Gaming Your Brain For Violence

Gaming Your Brain For Violence

What effect does training soldiers to "dehumanize" the enemy have on us? And are video games giving us in some part the same training?  

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The WikiLeaks video of civilian killings by U.S. forces in Iraq has inspired some soul-searching this week. The New York Times ran a story on the dehumanizing effect of military training. The reporter wrote of the leaked video:

"One reason that the soldiers seemed as if they were playing a video game is that, in a morbid but necessary sense, they were."

Sure enough, it turns out, according to a story on violent video games in The Escapist magazine, that during World War II, only 15 percent of soldiers in that conflict who were unsupervised by an officer actually fired their weapons at people. The military had to learn how to train people to shoot others — teach them to not recognize the enemy as human. And modern video games do in part train our brains to override the instinct not to kill.

Oddly the Times story includes nary a note of worry; what about those who not only shoot at human-shaped targets on a screen, but who have actually taken the next step to killing? Do they stop? How about when they come home?

There’s no discussion of that in the Times news piece, but turn to the so-called arts section of the same day’s paper and there is a seemingly oblivious front page review of two "hard core first person combat shooter games" that prospective shooters might enjoy. We’re all "reaping the benefits of the arms race" writes the reviewer — meaning the competition between the game makers.

Advertising revenues may be benefiting, but the rest of us? Amazingly that’s the big unanswered — and even unasked — question at the Times.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

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