One time, I went on a blind date with a pirate.
Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming from a blog about education. It’s true. He had just returned from a month long trip on the “Black Pearl” down the coast of California, all in the name of 5th grade science instruction. He had dressed like a pirate and taught students about life on the seas. But that was not his day job. In real life, he was a video game editor.* On our second (and final) date, he showed me a pirated *ahem* version of the newest Grand Theft Auto. There is a reason it was our last date. In any event, so many of my students have told me about this game and so I felt it would be a good quasi-experiment for me to try it out. So we played this game, which was replete with car-jacking, fighting, and general morally offensive behavior.
In general, I disdain violence. I am the type to leave a movie if it gets too violent (or I spend the hour and a half like an ostrich burying my head in my sweatshirt). I left the theatre after approximately 4 minutes of “Fight Club” and I think I lasted 2 minutes in that dumb movie where Rose McGowen’s leg is a chainsaw. I have repressed the title of that one. My friends now realize that I’m more of a “27 Dresses” kind of movie-goer. But I have to say, that video game we played was pretty entertaining. The first 10 minutes I was horrified, but then I got a little excited when I found out I could not only car-jack, but plane-jack! As I was “flying” my stolen plane, I saw the allure of such a game. I felt vicariously powerful. Driving home that night, I think I even drove a little more rapidly and aggressively.**
This all comes full circle because 99.9% of my students I work with who are referred for anger management counseling are obsessed with violent video games. There are many metaphors in these games that could explain the obsession. Typically, one earns points (status) and power (strength) with each subsequent fight or misdeed. I have pointed out this metaphor to help students understand why they fight in real life. I use the video game as a talking point for anger management, and they’re happy to do it, because it’s about their favorite topic. Through this process, I can also ascertain if the games are "appropriate" sublimation of aggression or by playing them, the student has reached a disturbing level of fascination and desensitization to violence.
Recently, a fellow blogger asked the question What is the Deal with Video Games and Violence? The post provides some good links into recent studies and books on the longstanding query about the causal relationship (if any) between video games and aggression. It also offers advice for parents and therapists about the context in which the games are played as a factor in the possible effects. Check it out. And in the meantime, I will lament about whether or not the person who stole my car was a Grand Theft Auto aficionado.
*So was he Captain Hook, or was he Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up? Discuss. **Was it the game, or to get away from someone who thinks playing video games is an appropriate date?