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The Myth that Watching Violence is not Harmful

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The Myth that Watching Violence is not Harmful

I grew up watching TV and movies as many of my generation did. We even had a few video games but they were mostly the basic arcade style. Not the highly graphic immersion style of today. I’ve played many of these as well but that was later in life after I became an adult. Back in the 70s and 80s there were even some TV shows with violence and horror movies too. I can remember a few nights going to bed after watching a horror movie and feeling too scared to sleep. I remember the large impact these events made on my young mind. Some of them I can remember vividly even to this day. The result is that my mind now contains images that I’d rather forget.

The original Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis comes to mind as one of the most scary of my youth. If you’re not familiar with the Halloween movie series they had the distinction of being one of the first horror movies where at the end of the movie the bad guy doesn’t die. No, the villain, named Jason, has escaped from a mental institution and can’t be killed even after being stabbed and shot. This gave rise to Freddie Krueger and many other horror stars. At the current time the “Saw” series is especially disturbing and graphic. While I enjoyed the thrill of watching these for a short time during my youth I no longer see the benefit of having these types of movies around. I don’t need these negative influences. I don’t believe they are harmless.

Television has become more violent as well. One of the most popular shows on TV at this time is the CSI series. These are crime scene investigation programs that always involve murder, forensics, violence, graphic images, and often serial killers. There is a CSI Las Vegas and another one in set in Miami and New York. There are others of this type such as Law and Order. While I find these shows interesting and dramatic they fail at a basic level to be beneficial to society.

TV has always been a stereotypical reflection of society and these shows are no exception. There may be sections of society where some of the things shown on these shows actually happens. However, these shows take things to the extreme. They depict the world as a place of fear and hate. Where violence and murder are normalized into society. A place where we are all victims powerless in the hands of criminals in a country that has become almost lawless. These are the images and messages that are broadcast at us almost every night through television, movies, and video games.

Violent video games are perhaps the most damaging to the young mind. Modern video games have become a virtual reality for many. The graphics are ultra realistic and the first person perspective draws you into a completely new virtual world of sights and sounds. The use of headphones and large displays immerses you in the experience. I have played many of these and the affect on the mind is dramatic. These games are incredibly fun when done well. I have spent many hours in this environment and it can be very addictive. I know of people who have been playing these type of games many hours a day for almost a decade. This seems to me a wasted life.

Besides the violence in some of these games the addictive qualities are alarming. There are kids that have spent much of their youth doing not much more than playing video games. World of Warcraft is a classic example. This is an online gaming world that has no end. The levels and missions can literally never all be played. The company that supports this game keeps adding to the system so that
people never get bored. Second Life is another example. This is a virtual world where you take on alternative persona and can do just about anything. You can even own land and run a business in this virtual world. At this point, we may have a whole generation of lost youth that function better online than in the real world.

Now lets explore the violent side of these games. Many of them are military style games that glorify war. Many also involve ground warfare with small arms fire fights. I don’t mind the ones that allow you to control tanks, ships, and planes and use tactics to achieve objectives. These are well done but others can be too graphic. I know of one where you are involved being a member of a terrorist unit. The unit has an objective to plant a bomb or assassinate an official. These games can be customized with new maps, weapons, and locations. I have even heard that some of these games have been used for real training in small group tactics abroad.

The Hitman series of games invites you to learn to become an assassin. You have to perform certain violent acts in order to progress. You are taught to use disguises and deception to infiltrate an enemy facility. Then, you need to get close enough to take down your target at close range then escape unseen.

Then there is the Grand Theft Auto series. This is another huge virtual world to explore. In this game you are a gang member or gangster trying to work your way to the top of the crime world. Killing cops and running from the Police and military is one of the tenants of this game. You are encouraged to steal cars and cause as much mayhem as possible. There are lots of side missions to keep you busy along the way.

While I’m not an advocate of banning violent games, I’m troubled by the messages they send to our youth. First, that it is okay to subject yourself to constant violence in a virtual world on a daily basis. This constant exposure to violence cannot be good for your mind. Second, that there are no consequences for this virtual violence. In the games even death is really no consequence because you respawn within a few seconds good as new. I wonder if that thought process can get transferred into the real world? Especially in a young mind that is still figuring out what is right and wrong.

Third, social behavior online is different than the real world. I’ve seen lots of racial and sexist behavior during online games. People are embolden by anonymity. They believe they can treat people poorly online so they behave in a way that they wouldn’t in the real world. Should we have a place online for this?

Fourth, these virtual games can be addictive. The games never end and the people playing them don’t take enough breaks. The time spent playing these games takes us away from our families and dealing with our real lives too. In Japan young men have literally died from playing games until their bodies collapsed.

If we bring together the total effects of subjecting ourselves to violence from TV, movies, and video games I think that the evidence is clear to me. This exposure is harmful over time. It causes violent thoughts and ideas to float around in the mind that really aren’t good for us. It interferes with sleep and causes anxiety. It makes us believe that violent behavior is normal and acceptable. It can even train us to react in certain ways in the case of video games. These factors won’t cause every person to become violent or act badly. However, for some I believe it can cause violent outbursts or worse.

So the lesson is don’t subject yourself to violence and expect nothing to happen. You will be affected in some way. It could undermine your sense of safety in the world. It could hold you back in social and business situations when you act inappropriately. It could destroy your real life relationships. It could lead you down a dangerous path in life as well.

The mind is like a fertile garden. You will get out of it what you put into it. If you put in violent images and ideas then you may reap what you sow. There is a book called “What you think about comes about” by Stone and Excelsias. It details how thoughts in the mind manifest into your life. If this is true, then violent thoughts will bring violent actions eventually.

This life filled with violence thoughts is not want I want for my children. I hope that they plant images of hope, love, cooperation, self worth, and confidence into their minds. I hope that they learn to sow their minds with seeds of greatness not seeds of destruction.

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