Video Games: Let's Play Killer

How does the U.S. Army override the natural human fear of killing? By using the video games presently found in millions of children's rooms.

Lt. Col. Dave A. Grossman is a military psychologist and was an officer in the Airborne Ranger Infantry for many years. He taught military science for the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1998, he ended his military career in order to found the Killology Research Group, dedicating himself to the research and study of killing. The former weapons instructor is a much sought after expert witness and advisor to numerous state and federal courts, and has testified before the U.S. Senat and various Congress committees. Grossman pursues many questions in his books and lectures, among others he asks the following: "How do you teach young people to shoot, - to kill? And that, as fast as possible - without contemplating.

Kids who kill

Kids who kill is nothing new: Over a decade ago (in 1993), the German magazine 'Der Spiegel' questioned the causes of violence among children. But no consequences were drawn.

"One needs three things to kill: one needs a weapon, the skills, and the will to kill. Video games deliver two of these - the technical skills and the intention to kill." Dave Grossman learned through his personal experiences as an instructor, that it takes a few years of hard training to teach someone the skills set, and above all the will, to kill. It's against our human nature to kill a person. We have an innate, biological inhibitional threshold to kill someone of our own kind. "Throughout all of history known to us, people have been fighting against each other. Ancient wars were always preceded by a lot of war dances and chest beating. But the massacre only began when the one side turned to flee. Most died of stab wounds inflicted to the back. The accounts from authors of ancient world military are very clear on this."

With the weaponry available at that time and the strategies used back then, a regiment in the American Revolutionary War would have been capable of killing roughly 500 to 1,000 men per minute, but "as a matter of fact, only one or two men per minute fell in battle. After the Battle of Gettysburg, 27,000 muskets had been collected, that were left behind on the battlefield. 90% of them were loaded. That's unusual, because back then one needed 95% of one's time to load and only 5% to fire. Even more unusual, was that over half of the loaded weapons, were loaded several times. In one instance, there were 23 bullets left in the barrel. People were exposed to firing; they were willing to die - but they couldn't bring themselves to kill. Killing had to be learned."

There was no difference in World War II: "The majority of our infantry on the battlefield were incapable of killing. We committed a fundamental error in our training. We gave our people effective weapons and shipped them off to the front, after training them to shoot at bull's-eye targets. The majority failed on the front as no targets emerged before them. It was a lack of proper training. Under stress, in an extreme state of fear, and given everything that happened on the front, they couldn't shoot."

Video Games for Breeding Killer Instincts

As a marksmanship trainer, Grossman saw as his responsibility of not only putting the weapon in his students' hand, but also teaching them to use it quickly and efficiently. "So we developed killing simulators. It inherently began with bull's-eye targets. Instead of shooting at normal targets, we had them shoot at targets with a human silhouette." But proper arms and real ammunition are expensive. That's why a switch to simulators came shortly thereafter. "With these kinds of simulators, there are images of people moving across the screen that should be shot at. In this way, events on the battlefield are recreated as realistically as possible." This is the reason computer games became appealing to the military. "The Marine Corps bought the rights to the computer game Doom and implemented it as a tactical training tool. The Army resorted to Super-Nintendo. You are certainly familiar with the old game Duck Hunt from the arcades. We substituted the plastic guns with an M-16 made out of plastic, and instead of ducks, pictures of people scurry across the screen. In the meantime we have several thousands of these devices, which we implement around the world for training purposes. They have proven themselves as being very effective."

The police refer to these computer games as "firearms training simulators," or F.A.T.S.: those practicing spend several hours in front of a huge TV screen on which human subjects are moving. If a subject does something where use of the weapon is justified by law and order, then - and only then - may the officer fire. If he hits the target, it topples down; if he misses, the target then shoots at him." The same kinds of "games" can be found in amusement arcades. The "player" holds a gun in his hand, pulls the trigger, shoots, and feels the rebound. If he hits, the enemy, drops dead. If he misses, the enemy fires back. "That is a murder simulator. It is no longer a killing simulator for individuals who, reluctantly and under specific conditions, have to kill. At issue is a device, available to children, whose social purpose is to provide a child with the ability and will to kill."

This murder training deeply penetrates the subconscious mind. Behavioral responses that are learned under stress conditions are also brought out during stress events. "In the good old days, when the police still used revolvers, the officers drove to the firing range every now and then. After six shots, the cylinder was emptied. Since nobody wanted to have to clean up the firing range on their own afterwards, the officers would empty the cylinder each time they finished shooting, sliding out the shell casings onto their hands, and stuffing them in their pockets before they reloaded and fired again. Naturally, one doesn't do that during a serious exchange of fire - there are more important things to do. But guess what happened? After a shootout, veteran police officers had pockets full of empty rounds. They couldn't explain how the shells got in there.

