Grand Theft Auto IV: the Consequences of Gamer Culture (1)

The computer game Grand Theft Auto IV was released today to the standard irrational hype surrounding these game introductions, with buyers lining up around the store for their chance to be the first ones to own the game.  Drive-by-shootings, acts of prostitution, and car thefts make up just some of the activities players participate in during the game.  I have not played the game, but I understand that players receive the sexual services of prostitutes, and then beat them up to get their money back.  Advancing means continually committing criminal acts while trying to stay alive.

One of the issues that constantly arises with the release of one of these violent games is the outcry against the reality that many of these games end up in the hands of children and young adolescents.  So let’s start with that.

What happens physically and emotionally when children and adolescents spend a great deal of time exposed to these activities?

Children are concrete thinkers, and generally aren’t yet capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. In real life, children have shot other children without realizing that the act results in actual death. Games such as Grand Theft Auto IV reinforce this mode of concrete thinking by means of a series of behaviors that have no consequences. It’s the prescription for creating a moral monster.

There is also a very real, and very damaging impact on adolescents. Psychologists use the term “vicarious traumatization” to describe the measurable physical reactions a person can have after simply viewing a traumatic event on television or on a video game. What researches have documented is that habitual exposure to vicarious violent events can cause a person to experience the identical physical effects – such as heightened blood pressure, racing heart beat, etc. – as if that person were actually experiencing the event in real life.

Craig A. Anderson, the author of the book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents, detailed in a peer-reviewed article written for the American Psychological Association the effects of violent games on children. He noted that repeated exposure to media violence generates and legitimizes more aggressive behavior even as it “decreases the normal negative emotional reactions to conflict, aggression, and violence.”

The younger one is, the more intense the effect. When children play these games for hour after hour, it seriously distorts their worldviews.

I think that any responsible adult will acknowledge these facts, and act accordingly by limiting children’s exposure to such games. The problem is there are way too many irresponsible adults who either don’t know or simply don’t care about the psychological damage that is being inflicted by children under their care or supervision.

I do not propose a solution for this growing problem. Banning the games is decried as an act of censorship, and regulating or restricting the games is decried in almost the same tones as a form of censorship. Frankly, by the time a culture is determined to bring this kind of junk into their lives, it is probably too late to do anything about it. And at this point in the life of American culture, we are determined to have all kinds of crap in our society and in our homes.

My real objective in writing about games such as Grand Theft Auto IV is to address the effects of these games on adults, because there IS an effect on adults.

The typical response of the above reasoning with an adult “gamer” is, “I’ve played these games for years, and I’ve never killed anybody.”

Most of the time, that’s true, of course. Adults experience many of the same symptoms that children and adolescents experience playing games over time; however, their superior impulse control, sense of identity, and grasp on reality enables them to resist effects that can tear younger minds apart.

while I would argue that playing violent video games is the psychological equivalent to using drugs or alcohol (i.e. it messes up the mind, but most adults can handle the effects unless they really go overboard), I want to focus on a whole other impact of these video games.

I want to address a pattern of thinking that very often comes to characterize the minds of adults who spend a significant period of time “gaming.” It is also increasingly consuming postmodern culture. It boils down to three key characteristics: Cynicism, Skepticism, and a Dislike for reality.

Cynicism is the intelligent but lazy mind’s shortcut to genuine philosophy. When the world seems to make no sense, the simplest thing to do is to say the world makes no sense, and to give up on searching for sense, purpose, or meaning in the world. For an increasing number of people, this cynicism seems superior to the “simple” belief that the world does make sense, when one cannot explain why it does. Frankly, it is easier to stand on the sidelines and ridicule what is going on around you than it is to get in the trenches and work toward a better reality. Cynicism sneers at such hope.

Skepticism is – in modern secular society – a replacement for faith. But skepticism cannot serve for long as a replacement for faith, because if you teach people to believe in a thing, you have to adopt a specific position. And in a secular and pluralistic society, we can’t adopt a position (as that would disfavor other competing positions!). So we present a smorgasborg of worldview positions. This is not a Socratic education, but rather Socrates gone insane. Skepticism is a useful epistemological tool but it cannot be foundational. Why? Because if turned on itself it collapses by its own standards: what if we become skeptical about skepticism? Do we then have to become skeptical about being skeptical about skepticism? Frankly, the world would have been a much better place had Descartes realized this and abandoned his project.

Ultimately skepticism and cynicism are self-consuming. They can’t produce even a vacuous culture; they can simply mock and parody it. So ultimately, culture runs out of ideas, and from that point on, it simply relies on marketing to sell. Take the fact that we are talking about Grand Theft Auto IV as a case in point.

A Dislike of reality, or a rejection of reality for virtual reality. In video games you are a hero, the savior of the world, desired by women and loved or feared by everyone. People are relying on virtual reality to give them a feeling of joy. We are frankly seeing too many young people who are too intelligent to fall for the trap of incoherence, and yet our incredibly incoherent education system has made them immune to normal apologetics against their worldview. Having grown up with no genuine or coherent worldview, there is simply no worldview to attack or correct.

