Active Shooter

My good friend Jill recently posted a comment about the release of a new video game called “Active Shooter” in which the player is armed and enters a school to see how many “cops and ‘civs'” he or she can shoot. The “civs” are civilians — presumably including children? I don’t know because I haven’t seen it. No do I want to. But her summary and description of the game caused me to burst forth with a comment in which I insisted that we must finally face the fact that violent games cause violence in children. Scottie, a fellow blogger, then politely took me to task on the grounds that he was (and is) a game-player and also in the armed forces later in his adult life and he has no desire whatever to enter a school and shoot children. Point taken. I would like to respond to his comment and expand on my argument in this post.

To begin with, let’s agree that a causal relationship is notoriously difficult to establish. Just ask the cigarette companies who denied for years what everyone now knows, to wit, that smoking causes lung diseases, including cancer. The problem is that in order to show that A causes B one must establish that B never occurs without A and that whenever we have A we have B. In the case of cigarette smoking, there are smokers who never get any lung diseases and there are those who never smoke who nevertheless do end up with terrible lung diseases, including cancer. So how can we say the one causes the other? In the end it is because there is a constant conjunction  or a high correlation of A and B, enough of a conjunction to conclude that there is a causal relationship between the two — not an inviolable relationship, admittedly, but a causal relationship none the less, in the sense that it is highly likely that A will be followed by B.

Now, we know a number of things about human beings. Freud has told us, to our chagrin, that we are all aggressive and inclined to violence in one way or another. As infants we are immersed in our own world where our demands are almost immediately met. As the months and years pass we gradually learn that there are things we cannot have and things we are not supposed to do. (Well, we should learn those things; we assume that parents and teachers are doing their jobs.) The result is what we call “civilization,” and it comes from the sublimation of violent, aggressive impulses into socially acceptable channels, such things as art, philosophy, and science. Or else we find socially acceptable channels to provide us with vicarious release of those impulses, such as humor and violent games like football and boxing.  Moreover, we also know about humans that we learn by imitation– like all animals. What we see we tend to imitate.

Thus, it would seem natural to conclude that constant playing at violent games would result in children growing into adults who seek to imitate those same actions in order to release aggressive impulses.  But what about those kids that play the games endlessly, not only in this country but all around the world? Violence is more prevalent in this country than in others where the games are still played. And as Scottie noted in his case, he played the games and later became a professional soldier and yet he has no desire whatever to shoot children. We seem to have come a cropper.

The answer, I think, lies in the Freudian notion of the “reality principle,” which Freud uses to explain how the infant we spoke about a moment ago gradually learns to adapt to a society that disallows the sudden release of violent impulses. With good parenting and good role models, the young children who play the games (in this case) learn to sublimate those violent impulses, as we all should. But in a permissive society where parents both work and kids are raised by the television (which is also filled with violent images) and day-care where they cannot possibly receive the love they crave, kids are more likely to have a weak reality principle and find it more difficult to separate the games they play from the real world around them where, if someone is shot, there is terrible pain and serious consequences for the shooter.

In a word, I think the case can be made that there is a conjunction between the repeated immersion in an imaginary world where violence is the norm and the trend toward greater violence in this society that is generally too busy to instill in the young what used to be called “good character” and which Freud called a sound reality principle — the ability to distinguish between games and reality. I think the conjunction is strong enough to call it a causal relationship. But just as there are smokers who do not get cancer of the lungs, there are game players, like Scottie, who have a stronger reality principle and who do not become violent adults entering the schools and shooting “civs.”

The way to test this theory would be to take the games away from the kids and see what results. But that will never happen. So the alternative is to have parents spend more time with their children, reducing their game-playing somewhat while at the same time explaining to them how things work in the real world. I suggest that if this does not happen we shall see more and more examples of violent behavior on the part of more and more people.


51 thoughts on “Active Shooter

  1. I agree with everything you say. I think you’re wasting too much time and energy on “Scottie’s” comment, though, which is a very flimsy defense of violent video games. Sounds to me like he mistook your attack on violent video games as a personal insult. I eat red meat, but I have no problem with anyone suggesting consuming too much red meat might be unhealthy. A game like “Active Shooter, if it actually does the things like you say it does, is as disgusting and dangerous as child pornography. Society needs to prevent this kind of pollution, even if the Scotties of this world have to give up their beloved games. Take up another hobby, Scottie.

    • I try to keep an open mind. Scottie was polite and his comment deserved a rejoinder. But I tend to agree with you that these games should be banned. And I am aware of the First Amendment. I see this game as crossing the line!

