After mass-shootings, two things happen inevitably.
Some right-wing conservative stands up and announces: "It's all cuz of the violent video-games and not enough God in our community!"
And in response, some video-game enthusiast or journalist stands up and announces: "Video-games cannot be blamed for anything, it's utter bullshit".
I, as a gamer, want to be a honest person. I want to stand up and say something heretical. That video-games, as a media, have no mandate on being a special snowflake and NOT influencing people in any way.
If you're not aware of this, but most modern armies utilize war-sims, battle simulators.
And those simulators exist not only for vehicle and aircraft operators and pilots, but for footsoldiers and motorized infantry as well, and in the latter case, the war-sims are nothing more than an FPS, a first-person-shooter.
In fact, a lot of modern games take heavily from army-licensed warsims, the gameplay and art direction that gets more and more realistic and less and less "game-y". For example, there's the DARWARS and virtual battlefields.
A virtual battlefield is the digital simulation of war generally accomplished by the combination of differing simulations into a digital environment. Each soldier, or vehicle in the environment is controlled by a human being. A functioning virtual battlefield has long been sought after by DARPA (the aforementioned DARWARS) and various militaries as an augmentation to contemporary battle exercises.
Such examples are also VBS 1 (Virtual Battlespace 1) and VBS2 by Bohemia Interactive Studio may qualify as virtual battlefields.
DARWARS Ambush!, for example, is is a PC-based, networked, multiplayer training simulator, thatt provides military training based on experiences of personnel in the field, and includes capabilities to ensure the capture and dissemination of lessons learned. The initial application involved road-convoy-operations training, while subsequent applications include training for platoon level mounted infantry tactics, dismounted infantry operations, Rules-of-Engagement training, cross-cultural communications training, and other areas. The software was developed by Total Immersion Software, and based on the technology of Operation Flashpoint, a commercial and recreational game.
As it's stated, the most important innovation of DARWARS Ambush! is that it is user-authorable. Soldiers themselves can create new scenarios and training in a few hours or days without a contractor between them and their tactics, techniques and procedures.
The first attempts to use video games for governmental tasks happened around the 1980s, when the Ministry of Defense in the USA had requested the Atari corporation to develop a military simulator based on the popular in those days game, Battlezone. Back in the day, Battlezone could boast 3D vector graphics, which was what we'd now call "cutting edge".
And so, Atari had released The Bradley Trainer, which was a simulator of the Bradley M2 APC gun operator. From a game design point the Bradely Trainer was atrocious – only a line for the horizon, enemies don't return fire, and the only way to finish the game is to shoot all the ammo or get penalized for friendly fire. But, the Trainer more or less accurately simulated the APC's controls and could teach the basic elements of the the machine's ammunition – the usage of optics, change of ammo type, targeting of fired missles with the laser sight, etc.
Then, some military detachments used a mod to id Software's hit, "Doom", the "Marine Doom", which changed monsters to enemy soldiers and lava-filled coridors to the a more rural landscapes. It had been utilized to train command coordination in bases of Virgina.
Now, huge companies like Crytek, the developers of million-selling Crysis and FarCry series, work for the military to utilize virtual battlefields for real training. Crytek was paid $57 million for a next-gen warzone sim called the Dismounted Soldier Training System, which is claimed to be even more graphically proficient than America's Army. And, speaking of America's Army, this game had been downloaded 17 million times, and the success of this warsim-turned-civvie-game had helped usher warzone simulatiors into the real army of United States.
But that's not the end of it. There's also the mesh simulators – hybrids of real physical training and virtual polygons.
Fort Bragg, where 70% of US special forces undergo their training, utilizes a virtual polygon called LVS (Laser Shot Virtual Shoot House). Dozens of projectors channel images on the walls of the polygon. The walls themselves are made out of a material that doesn't allow for ricochet. The whole place is rigged by sensors which analyze where a bullet hit the wall, the speed and angle of the hit, after which a computer processes this info, the following trajectory and turns a real bullet into a virtual one, which continues it's travel through the cyberspace.
The software for the LVS is created by the company Laser Shot Inc., who's CEO, Kevin Bass once had been developing games in the software giant Interplay. He once mentioned, that the processes of creating a warzone sim and a normal game don't differ that much. There's just different priorities – a soldier isn't interested in how pretty and realistic you made a flower or the grass in the sim. He needs the flowers movements to indicate the speed and direction of the wind. And he needs the bullet that was fired from his sniper rifle, to take the same path it would in real life – if the ballistics calculations are erroneous, in a real firefight there might be a nasty surprise.
