and the world as a whole will have to suffer the consequences.

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22 Responses to “Addicted to Killing”

  1. Liz Bush on January 9th, 2012 2:22 PM

    Your critique is one of the most intelligent I’ve read. Well done.


  2. Andrew Yang on January 9th, 2012 3:51 PM

    Pretty good insight, but I believe that you’re overexaggerating on many of your points.


  3. Not telling on January 9th, 2012 4:52 PM

    See the reason many guys enjoy violent video games are A. Because we like to imagine ourselves as almost super human soldiers, lets face it a lot of people have crappy lives and this can give them the chance to take the persona of someone great. B. because its a challenge. violent video games arent ALL about killing. its about overcoming the challenge of the other team. C. It gives one the ability to take out are frustration by killing a simulated enemy as opposed to a real one. D. because they are fun. again lets face it, no one would enjoy a video game about handing out food to homeless people, as noble as it sounds. Violence and chaos is fun. why do you think that action movies are generally more widely recieved than romantic ones? Also you stated that they are offensive to the men and women who actually serve in the uniform. i disagree on the basis that I have played with and witnessed active and former members of the military (including those who have seen combat) play these games with out taking any offense to it. As a prospective future member of the military myself Call of Duty has played no effect what so ever in my choice to join. And your right on one thing, we will never be rid of them, why? because people love them. and its their choice to play and not anyone elses place to take them away from them.


  4. Cathy on January 10th, 2012 6:29 PM

    Michael, your article is articulate and comprehensive! This is a great concern of mine having read the research studies about the negative ways violent video games affect the brain. Thank you for drawing attention to a very important societal issue. Well done!


  5. Joanna Morgan on January 11th, 2012 7:34 AM

    Excellently presented and all too sadly true. As one who has worked with the unconscious part of the brain for decades, I have witnessed the call to violence increase substantially over the years as the levels of killing have multiplied dramatically in movies, on TV and now Video Games.

    Our country is producing “good little soldiers” that grow up thinking violence and killing is fun, entertaining and heroic as “Not telling” points out clearly.


  6. NAY SAYER on January 11th, 2012 8:58 AM

    Like Andrew Yang, and my friend “Not Telling,” I too believe your point is completely exaggerated. Speaking as someone who frequently plays Call of Duty video games, I can tell you that it DOES NOT desensitize violence. Recently I witnessed the woman in a wheelchair get hit on Fairview and LET ME TELL YOU I WAS IN SHOCK FOR DAYS. I completely understood the gravity of the situation.
    Nobody is going to vote for the United States to go to war because “I SAW IT ON CALL OF DUTY AND IT LOOKED COOL!” Come on. Be real. Maybe when you played Call of Duty you couldn’t tell the difference between a video game and reality, but most of us can.


  7. Fred B on January 11th, 2012 11:17 AM

    Well written article Michael, but I completely disagree – respectfully.

    “Each successive generation will be born into a society that is more and more accepting of violence.”

    This isn’t the case when you glance at the data. Our society is not more accepting of violence, and violent crime has actually decreased in the last 10 years – kids are criminally charged for the slightest violent action at school nowadays (including a 7 year old in Boston who was recently charged with sexual harassment after kicking a classmate in the groin). We have stricter punishments for violent crimes now than ever before (mandatory minimum sentences and the felony murder rule being chief among them), and every children’s cartoon is free of anything violent or the violent scenes are edited out of classics like the Buggs Bunny I grew up on.

    Violence has always existed, and will always exist. People used to gather to witness public executions; leaders committed mass sacrifices of slaves in the thousands; people had picnics to watch Civil War battles (the bloodiest in U.S. history) – long before video games ever existed. If you check the data in the U.S., the murder rate has decreased significantly in the last 10 years, and the number of violent crimes committed has also decreased despite an ever increasing population.