      • Rereading what I wrote, my “Take up another hobby” comment sounds petty (apologies to Scottie if he reads this). I probably should read the original exchange. But yeah, some people, especially teenage boys (like my son, who turned out well) enjoy these games of violence. One person, or a thousand people, being unaffected by them doesn’t mean they don’t have a profound effect on other, more fragile, people. Their realism is way more stark and disturbing than a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon or a “Three Stooges” skit. When innocents are being slaughtered in schools, churches, theatres, etc., it’s time society think about regulation. Like you, I’m not one who believes the founders intended the First Amendment to protect these “games,” just as I don’t believe it protects child porn, or corporations from donating unlimited money toward political candidates.

      • We must keep in mind that there are various forms of violence — besides walking into a school and shooting children and teachers. Bullying springs to mind — which, we are told, is becoming a serious problem with young children. There are other forms as well. I daresay a study of the correlation of which I speak could be a real eye-opener!

  2. I largely agree with you and Freud had it about right although he is out of favour at the moment. We are game players and competitive by nature due to our evolutionary background. The good news is we also are empathetic and sensitive to the pain and distress we cause in others. We need to feed our empathy not our aggression but I see a huge increase in the glorification of violence and selfishness all around me. In all games winning is not the ultimate end in view taking part is far more important . We must learn to win and to lose with no bitterness. It is what worries me with the modern football scene , it seems to have a seething violence beneath the surface.

    • Thanks, Kersten. The fact that Freud is out of favor at the moment says more about us than it does about Freud! But you are right about the seething violence beneath the surface of football games — not to mention boxing, especially “cage” boxing.

  3. Hugh, this is one disturbing game. You are right, causal relationships prove difficult. With that said, when we discuss the significantly higher rates of gun ownership in America and an even greater differential of gun deaths in America than the 22 other largest countries, we know that it is more than a gun issue – but, we know guns are a key part of the reason.

    We have discussed that gun deaths are a mental health issue, especially with the suicides being by far the predominant reason for US gun deaths (averaging over 60%). We also sense it is due to the lack of civil discourse in disagreements where a gun may be introduced into the conversation. We also know it is a safety issue with too many accidental shootings. We also sense it is a poverty/ crime issue. But, we also sense it is an entertainment violence issue.

    I mention these because if we approach the issue holistically, we can make a larger dent in gun deaths and still be mindful of 2nd amendment rights. This why I find so much fault with the NRA, for denying legitimate conversations around this topic. They used to be about gun safety, now they are about gun sales. Keith

  4. Keith – nothing in life is easy, right? Our son recently responded to my concern about violence in video games by saying good games build in consequences. He had my husband play a role-playing video game and my husband accidently (??) shot a character with a bow-and-arrow, killing her. The entire village began to chase my husband’s character, until he was chased out of town and himself killed. It was all violent, but had an interesting consequence to that first act of unnecessary violence. Certainly, some games go too far. But video games themselves are going to stay around. I’ll never understand the appeal, but I now hesitate to say that they are all bad, even the ones with built-in violence. – Susan

    • Susan, Thanks for the comment. I cannot possibly say all video games are a problem because I have not viewed them all. But as Keith mentions, they are certainly a part of the explanation for the undeniable fact that Americans are prone to violence. I am writing another post oaths topic! (My name is Hugh, by the way).

    • Susan… respectfully, I don’t think anyone is saying that ALL video games are bad, just that some of the more violent ones might have a negative effect on the psychology of certain users, which in turn impacts society. As far as an “entire village” chasing a character (guilty or innocent) out of town until he’s killed, are you suggesting this is a good thing? It sounds to me like vigilante justice. I don’t think our society should encourage that, even in video games.

      • Susan, you furthered the conversation. Yet, I recall a time around the mid to late 1970s, where police shows changed and allowed for a “clear verdict” for the viewer by killing the assailant. Maybe it was in response to the Dirty Harry movies.

        To me the violence in these shows and games say there is acceptable violence. To me, this may not be causal, but it has leaked into police work and other shootings. A shooting may be considered justified, but why sixteen shots? I do think we have a greater culture of violence in the US, as evidence by the gun death ratio having greater differential than the gun ownership ratio to other countries.

        My kids have played the video games as well. They are not a danger to anyone, but I do worry about those who may not be able to distinguish where reality begins. Keith

      • Hmm. Ok, fair enough. I saw “interesting consequence” and “hesitate to say that they are all bad,” so maybe I misinterpreted.