But they also unconsciously recognize the real effects of the fall and sin in the real world. In the real world, people get hurt, people suffer, people have meaningless dead-end lives. And then they die. They recognize instinctively at the very core there is something that should be in the world but is not. And yet the cynicism and skepticism of our age (the one thing that they have picked up) have left them completely unable to embrace the notion that change can matter. And so they replace physical reality with virtual reality. It very quickly becomes a form of addiction.

(Part 2 will address the spiritual components of this worldview, and offer a Christian perspective and response).

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10 Responses to “Grand Theft Auto IV: the Consequences of Gamer Culture (1)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    you are right children must not play GTA IV

  2. Eric Says:

    anonymous,

    this article isnt just about GTA games,, GTA is just the example…its about any game in which conveys the same perspective on reality. (destructive activities without consequences. (ie.. unlimited lives in the game, no consequences for adverse activities, glorifying the activity and so on…) In order to get a better perspective of this concept, go to You Tube and serch for a video (6 parts) called The Intelligence Revolution produced by BBC.In there you find that people dont care about reality anymore as long as they can have false perspectives of it within virtual reality. they even go on to show how (for medical purposes right now) people can get mechanical devices installed in their brains to alter their way of perception within reality .. in order to alter their moods.. but, I can see this (once perfected in the medical world) becoming an every day norm for people to alter their moods like getting high or not having to deal with reality when they get home.. just flick the switch and everything else in the world disappears…sort of like the movies (The Matrix, Total Recall, and Soylent Green)…

  3. Eric Says:

    Sort of like in the movie The Matrix… Do I take the ‘Red Pill’ or, should I take the ‘Blue Pill’ ?? One is a virtual reality where all your wishes and thoughts are mere illusions, and the other is the reality in which we actually live in….

  4. Eric Says:

    Yet, people just put on the horse blinders and take these movies as mere… cool sci-fi flicks…and dont pay attention to ponder on the philosophy of these ” cool sci-fi flicks”…

  5. Eric Says:

    This is what they call Dumbing Down America….And in the midst of the mass chaos and confusion shall come a great leader and savior to us all claiming he is God..”

  6. Eric Says:

    And even if you are not a Christian, some other religion, or an pronounced atheist; You should still read biblical literatures and pay attention to the philosophy of them.. because they are not only about God and Satan, Good vs Evil… Its about the ways in which humanity needs to conduct its way of life and everyday thinking to be able to prosper so our future generations have a good start with what they will inherit from us.

  7. Michael Eden Says:

    Eric,

    Yes, “The Matrix” is a very good example, indeed.

    Even within the context of the movie, a person previous generation would have taken the pill that was supposed to have seen the world as it really is, awakened in the giant chamber where he was basically being used as a “battery,” and concluded that there had been some mistake and he had clearly taken the wrong pill by mistake. And I say that because a previous generation did not have this incredibly cynical view of reality that our generation has.

    That said, your point remains completely true, also: we are now a people who have a cynical, pessimistic view of reality and simply want to “tune out” from it in favor of a world we can create and control.

  8. Michael Eden Says:

    Eric,

    I agree with you on that, too.

    Some founding fathers, such as Benjamin Franklin, never seemed to have embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But Franklin CLEARLY still had a Judeo-Christian view of the world. And that worldview combined with his obvious brilliance made him a very wise man.

  9. Eric Says:

    Granted, I claim to be a Christian. But, I am not a perfect Christian. I fail at it every day.. But, I manage to pick myself up, dust myself and try again every day.

  10. Michael Eden Says:

    Eric,

    Show me a “perfect Christian” whose name is anything other than Jesus of Nazareth and I’ll show you a lying fool.

    They say of Christianity that it is the only “organization” in which you have to first demonstrate by public confession that you’re a sinner in order to join. They say of church that if you ever find the ‘perfect one’ don’t go – because you’d ruin it. They say lots of things like that. And for good reason.

    Not only do I sin, Eric, but I have a horrible bad habit of too-often committing the same sins over and over again.

    A line from Bart Simpson (from “The Simpsons”) has often registered on me.

    In one episode, Lisa asks, Bart, “Promise me that you’ll try to be good.” And Bart says, “I can’t promise that I’ll try, but I’ll try to try.”

    That is often us. It is certainly often me.

    H.A. Ironside put it thus:

    “Now test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly say yes to these questions, you have repented. Your attitude is altogether different to what it once was.

    You confess you are a sinner, unable to cleanse your own soul, and you are willing to be saved in God’s way. This is repentance. And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.

    Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Saviour whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more and more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness.” — [Ironside, Full Assurance, pp. 89-90]

    God loves a broken man who keeps picking himself up and dusting himself off and trying again to live more like His Son.

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