Further Thoughts about First Person Shooter Games
Recently, Matthew Katz, a social media savvy doctor I've become friends with put up a blog post, Defending Our Youth: No First Person Shooter Video Games. I've shared his blog post and there has been a very interesting discussion on the topic which I will try and summarize and add my own comments.
Dr. Katz wrote this as part of a larger opus dealing with gun violence from a public health framework. This is an important framework that we should be working within as we try to address issues of gun related violence in the United States.
Much of the discussion around gun control seems to be black and white thinking. Some are suggesting all guns should be illegalized and the second Amendment should be repealed. Others are suggesting that no new gun controls should be put in place, and instead, that more people should carry guns. It seems like the more reasonable viewpoint is somewhere in the middle, where access to certain types of guns should be made much more difficult.
Similarly, there is the discussion about video games. Some people call for banning video games. Others say absolutely not. Dr. Katz seems to come closer to a more reasonable middle ground by looking at access to a specific set of video games, first person shooter games.
I am a big proponent of gaming. I believe we should be using ramification to change many aspects of our society and I hope to write more about some of these ideas later. Games, like guns, are tools. They can be used a lot of different ways.
So, with that, let me get to some of the comments I received on my Facebook wall about Dr. Katz's blog post. Much of the discussion has been around different types of games, some not even video games. I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons back in the 1970s. At that point, it was paper, pencils, dice and a lot of imagination. Yes, there was violence in the game, but it was a small part of the game. What mattered was creativity, problem solving, and collaboration; some of the twenty-first century skills I've been writing about.
My brother posted a link to a video about a Veterinary Medical Class that took place in Second Life. It is a fascinating video and a great illustration of the positive aspect of video game like activity. One person posted a link to the article, Ten-country comparison suggests there’s little or no link between video games and gun murders. Dr. Katz properly points out that this is a study of video games in general, and not violent video games, or even more specifically first person shooter games.
Yet I'll even go so far as to suggest that there can be some benefit to first person shooter games. Re-enactment of a traumatic event can be an important part of processing the horror, whether it be young kids playing with toy guns after Newtown, or veterans spending time in virtual worlds to learn to cope with PTSD. Perhaps the real question is, what are you getting out of the games you are playing.
This ties back to some of the discussions I've been having at the CT Health Foundation Health Leadership Fellows Program about intent and impact. What are you intending to get out of your games and what impact is it really having?
One intent may be simply to relax and unwind. That is an important thing to seek. The question becomes, is this the most effective way to relax and unwind? Are their other, unintended side effects that are detrimental? Might these detrimental side effects indicate there are other ways to relax and unwind that might be more beneficial?
I also like to come back to Jane McGonigal's TED talks about gaming. What sort of societal change is the gaming having? How is it affecting your resilience; mental, emotional, and social?
For the seventh grade boys playing first person shooter games, what sort of effect is that having? The research Dr. Katz talks about suggests it may not be all that beneficial. So, how do we address this? Do we ban first person shooter games? Do we make it harder for kids to access them? Do we put warning labels on them? Do we train parents, teachers and even doctors about them?
For example, my eleven year old daughter was asked at her latest physical about if she always wore her seat belt, if there were people around her that smoked, and if there were guns in any houses she went to. She was also asked about playing video games.
Now there are some people who have tried to prohibit doctors from asking their patients about gun safety, and I imagine if more doctors start asking about video game safety, that might get a similar response, but that is something that primary care providers interested in dealing with gun violence from a public health perspective could start asking patients about. It would be a simple start, without requiring new legislation. Twelve years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out a Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children. As part of releasing that statement they stated they hoped to "encourage greater public and parental awareness of the harms of violent entertainment, and encourage a more honest dialogue about what can be done to enhance the health and well-being of America's children". It sure seems like such a dialog is long overdue.