      • Green – I have always had an objection to video games, even the non-violent ones, so I was attempting to be open-minded. It surprised me that some games attempt to teach that behavior has consequences. Sorry if my poorly-chosen words gave a different impression. Susan

  5. Who knew that my brief snippet would stir so much thoughtful dialogue? Excellent, thoughtful post, Hugh! On a personal level, I do not see the appeal of playing violent games where the intent is to kill … anyone or anything. The “Active Shooter” game particularly appalled me, coming on the heels of two very tragic school shootings where in total 27 innocent children were murdered … by their own classmate! I fully agree with you that there is sufficient evidence of a causal relationship between, not only violent video games, but also television violence. The question becomes, where do we go from here? My guess is that since these violent games seem to hold so much appeal, they are not going away anytime soon. After all, making money trumps the well-being of our society in the minds of many. Do we devolve into a society where one is afraid to enter a public venue, for fear one may be targeted or be caught in the crossfire of somebody who woke up with a bone to pick and decided to go on a shooting spree? When the framers wrote the Constitution, including the 1st and 2nd amendments, they were counting on the people to use common sense, to associate responsibility with rights. Seems to me we have forgotten some things along the way. The game is not being released, at least for the time being, so for once, our voices, our outrage, was heard and heeded. But there will be others. Sigh.

    • Indeed there will be others. Where there’s a buck to be made….!My only reply to your question is that we start at home at home — or it simply doesn’t change!

  6. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Last week, I wrote a post in which I mentioned a soon-to-be-released video game, Active Shooter, that was based on the spate of recent school shootings. The premise of the game greatly offended my sensibilities and I was, needless to say, appalled. The post elicited some comments and discussion about whether such games are a partial cause of the recent violent tendencies we are seeing in some young people today, such as the shooters at Parkland and Santa Fe. Our dear friend Hugh has taken up the gauntlet and written an excellent, thoughtful and thought-provoking post that opens the door to even more discussion! Please take a few moments to read and ponder Hugh’s post. Thank you, dear Hugh!

  7. Hello Hugh and everyone. First I want to thank Hugh for a thoughtful post. I do disagree with the strength of the premise but I appreciate the thought that went into it. I think we have several things to address.

    On the game that was the start of this “Active Shooter”, I did a bit of reading. It was promoted by a known troll who produces badly written games that do not function well and has sold them on the game platform Steam. He and his games have a really bad reputation. I do not know if he creates them alone or if he is the Russian behind the original stories. The reason the game was not released was Steam ended all relationship with the troll and pulled any games he was involved with. They refused to let him sell anything on their platform anymore.

    On games themselves. While there are all kinds and different categories, the best and most played games have a plot, character development, and standards of acceptable play. For example most games will penalize you for shooting or harming allies, bystanders, and others deemed friendly. It could be anything from warnings to ending your game and requiring you to start again. Another thing about most of best games played is the goal is to to something worthwhile as you are doing all the shooting to accomplish the goal. In the Halo series on xbox that I love you are a super soldier trying to protect humanity, your planet, the people with you,and defeat the enemy trying to kill all humans. You can really get into trying to be the hero. It is basically the same for all the first person shooter games I play, your character is trying to achieve all these goals which is done in defence of humanity or saving others from some enemy. These games have far more than shooting , even the ones that have the highest enemy counts. They have puzzles and tasks that must be accomplished. Some games require cooperation between players or teammates.

    While I do not give much credit to Freud in anything with all the stuff that has come out discrediting him, Hugh is correct the country has become more violent in the years since WW 2. It was stunning to me that they had to condition the soldiers in that war to be more able to be violent and shoot at the enemy with the intent to kill. Studies done then and since have shown most people will hesitate to shoot another person, especially is they have some common grounds. That is why the enemy is always demonized so. Makes killing them easier. When I was in the Army I got to do several special training operations dealing with psychological warfare. It is a serious field and is done against the enemy’s troops and in support of getting our troops to do what they need to do.

    Still I think the causal relationship between video games and media is too slight to account for the huge change in just our country. Fact is we have always had violent games, I remember playing cowboys and indians as a boy, having shootouts with other boys with play guns. Team sports like football were always hyped up to win, hit harder, do more, get the goal. I know there were violent movies especially in other countries where our movie standards did not apply long before I started to watch them. Again this has to be addressed as the other countries have the same things today we do, some have had more violent media as they were not restricted. Kids in other countries grew up as we did with the same influences. Yet our country became more violent and more polarized. Our country basically has become the dysfunctional family on the block of nations.