    Violence in the media has little to no effect in causing violent actions despite the brain wave MRI images. Violent actions are caused by the individual. Any “health problem” they might “cause” would be more related to lack of exercise than anything else. Hitler didn’t play video games and Pol Pot didn’t have a COD4 username, yet they were responsible for some of the most violent actions in World history. Let’s also not forget that violent books and movies have existed a lot longer than video games, have definitely had their criticisms as a cause of violence, yet now the focus has shifted to video games because their current and pervasive.

    I’d love a reference to the studies you mention that propose playing violent video games for long periods of time negatively effect a person. I highly commend you for sticking to your guns (no pun intended) on this one, and encourage you to continue researching the topic. Incidentally, I’m not the least bit violent despite all the anvils falling on coyotes, TNT explosions and sniper head shots while playing Call Of Duty.


    Michael Aling Reply:

    In reply to Fred B.’s response, here are two of the articles that I used as a base for my research:


  8. Zelda F. on January 11th, 2012 3:32 PM

    Fred, thank you for the articulate, thoughtful reply. We might also wonder why Canadian citizens are far less violent than Americans. Any teacher who has taught for over a decade can share observations about negative behavioral changes in students. Many students don’t listen well, they talk over the teacher, or their peers and can’t seem to delay the impulse to react/comment until the speaker has finished. Many students don’t like to read and say that they forget what they read. Students become addicted to many things: computers, games, facebook, watching television. Are we surprised when reading becomes tedious to them since they are so overstimulated and visually spoiled? Sadly, the problems with spelling and mechanics in “Not telling”‘s letter speaks volumes for his weak academic foundation. He should have been reading, doing his homework and learning something rather than spend hours on such games.

    While I wouldn’t blame these changes on video games, the ways that kids occupy their free time is not conducive to thoughtful


  9. You dont need to know on January 11th, 2012 6:07 PM

    This is a really great persuasive arguement, the essay is very well written, id give it an A+. However just like “Fred B and” “Not Telling” have said, this is a little bit unrealistic. I work hard in school, have all A’s, im bilingual, play an instrument, and when im done with a busy day, i like to cool off with some Call of Duty. I dont think theres any harm in that. Is it ok for tom cruise to kill someone in a movie, but not for me to shoot at other people around the world in a virual game online? Yes i do understand that many people get too addicted to the games and get competitive, and shouldnt be focusing on only their amount of kills in a game, but thats beside your point about how it “desensitizes” people to violence. In a game i run out into the open firing a machine gun without aiming and have no fear, but the next day i go to the shooting range with my dad and i flinch every time somebody shoots. Its not like the game makes you a complete idiot, its that unfortunatly a lot lf complete idiots play the game.
    Everybody is welcome to their opinions, but i see people get the wrong idea about violent video games all the time. And i dont like statistics, but there are actually many studies that say shooter games quicken your reflexes.

    So anyways i hope you dont take too much heat when a third of the kids at your school get mad at you for writing this article.


  10. Not telling on January 11th, 2012 8:37 PM

    In response to Zelda F. I do not play xBox on school days and I have a 3.45 GPA. Im currently applying to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. Im in great shape. During the week I occupy myself with running, working out, homework, reading, church activities, volunteer work etc. So why dont you ask before you say I have a “weak academic foundation” etc. Furthermore I was by no means advocating violence, but simply pointing out the fact that by their nature violent games appeal to young men for the above stated reasons. I play violent video games late at night only 2 days a week because…well… reading only lasts so long (having just finished the Lord of the Rings books). Yet no matter how much carnage I have bean exposed too, I have never been in a fight, never physically harmed someone and go out of my way to help friends in need. So whos to say that playing the oh so horrible Call of Duty is a detriment to society? Is it hurting you? no. Is it hurting me? absolutely not. So whats the problem with playing every now and then. Granted anything in excess is not good but at the same time, very few gamers play so excessively that it actually hurts them. Also the article could have made a better point if it attacked the Mortal Kombat series. Call of Duty, while violent, is not excessively gory and has objectives to complete and the ability to use team work etc. However the entire point behind the Mortal Kombat Series is to dismember your opponent in the most heinous of ways. So there I admit there can be an excess in violent video games, but it is not found in Call of Duty. Again the whole “disrespecting those who actually fight for us” thing is just not true. I have more experience with this topic than most soooo yeaaaa, I kinda know what im talking about too. (In response to your critiques of my spelling, just know I typed that whole thing up in about 3 minutes and didnt check my work). NAY SAYER owns it, Just because we are exposed to simulated violence dosnt mean we are so desensitized that we are going to wage wars because they seem cool. Only 10 year olds would be so daft as to consider war because its just like CoD. Gamers arent bloodthirsty freaks, we are regular people just passing time in the most entertaining way we see fit. And again, who is anyone to say we cant do it!