Unlike the static targets of real-life shooting ranges, the targets of LVS posses an AI – they will try to kill the trainee in any way possible, they'll try to take a dropped weapon, and so on.
So, the question of "can a game train a person to be a killer", is actually a rhetorical question.
A game CAN train a person in the art of combat, or we wouldn't have military utilizing these "games" or simulators.
The reason why simulators became a blast with the military is simple – battle training and field/joint exercises is EXPENSIVE. The ammunition, the time of the instructors, the whole set-up costs money. It's the most efficient, but it can't be carried out each day for several hours. You can only put a soldier to the range for so much time or organize coordinated simulated training division-wise, etc.
War-sims, of course, cannot substitute physical training and field exercises. However, there are certain areas of combat were substituting a "game" with actual training can be beneficial or at least equal to it. Team coordination, target assessment, reaction training, firing accuracy, and so on. And you don't need to waste a single bullet or a single gallon of gas to deploy your soldier on the training ground.
Some time ago I read an interesting essay from a group of neuropsychologists who've researched the effect of gaming on individuals – I guess you can google this through keywords. They had found out that gaming significally improves people's reaction times to stimuli, improves problem-solving and multi-tasking skills, trains the brain real good in terms of a person being, well, FASTER in assessment and decision-making departments.
That's the biological reality. Even the most primitive games train small motoric skills, coordination and environment awareness. For example, warsims are hailed for training such skill as target recognition in foliage and complex terrain – a skill most necessary in real combat.
What does it mean? It means that say, a teenager that knows how to fire a gun – not handle it brilliantly, but knows where the deadly end is located – and is an avid gamer, would most likely score better in an excercise than a teenager that has the same skills with irl handling of a gun, but doesn't game.
It doesn't mean that a pasty fat kid that plays CoD all day is a trained killer – no. But even that pasty kid would probably fare better with a real gun than one that DOESNT play CoD all day long.
But that's just the physical part.
There's also the mental part.
War-sims are also used to train a soldier to get used to the idea of his enemy being well, less than human. It's not that people have trouble killing each other, but different people react differently to the need to quickly dispatch someone. It's not a question of morality, it's more primitive mechanisms of see-n-flee, of fear and lack of confidence and bad reaction to a stressful and dangerious situation.
The first kills, are, by the acknowledgment of vets, are hardest, especially if you're closely involved with the target.
Shooting cardboard targets can only do so much. They're static and barely representational of what the soldier would encounter on a real battlefield. And full-fledged military exercises are, once again, too far and apart to teach automatism.
And that's what any training is about. To create AUTOMATISM. A reaction so embedded and correct, that it happens before the consciousness registers the reaction resulting in an action. It's not even about dehumanizing prospective targets – it's about automatism. The split second which dictates life and death, failure and victory, shouldn't be wasted on someone's hesitation or bewilderment getting in the way.
Games, with their ability to create a believably acting, moving and looking enemy, can train soldiers pretty good in this respect. Naturally, the goal isn't to create a killing machine that shoots at every arabic-looking person, because that's not even what most situations call for. But, in certain circumstances, such reactions should be programmable, and that's why war-sims exist.
They teach soldiers to react to targets, and not people. To targets that ARE people. And to differentiate between targets quickly.
But the thing is, that when you play even a recreational game, you're going through pretty much the same programmable motions. I underline and stress this point hard – it doesn't mean that you as a gamer or another gamer treats other people as NPCs and targets. But if there's a situation where it would be sensible to do so, the gamer would slip into this auto-programmable reaction far more effectively and quickly than a person that hasn't mowed up thousands of enemies in CoD or Gears of War.
Therefore, any real gamer is going through the same basic motions as a soldier in training. Granted, the realism is lower, the goals are different and it's silly to compare a trained warfighter with a nerd clutching an Xbox controller.
However, the perks are still there.
If we look at the past "successful" and "unsuccessful" mass shootings, we can note an interesting correlation. Whenever the shooter is of the mid-aged demographic, independent of the type of weapon used, the number of victims during a killing spree is statistically lower. And when the shooter is teenage to older twenties, the number of victims is higher.
If we look at the most successful shooters, even political ones – The Columbine killers, Cho Seung Hui of the V-tech, James Holmes of Aurora cinema, Adam Lanza of Newton elementary school and Anders Breivik with his terrorist act – we know that they all played video-games and FPS's. They were young enough to be introduces to games on the peak of their popularity, and none of them had received viable military training.
However, in a situation of extreme stress they managed to achieve a high kill count, switch between weapons, aim and shoot. Out of these, only Breivik was known to actually attend a shooting range. The others had glancing handling of guns.
