02006-02-14 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

David Byrne Journal: 2.11.06: London

The Independent weekend magazine says that after WWII a number of studies and some reports by military officers estimated that only one in four soldiers actually fired on the enemy. The others weren’t as mentally and psychologically ready to kill, so they simply didn’t. Very annoying for the higher-ups. The ubiquitous image of soldiers rushing into battle guns blazing simply just didn’t happen.A man named Dave Grossman was brought in to remedy the problem. He used “Coperant conditioning”, a Skinnerian psychological term mixed with simulations that were closer to the actual conditions – previously gun training mainly involved shooting at distant targets and aiming carefully. (On Killing was his book.) This was further refined with simulators over the years – which bore a remarkable resemblance to today’s first person shooter video games. (One wonders if the military should get some credit for designing what became game software.) Grossman has since become a critic of the impact of these games, claiming that they are in effect training young players to be killing machines. The efficiency of the soldiers trained in this way quadrupled, so it is effective. He claims that games teach adolescents (and frustrated nerds) to have the killing instinct and to quicken their reactions and lower their inhibitions. He has a website:

Quicken your reaction and lower your inhibitions – that sounds like a nice recipe for hell. It is interesting how opinions differ regarding violent video games. Have any serious tests been conducted regarding a change in player behavior in real life following exposure to gaming? Or are we flying by the seat of our pants again as usual, waiting to see what will happen once millions of kids have been playing violent video games for years?

PS: Nice comments. Made me think of this: some people can multitask and drive well while talking on the mobile phone – others can’t and become a menace to society. Maybe the gaming issue is similar. Some people play first-person-shooters for many years and still squirm everytime i step on a cockroach – and others, well become a menace to society. I understand Dave’s argument, but think it is irrespnsible to simply rule out any connection. The above article shows that it worked for the military which tells me that it probably works on a certain percentage of teenagers as well. That, of course, opens another can of worms.

PPS: Manufacturers are working on cars that do not start if the driver’s breath shows too much alcohol. Who knows maybe at some point cars will be able to notice that a person is driving erratically because they are talking on the phone and will slow down, shut down… Maybe video game boxes will read the heart-rate, hand-sweat, and eye-movement of the player…


  1. coolmel

    yeah it would be interesting to see any long-term study on this one. as well as long-term study on prolonged exposure to reality tv. i don’t know which is worse.

    but i don’t know. i’ve been playing first person shooting game since i was a kid, but i still squirm everytime i step on a cockroach.

  2. dave

    It seems like a bit of a cop out to say that violent video games cause violent people. My 22 year old nephew, a really nice guy, plays some pretty violent video games & yet he’s not killing machine. My sons, aged 12 & 9, play 007 & other similar video games &, while not extremely violent, do involve killing. They are not violent kids. We can’t just lay the blame for society’s problems on video games. It’s not that simple. That’s like telling people to not drink alcohol because you’ll become an alcoholic. The tendencies seem to be latent in some people. No one wants to take responsibility for their actions because it’s too hard to admit our own faults. It is so much easier to blame something outside of ourselves than to do the work to better ourselves.

  3. marijose

    I read somewhere recently that soldiers who grew up playing military-themed video games as kids feel the least inhibited during real war, so it looks like it’s come full circle.

  4. Miguel de Maria

    The cop at my driving school (didn’t come to a full stop), said that cell phone use causes the same impairment as .08 BAC. So does that mean we should let some people drive drunk? Slippery slope.

    As far as taking responsibility for actions, maybe one aspect of this is not programming your children to enjoy shooting other sentient creatures. You may want to read The Tipping Point. It references a lot of studies that show that the environment more powerfully affects our actions than we would like to believe.


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