"When children play violent computer games, they are practicing to kill. And they practice and practice. They aren't doing just this twice a year, as police officers do. Sometimes they do it night after night, killing every living creature that gets caught in the crosshairs, until they run out of targets or ammo." Grossman sees and draws parallels to the shooting rampages and massacres in American and European schools. He assumes that the teenaged assailant's original intent was to kill one specific person: "As a rule it is either a girlfriend or a teacher - someone who has deeply disappointed them. But after they started shooting, they just couldn't stop. They shot at everything that moved in front of them, until they ran out of targets or ammunition. During the arrest, police officers asked the juveniles: 'OK, you shot the person you were angry at. But why did you kill everyone else? Among those were even your own friends?' The kids couldn't say why, because they didn't even know themselves."

Everything our children and teenagers are trained to do, while "playing" on the computer, is repeated under certain circumstances and similar situations when they are under stress, without contemplation. Their parents used to play with toy guns and wooden swords, yelling "Bang, bang, you're dead!"

"Once I also said 'Bang, bang, you're dead!", to my sister and she would answer, 'No, I am not dead!' and then I hit her on the head with the toy pistol. She started to cry and ran to tell mom, and I was in big trouble," Dave Grossman recalled in an interview. "This was how I learned that my sister was a real person, that my brother was real, that my dog was real. Children are real beings and if you hurt them, you get in trouble. That is a lesson. All children go through a phase where they bite and a stage where they hit others. And one teaches them that they are not allowed to do this, that it is something bad, hurtful. For 5,000 years, we would thrash around poking wooden swords at each other and play "bang, you're dead.' But as soon as someone gets hurt, the game stops. If someone gets injured during a basketball or football game, the game is interrupted and the referee penalizes the aggressor. This is how it should be in rational game…nowadays, during a killer game, I blow the head off the virtual opponent and the blood just keeps flowing. But do I get in trouble? On the contrary, I get points for it. It is a morbid game."

Children: The Perfect Killing Machines

In a lot of games, there are bonus points for hitting the head. Youngsters achieve a hit rate and accuracy, that would make soldiers in specialized units green with envy. In a real situation, you shoot at the target as long as needed, until it collapses or is eliminated. But computer games train our children and teenagers to shoot at new targets, in quick succession. Firing in rapid succession quickly becomes a conditioned response. One shot, one murder. And bonus points for shots to the head or heart. As a rule and according to FBI statistics, trained officers in an exchange of fire, make one hit for every five times the weapon is discharged. Compare this to the 14 year-old in Paducah, Kentucky. He stole a .22 caliber pistol, took it to school and fired 8 shots.

"How many targets did he hit? 8 shots, 8 hits at 8 different children, 5 of which were shot in the head. The other three shots hit children in the upper torso. This is staggering. I've trained Texas Rangers, police patrol officers in California; I've trained an entire battalion of Green Berets. In the entire history of the police, the military, or in the annals of crime have we ever come across a record that in anyway even comes close to this."

When children or teenagers incessantly practice targeting and firing in front of a screen, they are soon better than a professional marksman with a few years of target practice on the firing range. They fire their weapons more often, with greater precision, and cheaper than any soldiers could. Children and adolescents are "playfully" turning into perfect killers, even if they have never held a weapon in their hands.

A loss of reality arises, when children and youngsters spend hours and days at game-playing. "After the massacre at Columbine High School took place and the situation was announced over the school p.a. system, a few of the high school kids loudly applauded. - Why? Video games teach children to sense enjoyment in the death and suffering of other creatures."

Moral values are turned upside down and trained off. A type of brainwashing takes place, where gamers are conditioned not to feel abhorrence when they are killing, but rather gratification and enjoyment. Recent studies in Japan prove that video games are more real to kids than reality itself. When asking children what they did on a certain day, they often have no idea. But if you ask them about a sequence of events occurring in their favorite video game, the children can describe what happened in detail. Dave Grossman calls this the "hyper-reality effect," i.e., movies and video games leave a deeper impression than reality: "What's your favorite movie? Do you remember the movie in detail? Do you remember what you were doing before you watched the movie? Or what you did the day before? No. You can still remember the movie in detail, but you can't remember anything else that happened on that day or the day before."