So, were they successful just because they sprayed a lot of ammo in short time at people in confined spaces? I'd say, partially. It's a well known fact that ammo spray doesn't equate to hit count. The idea of training a soldier is exactly this – to make every bullet count and don't waste valuable resource. Gang skirmishes that involve guns show, that when perpetrators utilize submachine guns and assault rifles and attempt to suppress their opponent or intimidate by rapid-rate fire, they usually don't hit the intended targets. Especially since such guns tend to rotate the shooters' hands, resulting not in a dense fire picture, but a parabolic spray of bullets that is spacious and hits whatever is on it's way.
However, video games can train discipline and correct handling and targeting. They train the discipline to reload and focus. No wonder why the above mentioned shooters were able to hit a good amount of targets even in a situation of extreme panic and anxiety. They had a program.
All of these shooters could fallback on their own self-programming and focus better than the older spree killers who had a hunting background at the most.
But that's just the physical part of training.
Let's talk about the psychological aspect.
When people say that games don't influence people they mean that a game doesn't MOTIVATE to kill. That is, of course, utter rubbish of people who are dishonest with themselves.
Everything can motivate an unhinged person to kill.
Let's think for a second, why we even play first person shooters. To enjoy the graphics? To educate ourselves? To become better individuals? No, we do it for FUN. But why is this fun translated into fictional violence?
Well, it's time to look yourself in the eye and admit that we find these games to be fun because they allow us to indulge ourselves in a simulation of violent behavior without repercussions and consequences. At the core of this lies the simple fact that we WANT to behave violently.
But, we know that we cannot, so we play a game and the fun, is, thusly, derived from sublimation. It's like masturbation – when you want to have sex, but cannot, you use your arm and fantasy.
Ultimately, there's nothing shameful about it. It just needs to be said.
But, if we admit that we play first-person-shooters to sublimate our OWN violent urges, then wouldn't it be fair to say that we feed the fire? If one wishes to become less violent, they should keep away from violence, indulge in celibate like those who decide to become celibate, not keep on jerking that boner, right? Therefore, a game is a way to keep the violent urge alive and kicking, because we ENJOY feeling it.
You'd ask, then – "well still, how does a game influence violent behavior in real life if people are supposed to discern between fantasy and reality?". And I'd say – it influences it as much as everything else, and certainly not less.
When activists say stuff like "video games don't make people shoot other people", it implies that people live in a total vacuum. That they don't consume a variety of media, and that our lives aren't permeated by media to the point where this media becomes our personality.
But unfortunately for humans, our personalities sort of are a mesh of digested narratives. We are being fed narratives since the day we learn to speak, and our self-awareness is comprised solely of a narrative – an inner monologue and an outer action. We are creatures of word and visual, we are creatures of media in all it's forms.
We are influenced by the alphabet, by the nursery rhymes, by the Bible, the Koran, the cartoons, the music we heard. Because we are the sum of our experiences and a great chunk of modern human's experience is media. To deny it is to deny reality.
So, we should admit that we are influenced. Not in the way of "I saw a slasher movie and will go kill people", but in a more subversive, prolonged way – and of course, by the less narrative cores of our personalities. However, as I said, we don't live in total vacuum and we accept what is poured into our empty vessels.
It's a known fact that violent crime, homicides and spree killings often come in duplets, in quick succession of one after another. I remember that when I heard of the Aurora shooting this July, I said something to my friend along the lines of "there's gonna be another one soon this year", and it happened. Soon, Dmitry Vinogradov in Moscow rampaged in his office, and not long ago, so did Adam Lanza.
As a worker of the dreaded media, I know why it happens in duplets, at least. People watch news. Out of 100 000 people who watched a report on some person going on a shooting spree, there would be around 100 people who watched it, appraised it and thought "hell, I want to do this even better than that guy". And out of these 100, there'd be 1 that is desperate enough to go and kill.
While the decision to kill and the underlying reasons to do so – mental disorder, socio-economic status and so on – lies on the shoulders of the perp, the digesting of associated media certainly counts for making the potential perp salivate. If the person didn't see the report, he would've simmered in his fantasies maybe a bit longer. Maybe he had an idea, but he couldn't formulate a plan, and the report actually pointed him in the right direction. There's a dozens of reasons, but media often acts as a spur. There were numerous attempts by law enforcements of different counties to introduce legislature that would stifle the amount of detail disclosed during media highlighting of violent crime. Never really worked out though, but the intent was there.
