Returning in a friend’s car from an evening outing I was seated in the back seat beside a twelve-year-old boy. Conversation in the front seat was animated. All was quiet in the back. Suddenly my young friend spoke quietly to me. “I killed twelve people last week”. “I don’t like the sound of that” I replied. “It’s fun. It’s only a game,” he said. “Can’t you play games where you don’t kill people?” I asked. My young friend was shocked. “Stan” he said reproachfully. “It is 2018. All games now are about killing people”.
The conversation left me troubled. What is the world coming to I wondered? And then I thought of my fantasy life when I was twelve. That is how come I remembered my one valve crystal set and the earphones.
I bought it from a friend. It had no speaker, only earphones. With the aid of a long wire draped across my room and a lot of fiddling to overcome static and squeals I could tune in to every radio station in Melbourne. My pious caregiver unaware of the little set’s full potential made it clear that I could only listen to children’s programmes and certainly nothing after 7pm. I was told that radio serials which came on after 7pm were too violent and after 9pm too adult. But, when I retired to bed and the light was off, and my head was under the sheet I could listen to whatever programme I liked for as long as I liked. I was not drawn to the kissing stories but I loved the violence. The whizz of bullets, the explosions, the cries of the wounded and the dying were music to my ears. Dick Tracy and the Lone Ranger were my heroes and they always got their man. Many a night I was furtively listening until midnight.
A realization has dawned; at the same age, I was no different to my 12-year-old gamer friend?
My most favourite action character of all time was Biggles (cover above). Biggles action adventure books ran to almost 100 titles and were published in 12 languages. All of the stories involved violence with guns. Biggles smoked and drank, and negatively stereotyped various nationalities. His was a world of good guys and scumbags. I lapped it up. Parents, teachers, and especially Sunday School teachers, tried to steer young males away from Biggles but their efforts were counterproductive.
There have been many studies on the effects of violence on TV, in films and in gaming on young minds. As far as I can find the jury is still out on this question. There seems to be no conclusive evidence of a link between watching/participating in violent media (TV, films, gaming) and violent behaviour.
However, there is evidence emerging of other negative trends which seem to be related to participation in violent video gaming in particular.
In the US young men, 18-25, are working less than they used to. In 2000 young men who were neither in work nor education were 8% of the total. In 2017 this number had nearly doubled to 15%. Researchers are suggesting that more and more young men are choosing computer gaming over work or education.
There is a clear increase in teen depression in the western world. A distressing trend has been the increase in suicides of teen girls. Researchers name social media as a major culprit, particularly with females. Video games are frequently part of the lives of young depressed males. As depression grows the young men withdraw from family life and peer interaction and spend more and more of their time immersed in video games.
Here is an almost unbelievable statistic. “According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported by NBC News, more Americans have died from gunshots in the past 50 years than in all wars in U.S. history combined. Since 1968, 1.5 million Americans have died in firearm-related incidents. In U.S. in all wars since 1775, 1.2 million service Americans have been killed.”
The BBC recently aired a short clip (12 minutes) on current gun violence in Chicago. It was frightening. In fact, it looked very much like the top selling video game, ‘Grand Theft Auto’. It was as though the game was based on what is really happening in Chicago right now. Hmm! Which came first the chicken or the egg?
I have been wondering what will I say to my young friend next time I meet him. “How many people did you kill this week?” No, I won’t say that. I will just keep on working on our friendship. Actually, I have many stories I want to tell him, but the time will have to be right.
We all understand life through stories. “We cannot live without them (stories). But what is becoming increasingly clear is that the marketplace narrative we now live by is too shallow to sustain us in the long run.” I read this quote from Professor Arthur Dobrin, from Hofstra University of Long Island in a piece from Psychology Today.
In fact, although for years I was the ultimate fan of Biggles, I can’t remember one story. But, there are stories I encountered at the same time which live with me as clear as day. These are stories from thousands of years ago about Moses, David and Daniel and many others. It seems to me I must have put these stories in file in my brain labelled ‘Not to be Forgotten’. And as for stories of Jesus they drift in and out of my consciousness on a daily basis.
Friends ask me, “Do you really believe those stories? Are you not in danger of confusing children with stories of magic and miracles?” My answer is, “Yes I believe in them as stories of meaning. I don’t get stuck on the magical or miraculous details. It is what the story teaches about life that I think is true.” These stories are not shallow. They help me put together my life and will help me until my death. I believe, that if I can get my young friend to listen, these same stories will help him to survive and thrive long after the murderous mayhem of his computer life is forgotten.
Stan Stewart May 16 2018