Violent video games worked for me!

It’s very, very naughty to throw a hand grenade at an ambulance.

I long for the days when I could massacre the undead in video games and not worry about corrupting myself or society. But wait Ö who am I kidding? The controversy over violence in video games is far older than most people realize.

From 1976’s “Death Race,” to “Mortal Kombat” in 1992, to the 2001 release “Grand Theft Auto III” and beyond, the controversy pesters whenever over-anxious parents, watchdog groups and legislators are looking for an “easy basket” against moral corruption. In all the hubbub, these arguments have missed a fundamental question: What ever happened to the children that first played violent video games?

It’s been more than 25 years since the Atari 2600 mainstreamed the industry and 20 years since the original Nintendo. The granddaddy of violent video games, “Mortal Kombat,” is already a tween. Countless violent video-game playing children have grown up to be adults. Has anyone sat down and looked at what’s become of these children?

I know I was curious, so I sought them out. It ends up they’re everywhere. Starting at my law school, it turns out many fondly recall “finishing” opponents with blood-soaked vengeance in “Moral Kombat II.” Over in the Medical School, I found students who, when not learning how to preserve life, routinely gather to dissect each other with bullets in “Halo.” Heck, I even spoke to members of law enforcement who passionately enjoy carjacking vehicles in “Grand Theft Auto.”

What’s going on here? Not one was in prison for murder, arson or even tax evasion! Many scoffed at the thought of even owning a gun.

I’ve observed sizable numbers of doctors, lawyers, junior executives, political consultants and many other young professionals who play or have played violent video games to some extent in their lives. Weren’t these the same kids who were supposedly being corrupted by video games? Yet here they are, taking up the mantle of leadership in society. Might these be mere games and not devious engines of social corruption?

Yet, just the other day, the British Broadcasting Corp. continued the rage against the video-game machines, citing games where players “murder” their opponents in games such as “Doom III” (omitting that their opponents are ghouls, but I’ll hold off on that issue). They even awoke the “classic” anti-video game argument, that mimicry encouraged people such as the Columbine shooters.

Hmm – Did I just not understand Columbine? Two unholy sociopaths shoot up their school, and it was because of their video games? As though playing violent video games made them in any way different from any other teenage male for the last 25 years? It seems as though violent video games are an easy answer for those who’ve never played them.

What is it that’s happening in this handful of marginal cases? Are these instances of people being morally corrupted by video games, or morally corrupt people who happen to play video games? Why not just point these arguments at all media, including movies and books?

To a much lesser extent, they are, but because video games are still a relatively new medium, they bear the brunt of worse misconceptions. After all, even holy books are interpreted to mean vile and terrible things (just look at Brother Jed) – video games are no different (and in the case of the Bible, no less violent).

Still, I have hope. As each generation of gamers gets older, we will hopefully carry this same understanding to our own children: Just because you shoot some zombies on the Play Station 2, doesn’t mean you’re going to shoot people at your high school, reality and fiction are separate, and it’s very, very naughty to throw a hand grenade at an ambulance.

Bobak Ha’eri welcomes comments at [email protected]