The Dangers of "First Person Shooter" Video Games

(This was first written by me for my personal website over ten years ago.  Back when Quake and Doom were the big games.  They didn't even have the term "First Person Shooter" back then.  It intrigued ShowTime enough to have me on a Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode, and I think it all applies more than ever, so I'll leave it be for now.)

Please note -- this is about games in which the player uses guns and other real-world weapons against human-like characters.  This is not about defending yourself from an attacking Dinosaur, or using a broadsword or magical spells.  Yes, they are a bit violent and this should be considered.  But they aren't designed to damage your brain as the games I am writing about.

From the Time Magazine article The Columbine Tapes By Nancy Gibbs and Timothy Roche

Dylan Klebold (one of the killers) sits in the tan La-Z-Boy, chewing on a toothpick. Eric Harris (another killer) adjusts his video camera a few feet away, then settles into his chair with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a sawed-off shotgun in his lap. He calls it Arlene, after a favorite character in the gory Doom video games and books that he likes so much.   .........  "It's going to be like f**king Doom," Harris says. "Tick, tick, tick, tick... Haa! That f**king shotgun is straight out of Doom!"

Did you know Eric Harris had completely modeled his highschool using a custom map in Doom?  (See it played:

I first saw the truly violent kill-kill-kill video games of today at my current job in an Engineering department.  About  5 or 10 people would play Quake or Doom or the like at lunch time over our local network, spend the half hour repetitively and violently killing each other for a half hour each day, day after day, week after week, year after year.

One of the players was even a Minister who had finished his training and was about to leave the company for a full time job as a church's minister.  I asked him and he saw just nothing wrong with machine gunning, burning, blowing up, dismembering, and exploding people in a game, it was just a game, just good clean fun.  I suggested a new game -- The Abortion Game!  Players with coat hangers would chase pregnant women around the screen trying to pop them!  Oh My God!  That would be awful, sinful, terrible!  Machine gun someone, burn them with a flame-thrower, but no abortions, real or not!!!!  He had been totally desensitized to these acts of extreme violence by the game.  His first hand real knowledge of this world made him treat abortion in any setting with revulsion -- but his unrealistic, synthetic knowledge of machine gunning people made it "fun" in the right setting.  It really is a horrible thing, never thought of as fun in any situation by anyone who knows the reality of the action.

These video games are almost 75% pure killing.  Not a 10 minute hunt with a kill at the end.  Blast, kill, blow up, shoot, bang, kill, kill.  They attempt to simulate all the weapons in our real world as exactly as possible -- but they show the worst, most totally incorrect portrayal of the results of their use.  People don't suffer, don't even feel pain,  just quickly die and gracefully depart, leave no children behind, with no legal or moral repercussions.

So, if we believe the claims of no harm done by the game makers, this is the big picture we are asked to buy:

Yeah, right.  Still just "Gee, why are kids so violent these days?  What could it be?  What a coincidence that the ones who run amok just happen to play Doom for 16 hours a day."  (If you know of any of our recent student mass-murders who didn't, please drop me a line.)

Parents -- Wake Up!  Let's stop giving our kids a path to become sociopaths, there are enough to go around without intentionally making anymore.   No,  I don't think these games will drive every well adjusted kid to be violent.  But if they become outcasts, loners, feel wronged and not listened to, these games pave the way to violence, remove the inhibitions. "take the safety off."

Keep your kids away from these games!


A lot of Doom, etc. players have written me.  They tell me they play the game many hours each day, but they don't feel violent or act violently.  Some write and say it is absurd that everyone who plays these games will become violent.

No, I don't think anyone and everyone who plays will become violent, or will do something violent someday.  I wouldn't think any of you would feel all that different after playing the game, different as in more violent.  If it was that simple -- kids played doom, felt all violent and went out and hurt people, it would be an easy problem to see and solve, wouldn't it?  The effect is very subtle, it does no real harm in most people -- but when it does it is profoundly dangerous.