  11. NAY SAYER on January 12th, 2012 12:56 PM

    So… umm Michael… I think you should know. I have been playing Pac Man excessively since 1982. One day I woke up and couldn’t distinguish between the game and reality. So I ate someone. I really thought I was Pac Man, and the only logical thing to do was to ingest another human because I thought he was a ghost. A brightly colored ghost.
    I’m sorry but your argument really doesn’t make sense.
    I think our entertainment editor Harry Menear can add to this, considering he is an active gamer who has been taking advanced level english classes since freshman year and is currently in the process of getting in to rigorous journalism school in England. Or maybe his “weak academic foundation” due to being “visually overstimulated” from all those video games will only prove Zelda F’s thoughtless argument.


  12. Harry on January 12th, 2012 2:12 PM

    Michael, I think attacking Call of Duty for being sensationalist violence that has enslaved our youth is a very easy thing to do. People – especially nervous mothers twittering in the face of new technology – don’t seem to realize that Call of Duty is not, as you would have us believe, a manifestation of man’s thirst for blood, but simply the evolution of man’s thirst for competition.
    Inventing games is one of the basic by-products of higher cognitive ability. Backgammon is the oldest known game in the world, thought to date back to 3000 B.C. This classic game of luck, strategy, and cognitive agility’s rules are relatively simple. Learning to play can take a day, but mastering the game can take a lifetime. Since 3000 B.C, Mankind has been adapting its ever-developing technology to make new games. Five thousand years later, we find ourselves sitting in front of a lump of circuitry capable of simulating in glorious 60 fps, a virtual game board infinitely more complex than a chess set or mancala wheel. And still, at the heart of this elaborate simulation of a modern day battlefield lie the three basic skills that man has used to compete with each other since the dawn of time: Luck, Strategy, and Cognitive Agility.
    When in the heat of a firefight, your survival depends on who comes round that corner first, which corner you go around, and how fast you choose your targets and aim down the sights; Luck, Strategy, and Cognitive Ability under pressure. I guarantee that, when hurling grenades, launching rockets, and spewing magazines of lead at the opposing team, players aren’t reveling in the carnage of battle, but thoroughly focused on their ‘Game.
    Yes the Call of Duty series – Particularly those games made by Treyarch – are violent and gory. So is pretty much every blockbuster movie released by Hollywood these days. Disturbing material in a movie is even applauded as an “edgy” decision by the director, but in video games, a little adult content is the death of childhood values. Also, these games are all rated M for Mature. If you believe your child’s values are being ‘spoiled’ by all this video game violence, then maybe you shouldn’t have bought them the game in the first place.
    I’m not sure how to conclude other than say that, far from saving the souls of children who, five thousand years ago would have been watching slaughter first hand in the colleseu, the only consequences of the world without video games you seem to advocate, would be boredom.


  13. uNkNoWn on January 12th, 2012 4:35 PM

    Honestly, I frown upon the stupidity of Call of Duty’s creators. But I respect the creators of Battlefield 3 . The first time I played BF3, I was surprised by how you can’t just run into the thick of battle and be fine. I think people should just not play excessively during the week. Yes, 6 hours of COD in a day can leave you in a temporarily violent state, but 1 hour never hurt anybody.