    Is it a greater lack of social safety nets and sense of security in the country. We have for decades seen a decrease in incomes and more poverty. We have seen food prices, medical prices, basic housing costs, and education costs climb out of reach of a lot of people. We have young people feeling they don’t belong. They lose hope quickly.

    Guys I do not have the answers. I dearly wish I did. I was only saying that the link to to video games , or movies, or TV , or ritalin, or all of the other talking points is tenuous. Other countries have these things also. What we do have to address is the one thing we have in a huge abundance that other countries don’t. Greater access to firearms. We need a conversation on ways to have them safely in our society. We need a debate on does a civilian need a military style assault weapon? We need to address why the mentally ill and people on no fly lists are still able to own guns. How much of an arsenal is too much and how to properly store them. I know people who keep loaded guns in their bedside tables and even one guy who sleeps with a loaded gun under his pillow for safety as they are afraid someone will break in while they sleep. Studies show these guns are far more likely to kill someone in the home, usassally a child. One 80 year old lady I know just told me she got a friend to get her a pistol for her purse for protection. She is not capable of using a gun safely. She can hardly stand fully upright, she can hardly walk, she has problems with her hands and fingers. Talking these issues out is being blocked mostly by the resources of the N.R.A. , which as Keith has said has changed from the gun safety advocates they were originally. Now they are a shill for the gun manufacturers. There goal is to promote gun sales at any cost. If you really want to be horrified look up NRATV.

    Thanks again Hugh and everyone for a great conversation. Be well. Hugs

    • Glad to see you made it! Just a couple of quick thoughts. (1) Be careful about throwing Freud out with the trash. That’s being done in our colleges despite the fact that he has much to say that is helpful in determining what the hell is going on around us! (2) Clearly there are some games that are more violent than others and none of them can be accused of being THE cause of violence. I never said that. But things are a bit different today with these games than they were when you and I were playing cowboys and Indians. These kids immerse themselves in these games and the sense that they are “pretending” becomes a bit tenuous after a while. I do think some of the games can be responsible for some of the violence (not the careful qualification), especially when the kid lacks parental guidelines and a weak reality principle.

      • Hello Hugh. Thank you your thoughts on my comment. I guess you hold Freud much higher than I do after I read he was an addict and that he was fraudulent on most of his claimed studies including using his own family ( his daughter )to fake most of what he claimed. I can point give you the places I get this from if you wish. As too how deep we get into games or shows or movies is relative don’t you think? Look at comic cons? Look at Trekkies? There are examples of any group taking things too far, heaven’s gate cult, scientology, jehovah witnesses for example. I still say mainstream gaming is no more likely to go on a shooting spree than a bowling league is .
        Thanks for the discussion. Hugs

      • You do realize that you committed the fallacy of ad hominem? Freud as a human being may have been terribly twisted but this doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to Freud the psychologist. We need to test what he has to say independently of what sort of man he was. I don’t really care what sort of man he was. He knew the human soul better than almost anyone else I have read.

      • Sorry Hugh, no I did not commit the fallacy of ad hominem. I stated clearly that the reports I have read showed Freud the psychologist made up most of his “discoveries”. I even offer to provide links to where I have been reading on new information on what Freud thought he knew and why he made the claims he did. However that was not what we were discussing really. We were talking about video games and if they had any correlation to the rapid rise in mass shootings in this one country out of all the other countries with the same video games. We disagree on the conclusion to that question. Hugs

  8. There are great movies , and then, there’s child porn…. there are hundred thousands of great video games, then, there’s this video game. There are also millions of video game players all over the world…. if the premise is correct, then there will be millions of school shootings everywhere in the world, as well. There are only a few Muslims terrorists , but there are more than a billion Muslims worldwide. All of them are targeted as terrorists because of their religion.

    We don’t even know if the school shooters are video game players.

    • Read the post carefully. I never said there’s an inviolable relationship between the two. The reality principle, or what used to be called “character” enters in and affects the relationship.

      • I reread the post…. I apologize …. you didn’t say there ‘s a direct relationship between the two. My latest post is about me playing a video game God of War ( about a war between Greek gods and Nordic gods ), so I felt a bit judged . Sorry about that.

      • I am sure there are thousands like you — those who play the game simply for fun and never think about acting out the game in real life!