An excellent book about all this is called On Killing -- The Psychological Cost of  Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman.  He calls these types of games  and other ways society conditions us to violence "Taking the safety catch off of a nation."   The Section Killing in America -- What Are We Doing to Our Children is eye-opening, especially the Chapter B.F. Skinner's Rats and Operant Conditioning at the Video Arcade.   You can read a lot more about this book, and buy it at

Doom-type games do a thing to a player's mind called Operant Conditioning.  It was pioneered by Dr. B. F. Skinner, who had a thing called a Skinner Box you might want to read about.  Did you know that in World War 2, only 15% of US troops fired back when the enemy charged them?  The other 85% just could not bring themselves to kill another person, even if their own life was at risk.  In Vietnam, 95% of our troops fired back.  Know why so many did?  Because the military used Operant Conditioning on them.  It was almost exactly like playing Doom in the psychology used, in the use of simulation where no one was actually hurt.  In most people's brain there is this little link between killing someone and "Yuk!"  Conditioning unplugs it and connects it to "Cool!"  You don't feel changed after it, it just hides in the back of your head.  But it does change you, changes you forever.

Here is a quote from the book of what a Vietnam solider wrote about it:

When I went to boot camp and did individual combat training they said if you walk into
an ambush what you want to do is just do a right face - you just turn right or left,
whichever way the fire is coming from, and you assault.  I said "Man, That's crazy, I'd
never do anything like that.  It's Stupid."

The first time we came under fire, on Hill 1044 in Beauty Cannon in Laos, we did it
automatically.  Just like you look at your watch to see what time it is.  We done a right
face, assaulted the hill - a fortified position with concrete bunkers emplaced, machine
guns, automatic weapons - and we took it.  And we killed - I'd estimate probably 35
North Vietnamese soldiers in the assault, and we only lost three killed....

But you know, what they teach you, it doesn't faze you until it comes down to the time to
use it, but it's in the back of your head, like, What do you do when you come to a Stop
sign?  It's in the back of your head and you react automatically.

      -- Vietnam Veteran
       quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War

And here is a quote from On Killing:
"Through operant conditioning B. F.  Skinner held that he could turn any child into anything he wanted.  In Vietnam the US armed forces proved that Skinner was at least partially correct by successfully using operant conditioning to turn adolescents into the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen.  And America seems intent on using Skinner's methodology to turn us into an extraordinary violent society."
I really do care about all the people playing it, or I wouldn't bother to write what I do.  Players, please be careful with your mind.  So many fun games out there that don't damage it.

A final word.  In case this makes any difference, I'm not some ultra-non-violence type -- I love guns!  One gun that I own is in so many games and movies I have a page just to list them all, the SPAS-12 shotgun.

I have a real SPAS-12 accessible if something goes bump in the night, or someone is ripping off my car.  While I am very comfortable with the gun itself, when I pick it up I always want to be a bit uncomfortable -- a bit not-relaxed.  It is a loaded gun and the slightest screw-up can change my whole life.  And I can tell you, the very last thing on earth I'd want to do is run several hundred hours of a VR simulation game shooting an exact copy SPAS-12 shotgun at everything that moves, training myself till it was fun, comfortable, just a game.  It isn't.


For more information:

Check out a wealth of information at Court TV's show Virus of ViolenceDon't miss this article: Choices and Consequences: Trained to Kill  (If that link dies, try this one)

Check out SKIRMISHER Interview: Lt. Col. David Grossman (if that link dies, try this one)

Check out the book On Killing and the comments of reviewers.

Check out the website

If you disagree, want more information, or (gasp!) agree, you can write me.  Leave out the obscenities and insults, and I will be glad to read your view, perhaps even respond.

If you're going to write me, the Rules:

I want to make one point completely clear.  Many people seem to think that I am proposing government control of the media, that video games make people violent, or other such sweeping issues.  I have one specific concern -- that this specific type of game damages or removes a basic inhibition inside our brains against killing other human beings.  Please read that carefully, and please don't add anything to it.  If you're never put in a position in life that fills you with so much anger and rejection that you want to kill, it will have no effect on your life.  If you are part of the very small group of kids that do feel this kind of anger, the lack of this inhibition can result in these tragedies we read about -- and puzzle as to how anyone could do such a thing.

And I'm not advocating any sort of censorship whatsoever -- I am a Libertarian and find censorship repugnant.  My message is to kids in the hope they will see what the truth is and avoid such games, and to parents to try to guide their kids away from the danger.  I think hard drugs should be legal -- but parents have the duty to keep them away from their kids till they grow up, and the consequences of drug use should be made very clear so that adults can make informed decisions.  These games should be dealt with in the same way -- people making choices, not Big Brother watching over us.

Also, if you think this are all just some observations on my part, they aren't -- I've just repeated a few of the basic ideas from Choices and Consequences: Trained to Kill  (If that link dies, try this one) -- if you have time to write, surely you have the time to read the article first?

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