  14. Natalie Rios on January 13th, 2012 10:32 AM

    You have a good point. One of my friends received an XBox 360 and the games “Red Dead Redemption”, “Black Ops”, and “Modern Warfare 3” for Christmas. He only left the house a couple times during the days after Christmas to get groceries for his sister or lunch. The rest of those days were spent with his controller and headset. I won’t lie; I enjoy combat games such as Soul Calibur and Dragon Ball Z (I know they’re kind of old) as much as the next person, but when these simulated warfare games become an obsession, doesn’t anybody wonder how veterans of real war who have seen real violence feel about it? I know that if I had been through war and witnessed unspeakable violence, death, and gore to protect my country, and then come home to it being considered a GAME, I would be beyond offended.


  15. Keara Amble on January 13th, 2012 12:04 PM

    This article does a good job covering how our society has turned not only to an overdose of technology, but violent technology. For example, my three year old cousin is already being introduced to these violent games. Soon enough our whole generation will be addicted to violent games.


  16. Not Telling on January 13th, 2012 12:57 PM

    Natalie Rios: I have played with and witnessed combat veterans play xBox with no noticeable problems. Even my recruiter is just chill to play MW2 and ask me if he should get MW3 or BF3. While it may offend a few people (what dosnt offend someone these days) the vast majority of the military love to play first person shooters as nerds do. Also as to your freind not leaving the house: its the novelty factor, he got something new and hes enjoying it, itll wear off.


  17. Not Telling on January 13th, 2012 1:46 PM

    Also to Keara Amble: Had your 3 year old cousin been born in the times of ancient romans she would have been exposed to the gladiatorial death matches, Had she been born in the Medieval times she would have been exposed to public executions. Had she been born in in the 19-20th century in the south she would have been exposed to public lynchings. CoD dosnt seem to bad now huh. The world is a violent place, wouldnt you rather have it in a controllable environment? no disrespect but Call of Duty is hardly violent compared to real life.


  18. Brian Su on January 17th, 2012 6:26 PM

    Although I agree that teenagers are addicted to games, I think your article is quite exaggerated. Video games allow players to be in a scenario without moving from their couch. However, to say video games teaches all violence to be acceptable is going too far. Also, there is a bold line between video games and reality. Although I may play Dragon Ball Z games, I don’t try to Kamehameha everything!


  19. William Ascott on January 17th, 2012 8:48 PM

    Im pretty sure GPA and hours spent playing violent video games do not have a strong correlation. I could see how playing 8 hours a day, and never doing homework would effect overall intellect, but never would an hour a day be so much as to either kill someone’s ability to function in society or even make them addicted to killing. By that logic, anyone who does anything for more than an hour at a time would be addicted to something. We would all be addicted to doing homework by that logic, which I’m pretty sure we aren’t.


  20. Ameet Braganza on January 18th, 2012 6:37 PM

    Games like Call of Duty don’t make people think killing is fun or exciting. Most people who play these games know that while it may be fun to play video games there is a big difference between shooting at the pixels on a TV screen with a non-existent weapon and actually going out and killing a real living person. As long as people keep this in mind playing video games once in a while is not a problem.


  21. Nadine Pearson on March 19th, 2012 5:00 PM

    Also note that most of these games are rated “Mature (17+)” by ESRB, about the same as an “R” rated film. The makers of these games are under the assumption that these games are being played by adults or people who are almost adults, and probably assume that they will be able to make conscious decisions about if these games are going to affect them in a negative way. Personally I feel games like these are one of the best anti-war campaigns ever (based on the number of times a character “dies”) and although I generally don’t play games set in a modern war setting, I think they can be a way to pretend to live out power fantasies and a good, safe alternative to other, more dangerous ways of “playing pretend” such as hunting or paintball in natural, public areas.


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