Can I say a word to my teenage friends? Because I work with young men in my church, maybe that grants me a moment to tell you something.
Are you starting to forget what you felt that day when a troubled young man in Connecticut killed 20 children?
Did you want to do something about that terrible tragedy?
Maybe you did a couple of extra kind acts, as one TV newswoman suggested you do. Maybe you hugged your little brothers and sisters. But today, a few weeks out, you've been moving on with your normal life. You don't have much money, so you can't start a foundation. You don't really know what else you can do.
I'd like to make a suggestion. It's a new year — time for new resolutions.
Can I suggest to you that you can honor the memory of those children and you can do something to improve yourself: Cut out the violent video games from your life.
Please. These games may be harder on you than you realize.
Now, I am not saying that you will grow up to be a mass murderer because you play violent video games. Nor am I drawing a firm line for you on what is appropriate or not. What I am saying is that violent video games often cause trouble in your life, trouble that can be more worrisome than you might know.
Let me tell you a couple of things about violent video games that might surprise you. They surprised me in my research over the last few weeks.
First, there was a study done at a major East-Coast university. More than 150 students were taken into a room where they either played a violent video game or didn't play a game at all.
All of them next completed a questionnaire/exam that included some current events questions that were complicated enough that almost all were likely to miss some of the questions. (Those who played the game did the exam after the game finished.)
A young woman the students didn't know — an acting student — walked each participant down the hall to another room. As they walked down the hall, the woman insulted the individual's performance on the current events quiz, saying they had done more poorly than other students.
They got to the end of the hall, and the actress invited them to do another questionnaire that included feedback on the quality of her work and whether she was deserving of a financial grant.
Would it surprise you to find out that students who played the game were significantly more aggressive in their answers toward her than those who didn't play?
Second, violent video games may harm your empathetic side.
In another study, a group of around 40 students were asked to play a violent video game. Without taking too long to explain how they conducted the experiment and the dynamics of their results, the researcher found that some players could experience feelings of guilt following the virtual killing they did in the game, depending upon how the game was constructed.
See if you can pick out what you think the study's authors are saying in this quote from their study:
"Taken together, the results suggest that violent video games are capable of inducing 'moral responses' in users. ... Shooting virtual characters may induce a feeling of wrongdoing in users. This corresponds to the anecdotes of 'immoral virtual violence' and contradicts the notion of some gamers that virtual violence is morally insignificant. Rather, the pattern of guilt responses observed in the present study is similar to that expected from comparable real-life situations. This similarity may support the notion that virtual violence is more 'than just a game.'"
I'll draw your attention to the last line: "Virtual violence is more than just a game."
You are probably wiser than I am about what this could mean — and more research needs to be done here.
But as I ponder the remarkable result in this study, I think about how our consciences are sensitive things. Overloading this delicate instrument as might happen in a game seems sure to cause confusion and frustration as we try to develop our senses of self and as we try learn right from wrong.
Here is what The American Psychological Association said, quite boldly, about violence in the media — including video games: "After 40+ years of research, one might think that debate about media violence effects would be over. An historical examination of the research reveals that debate concerning whether such exposure is a significant risk factor for aggressive and violent behavior should have been over years ago."
I don't wish to be a scold nor am I perfect. Heaven knows, far from it. I am also aware that some studies don't see such strong links between aggression and video games. I am aware of the limitations of science.
But can I issue a gentle call to the young men in my ward and to you? Cut some of the violence in your lives. Like the Lamanites of old, bury your weapons of virtual war deep in the ground and commit to never return to them.
(And by the way, if that's hard to do, you might recognize that as a sign of addiction, a worry of a different sort.)
I implore you: Cut the violent video games from your life.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.