Are We Chasing A Boogeyman?
Book Authors: Patrick M. Markey, Christopher J. Ferguson
Anybody who has grown up as a gamer has most likely heard (from parents, relative, media, etc.) that video games are the catalyst to many violent and aggressive behaviors we see today. They will cite their sources, point you to studies done by professionals, and make the unarguable claim that anybody who engages in such violent gameplay must certainly have the makings of a mass shooter. You can’t argue with the science, right?
In Moral Combat, the authors take the stance that there is actually zero scientific link between violent video games and violent behavior; more than that, they argue that video games – far from being a force of evil – are actually helpful in curbing such aggressive tendencies, and that we actually positively benefit from even violent video games in the long run.
As Christians who partake of video games (yes, even violent ones), this is an important debate of which we should be aware and knowledgeable. Should we be exposing ourselves, our families and friends, even our own children to something that could be affecting them in ways we do not know? Are these studies legitimate, or are they promoting a specific agenda? How does the Christian engage new media thoughtfully, with wisdom directed by our understanding of Scripture?
For much of the book, the authors explore in great detail about the horrors of violent shootings and the supposed evidences which showed that many of these shooters were influenced in some way by video games. Many people who lived through the 90s can recall the terrible Columbine shooting and the “direct link” spoken about between the two shooters and their love for the video game, “Doom.” Politicians and the media alike were quick to jump onto this connection as a way of explaining why two teenagers would be motivated to perform such an atrocious act.
The authors, however, are not entirely convinced, and carefully wade through many of the studies that show a link between violent games and aggression, as well as other motivations behind many of these crimes that often get overlooked (possibly due to wanting to promote an agenda of some sort). Whether one agrees with their conclusions or not, it cannot be denied that they offer up many plausible explanations for what else could have caused these different shooters to commit these heinous acts.
After dissecting many of the arguments and studies used to prove this violent link between games and crimes, the authors presented a more positive case about the benefits of gaming. Instead of games causing negative behaviors among youth today, they argue that playing video games can actually be helpful to people.
Take violent video games, for example. By allowing people to play through particularly troubling games and make moral choices they may not normally make in day-to-day life, they will see the logical outcome of such choices. They argue that our inner sense of empathy is not made inert simply due to these choices being against virtual characters, but that it can actually help us become more empathetic.
They also delve into the positive benefits of gaming outside of the moral choices that can be made. The socialization that is made available to people who may be socially awkward or unable to befriend those close to them is one very positive aspect of gaming culture. Likewise, the health benefits of more physically engaging games is compared to different forms of exercise, showing that the only exercise that is actually effective for us is the exercise that we actually want to do (which garnered quite a laugh from me).
An astute Christian presuppositionalist will no doubt find their arguments for particular forms of morality grating; after all, many moral pronouncements are made by the authors throughout the book that it is hard not to say aloud, “yeah, but by what standard?” This is one of those unfortunate side-effects of reading about morality from secular authors, so the Christian should be particularly mindful about what he or she takes from this book regarding moral claims.
While going through this book, I was honestly unsure as to how helpful it was. It was certainly interesting, but it did not offer much in the way of practical advice, especially for parents regarding how they should approach their kids about video games. The ninth and final chapter, however (aptly titled “A Strategy Guide for Parents”), really helped to propel this book in my mind from a decent read to something I could actually recommend to people.
Throughout this chapter, scenarios are brought up concerning how parents should talk about gaming with their children. While the authors offer up a lot of helpful, practical advice, they leave a lot of the responsibility in the hands of the parents and really elevates them as those with authority. They basically say, “hey, parents, you really need to act like a mature parent and be involved with your children’s lives.” They caution against the two extremes of “letting kids do whatever they want” and “restricting anything and everything that could potentially be harmful,” but beyond that, they wisely state that parents need to interact with their kids and do the work of figuring out what really works for them as a family. While this advice is not given under the framework of a Christian worldview, we can recognize the truth in it.
The authors took great care in arguing that video games are just another form of media – like TV, movies, and books before them – and that they are not necessarily the great evil that so many people make them out to be. It is unfortunate that some of the book contains coarse language and descriptions of violence that are particularly gruesome, so this is not necessarily a book I can recommend for someone sensitive to those things. For Christians on the fence about the link between violence and gaming, I think they will learn a lot from it that will be helpful when balancing their hobby and Christian faith.