Why? Because law enforcement PRECISELY KNOW, through statistics, that reporting creates a metaphorical avalanche, were unstable individuals get inspired to carry on with their own crimes.
It's not heretical to admit it, because it's true.
It had been a known fact with movies for a long time – a reason why films such as "Hostel", for example, were banned or attempted to be banned from cinematic release because of potential triggering of future perps.
And for those that say it's utter bullshit and it's just stupid people being "influenced", there was a recent incident after the release of "Django Unchained", where there was a barrage of tweets from black people going "Daymn, I wanna kill white people after I saw Django, wanna beez a bounty hunter and kill tehm whiteys just like that badass".
Granted, probably no-one will – but the innate desire to do so was indeed voiced. And that means that the movie reignited that desire.
It's funny, when you think about it. Our moral police, law and media have a very hypocritical stance on how media influences people.
For example, Nazi insignia, gestures and all kinds of Nazi-related visuals are PROHIBITED in most countries. Why? Because apparently, these visuals and narratives are not only disturbing, but might influence people into copying them and following the ideology. Same goes for racist materials.
Violence against women in media, fiction and fantasy is looked down upon also, because it's thought to influence men to rape. So does drawn and writen child pornography, which is thought to influence and encourage pedophiliac behavior.
For some reason, we don't object to the notion that watching Hitler's speeches or reading Rockwell's "White Power' or William Pierce's "The Turner Diaries" might influence some person to go and kill Jews or discriminate against blacks. We don't protest the idea that watching violent rape porn festers a desire to rape someone in real life. We don't protest it because these notions had been elevated to the status of INDISPUTABLE FACT and cemented through law and ethics.
But when someone says that acting out a role of killer might fuel the fire of homicidal behavior – we ridicule that person. We scoff and go "pfft, haha, right. Millions of people play video-games, and they don't go out and kill, don't be silly".
And there's a catch there. While reading a book, or watching a movie is a passive way of fueling the fire, playing a video-game is an ACTIVE way of immersing yourself in a power-trip fantasy. It gives a taste of action through your own hands.
More importantly, it's necessary to understand that in most cases, the shooters do NOT loose contact with reality, or start mixing the two. It's not happening in the way of "shit I'm in a vidyagaem, gonna shoot these dem demons". No. I think what happens is more along the lines of Ted Bundy's descriptions of his own actions.
Before Ted Bundy was executed for multiple accounts of homicide, he conducted a series of interviews that were later published for the wide public to see. Therein, he stated, that amongst other things, what led to him murdering quite a few women, was pornography. I tend to take his claim seriously and not in the light of his attempt to get off the hook and blame his actions on porn – he was on death row and it was too late. No, I think he was quite honest. He said that at one point in his life he became addicted to porn – then, simple vanilla stimulation was insufficient to get his kicks off, and he switched to fetish, rough stuff... And then, like with drugs, porn became less of what he wanted, that he wanted to feel the real deal, to make it happen in real life, with real flesh and blood. So he did it.
Same with the motivation video-games carry with them. If a normal person sates his violent urges through video-game murder, a person with an underlying instability does not sate the urge – instead, it fuels the already burning fire. Overexposure to fantasy makes fantasy eventually seem not enough, a shitty simulacra. Then, real life action takes priority.
At this point, people would probably ignore what I have written and go on a tirade about how games can't be blamed for mass murder.
So let me reiterate in conclusion – I don't blame anything. It's silly to take one factor and ignore the rest, though.
However, I think it's important to realize that people don't wake up one day and decide to go on a shooting rampage. A variety of factors contribute to the decision, which is often very drawn-out in time, and that video-games, being media, influence a person the same way other media and interaction does.
It's just a part of the experience that shapes the person who is capable of such an act.
That being said, I don't think that banning anything is a solution. All in all, there was no violent movies or games in the USSR, and people still killed each other. We just need to stop pushing our heads in the sands and deny the objective reality – to deny that yes, people are influenced by a lot of shit.
And if we can freely attribute the laziness, aggressiveness and low intelligence of black people to some cadaver like "institutional racism" that apparently influences their poor civilizational performance, why can't we admit that something quite solid as video-game experience can inspire and encourage a deranged killer?
If a person can be so moved by Lennon's songs that he decided to kill him, it's not far-fetched to conclude that violent media makes violence look damn fine to those prone to it.
In the end, the only way to stop this, is to ban human nature itself, which the left, of course, tries to do.
But I doubt that would happen. I just wish that people would stop denying what's in front of them. That is, the personal responsibility of the offender, and what narratives he had chosen to incorporate in his personality.