  9. In Jill’s original post I took umbrage with the person or team who decided to have game players shoot up a school in order to make money. When I heard he, she, or they backed off after social media outlets lambasted them, I thought maybe there is some sense in the world. BUT I never foresaw the above arguments coming…
    Violence begets violence, that is a well-known fact. Not everyone who suffers violence lashes out violently at someone else, but it does happen regularly. My father was a very violent and abusive man. He had 7 sons, 4 who were non-violent, one who could be very violent but could never have reasoned why he sometimes did or did not turn violent, and 2 sons who were intentionally violent, happily following in my father’s footsteps.
    In the microcosm of my world, 2 out of 6 possible violent offenders continued the cycle of violence, that is 33.33% of the population. Can you even guess at what the world would be like if 1/3 of violent game players resorted to violence to express themselves in our world? Truly, I cannot. But I also know that 1/3 of the game-players will not resort to violence. But what of 1 in 30? Or even 1 in 300? How about 1 in 3000? Is that not still one too many?
    I have never played a violent video game, because my father scared me into being a pacifist, a position I am quite happy to hold. And I have seen a lot of people who do play violent video games, and they are normally not violent. But, having said that, I have seen non-violent people turn violent after playing video games. Most of those people are young, children or early teenagers. They don’t always understand the possible consequences of their actions. Yet those actions can have, and often do have, serious consequences. Why take the chance?

  10. There are two schools of thought:
    Violent games are good because they prevent real violence and bloodshed.
    Violent games encourage us to behave violently.
    It’s better to shoot clay pigeons than real ones , or fairground moving ducks than the real thing.
    These are old hat we will soon have virtual reality where we can enter a harmless( so some think) world of destruction and violence. Why would we wish to escape to such a place?Is it really what we have set our hearts upon? What are our motives? Do we wish the real world was more like this virtual violent paradise?
    I’m reminded of those say looking at pornography is good for us since it relieves our feelings and prevents sexual crime.
    We are now faced with the serious suggestion of some physicists that we live in a virtual universe and nothing is real including ourselves. Highly intelligent men like Sam Harris have thrown a worse spanner in the works by declaring free will is an illusion and we cannot be blamed for our actions.
    I’m of the Old school we are moral beings and our greatness lies not in satisfying ourselves but in working for the common good.

  11. This is a well argued and reasoned point Hugh. I see your words as a warning to always be on ‘your’ guard.
    Being a bit submersed in reading histories and the parallels from earlier eras we always encounter violence and even eras when violence was encouraged by the parents or teachers. Although we live in yet another troubled time we do have an undercurrent of people ready to complain when a line has been crossed. (Scottie for instance was applaud by the morally questionable Grand Theft Auto series)
    What beggars belief was the notion that someone genuinely thought they could create a product out of these horrible tragedies and that there would be market for this. The phrase ‘What Were You Thinking Of’ springs to mind.

      • Stand by for a ‘humphy old fert UK socialist rant’….
        Some folk are so shallow in their pursuit of a $ (or £) that they lose all sight of moral compass and just reckon in a cynical way such an ‘edgy’ product will garner a market of folk who think they are being cool by having such a game. Some one will try and sell anything to anybody.
        (Same principal as those stupid t shirt shirts which Jill highlighted).
        This is one of problems of the mass-media market, in trying to exploit the shock/weird factor the producers are in a way dulling the sense of being offended by flooding the market with such products….
        (I’ll stop now as a feel a coming drift to my rant about works involving ‘serial killers’)

      • The moral compass once showed the way to the moral high ground. Now we seem to wander in a world of make-believe and make-it-up.

  12. Seems perfectly logical to me. Our local TV station just did a test where the parents took their kids’ cell phones away for a week. The results were apparently unexpected. I didn’t see the story on the news. I’ll have to look for it. Interesting model, though, for what you suggest, Hugh.

    • A terrific idea. Take the phones away and keep them away from the games and see what happens. They might go outside and play and develop deep relationships with other live humans!! It may or may not stem the violence, but there would be other benefits!

  13. I am in the cyber, refreshed this page to leave a comment – and wow! you hit this one out of the ballpark! as always, i’ll read these comments when i’m home – i look forward to seeing what others have to say.

    As for me, I read it at home, and just the thought of a game like that made me feel physically ill. it wasn’t just a physical feeling, but also one at soul level…

    Thank goodness there are good people in the world who do not support ‘game choices’ like this, though the fact there are many who do – makes me worried about what’s in the world’s future.

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