Brutalizing Society

July 30, 2004

A 17 year old was convicted in the British Midlands for the brutal murder of a 14 year old today. An extremely violent and depraved video game was behind the killing. In this game, you are a convicted murder trying to murder people in the most horrific way possible with hammers and knives, etc. The video game company had warnings that the game could promote copy-cat killings, but the British board of classification still allowed it onto the market, albeit with a rating of “classified 18”–as if that would prevent kids from getting their hands on the game. The game has been aptly described as a “murder simulator.”

I think it is a no-brainer that this game is influencing kids to murder each other in gruesome ways (the 14 year old was beaten to death in the park with a hammer, just like in the video game). My question is, why would this game be suitable for adults? Why prohibit children from playing this game but let adults? Adults are far more depraved than children. Sure, the argument goes that adults have a mature capacity to tell right from wrong. But what about the scores of child rapists and murderers. Being an adult merely gave these offenders the capacity to commit their atrocities; it didn’t endow them with a higher sense of right and wrong.

Can anyone be amazed at the abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq? When a society is raised on violent video games that glorify torture and murder and on a steady diet of pornography, then is it any wonder that given a modicum of power and enough of their own leash to act how they wish, these individuals are going to act out the filth they see on the interet and in their video games? We miss something fundamental if we think that these things have no negative externalities: the long-term effect of a society nourished by the objectification of the human body and the drive for pleasure, whether it be through a prurient interest in sex or the bloodlust of a society addicted to violence.

Finally, I just want to point out a disastrous irony: it seems to me that those who oppose the death penalty–philosophically claiming that it brutalizes society and that society doesn’t have the right to take that kind of action against its convicted killers–are the same people who defend the “free speech” right to peer at perversions on the internet every night and to play these ultra-violent video games. This, to me, seems like a fundamental inconsistency, to claim that the death penalty brutalizes society but to defend the right to view endless hours of brutal violence in the media and video games.