Make Killing a Reflex Action (Excerpt from On Society by John Leo, USN & World Report, May 3, 1999)


 Psychologist David Grossman of Arkansas State University, a retired Army officer, thinks "point and shoot" video games have the same effect as military strategies used to break down a soldier's aversion to killing.  During World War II, only 15 to 20 percent of all American soldiers fired their weapons in battle.  Shooting games in which the target is a man-shaped outline, the Army found, made recruits more willing to "make killing a reflex action."   

Video games are much more powerful versions of the military's primitive discovery about overcoming the reluctance to shoot.  Grossman says Michael Carneal, the schoolboy shooter in Paducah, KY, showed the effects of video game lessons in killing. Carneal coolly shot nine times, hitting eight people, five of them in the head or neck.  Head shots pay a bonus in many video games.  Now the Marine Corps is adapting a version of Doom, the hyperviolent game played by one of the Littleton killers, for its own training purposes.

More realistic touches in video games help blur the boundary between fantasy and reality -- guns carefully modeled on real ones, accurate-looking wounds, screams, and other sound effects, even the
recoil of a heavy rifle.  Some newer games seem intent on erasing children's empathy and concern for others.  Once the intended victims of video slaughter were  mostly gangsters or aliens.  Now some games invite players to blow away ordinary people who have done nothing wrong -- pedestrians, marching bands, an elderly woman with a walker.  In these games the shooter is not a hero, just a violent sociopath.  One ad for a Sony game says, "Get in touch with your gun-toting,
testosterone-pumping, cold-blooded murdering side."

 "We have to start worrying about what we are putting into the minds of our young," says Grossman.  "Pilots train on flight simulators, drivers on driving simulators, and now we have our children on murder simulators."  If we want to avoid more Littleton-style massacres, we will begin by taking the social effects of the killing games more seriously.


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