It’s easy to see why the US Army runs recruitment ads in gamer magazines and maintains a popular online game called America’s Army.
While the industry denies any link between violent interactive media and real-world beliefs and behaviors, studies have shown that playing violent video games is associated with higher rates of hostility, more pro-violence attitudes, and a decrease in players’ ability to empathize with others, particularly those who are suffering.
Computer video games are in fact the most powerful medium ever devised for altering perception and behavior. That’s why psychologists use them to help patients overcome post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), why pilots are trained on flight simulators, and why the military uses them to train soldiers.
So what does it mean that millions of boys and young men are spending their free time “training” to kill?
Whether knifing or setting fire to prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto, or mowing down scores of racially stereotyped Arabs in some fictional Middle Eastern country, male video-game players are being taught to associate representations of mass slaughter, torture, and other antisocial acts with play and pleasure. They are being told that to be a “real” man is to come to others heavily armed.
The very idea of moving from room to room with an assault weapon, “clearing” the room by shooting victims in the head, as Lanza did in Newtown, is a convention of the First Person Shooter video game genre. The first such game, Doom, proved so successful at teaching soldiers how to kill that the Marines quickly adapted it for their training program. Prior to their massacre, the Columbine killers spent countless hours playing and even designing levels on a modified version of the same game.