Learning To Hate: Games Don't Need to Change, We Do

As we remember September 11, 2001, is it time we take a look at games that task us with hunting down terrorists? Are we making things worse?

We have no problem pulling the trigger.

We aim down the sights, fire off a few rounds, and move to the next target without a second thought. Today’s youth are raised in a world that inherently fears terrorists, and with a plethora of first-person shooters on the market requiring players to hunt down and eliminate them, it’s a fear that only becomes more real.

But is this a bad thing? By giving kids these games are we empowering our youth to take on their fears and face the world bravely? Or (on the flip side) are we adding to a stereotype that anyone who looks a certain way is evil?

I have two kids, and so far they are still too young to understand all there is to fear in the world.

My five-year-old is afraid of spiders, and my one-year-old is for some reason terrified of balloons, but beyond that, they don’t know the dangers we face. If I were to say the word “Syria” to them, they would probably expect me to pour them a bowl of Cheerios.

What I Know*  vs. What My Kids Know

*Syrian city of Aleppo 2013 (AFP Photo / Dimitar Dilkoff)

I like that their world is simple right now.

I love that I can make everything all better by kissing a boo-boo or finding a teddy bear. But when I put them to bed at night and sit down to watch the news, I wonder what kind of world they are going to inherit. What are we doing today to make the world a better place for our children?

While I won’t be getting into politics, I do want to acknowledge that I believe the government, no matter which party is in office, has the best interests of our country at heart. I don’t believe for one second that any president would ever want our people to suffer, whether at the hands of terrorists or a natural disaster.

What I will be addressing however, is whether or not the games we all love so much are hurting our progress as a planet. By fragging digital terrorists in Call of Duty, are we perpetuating a stereotype that needn’t be perpetuated? When we celebrate an across-the-map headshot in Battlefield, are we allowing a little bit of hate into our hearts that wasn’t there before? I want to be sensitive to those who were affected by the terrorists' actions 12 years ago, but I will also be putting gamers under the microscope as well.

Do we need to be held accountable for these stereotypes?

Learning to Hate

Let me be clear, this is not an attack on Call of Duty, Battlefield, or any other video game. These companies make the games that we want, and they know what we want by what we buy. If Black Ops had not sold well, Activision never would have ok’d Black Ops 2. Clearly, we love our shooters, and clearly, we’re going to continue getting them.

But maybe it’s time for a change.

It always seems like we’re hunting down people who wish to do our country harm, and many times they are of Middle Eastern descent. To a young gamer, this may indicate that all people of this nationality are bad people. They may believe that because the only people they kill in the game look this way, that all people who look that way mean us harm.

I know that games have ratings from the ESRB to prevent children from seeing and being influenced by material like this, but let’s be real: not all parents are that involved in what their kids are playing, and some parents don’t have any problem with them playing these kinds of games. I’ll leave the right and wrong of parenting advice for a later time, but I would simply say that it is at the very least possible that a game like this can have an influence over a child.

Thing is,  it’s not only young children who learn who to hate from these games, but adults as well.

I have noticed that when I play games like these, I find myself getting a little emotional with some of the kills, in kind of a scary way. I don’t feel like it’s a good thing to get satisfaction from killing someone in a game, even one that is built to do just that.

These games, especially the multiplayer aspects, are about killing as many people as you can, as quickly as you can. We become numb to the thought that we’re killing people, and we hardly ever think about who we’re killing. But when you pull the trigger to take the life of a terrorist in a game, your mind remembers that. Your mind remembers you aggressively went after someone who looked a specific way. I don’t have any research to back this up, but as an educated adult, I have to believe this happens on some level.

Most of us can separate reality from video games.

Even though we may get a little too involved in the killing of terrorists in a game, we are able to step away and know that not everyone who comes from that nationality wishes to do us harm. We know that the game is designed to be fun, it’s designed to be fantasy, and it is not intended to be a biography of the way the world works. But there are those who simply cannot make this distinction. Some people, though they may never take to the streets and start shooting people, develop a bias for people who look a certain way, and it can impact their life and the lives of those around them.

Even if they never act on their learned hatred of these people, they may have issues dealing with them in work-related, social, or day-to-day situations.

What I'm NOT Saying

I’m not trying to say that video games are the cause of all the violence in the world like some people would have you believe. Quite the opposite, really. I believe that video games give people a way to express themselves and let out some aggression that they have no other way of releasing. Personally, when I hop on Call of Duty and join a multiplayer match, I get my butt kicked, but I shoot a lot of other players and get some real satisfaction from doing so. It’s designed to be fun, and millions of people, myself included, play these games to escape the problems and troubles of the real world. Most of us know that the actions we commit in-game are not actions we could, or would ever commit in real-life.

So that brings me back to the question of whether or not these games are harmful to us as people. Should we demand change in the way games are made? Should we put masks over every enemy and make them mute so we don’t offend anyone or learn to hate certain races? Should we start banning games that are too violent or portray people of other nationalities in a negative light?

Absolutely not.

Look, the anniversary we remember today is a sad day in our nation’s history. We mourn the innocent lives lost and the first responders who bravely gave their own lives. But together, we rise up in solidarity remembering what it is that makes this country strong, and what it is that those who wish to do us harm will never understand: our faith. Faith in each other, faith in God, and faith in the hope of a better tomorrow. No matter how many times we are knocked down, we will always bounce right back up.

Playing a game that tasks us with shooting terrorists may not be the most productive way for us to deal with the stress in our lives, but it should not be something we take away either. Millions of people play these games as an outlet, and millions of people are all the better for it.

It All Comes Down to Us

I agree that stereotypes may be unfairly fostered with games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, but we could sit here all day and find examples of social stereotyping from almost any game you can imagine. The problem isn’t one for game developers to fix. As responsible adults, we need to do our best to separate games from reality, and we need to pass on our values to our children.

It’s okay if you are comfortable with them playing these games, but explain to them the real-world circumstances that make these games possible. Explain that they aren’t just shooting these people because they look a certain way. Make sure they understand that just because someone comes from a certain part of the world, they don’t necessarily harbor any ill will towards us.

Instead of blaming the games or focusing on them unnecessarily, let’s take a step back.

These games serve as an important outlet for millions of people. Lawyers, doctors, military personnel, teachers, CEOs, politicians, and stay-at-home mothers escape their troubles by playing these types of games. Instead of blaming the games or focusing on them unnecessarily, let’s take a step back. Let’s remember what makes today important, and tell everyone you love how much they mean to you. Let’s teach our children the right ways to treat people, and let’s lead by example.

As a parent, I try to do the right thing to teach my kids how they should behave. I don't always succeed, believe me, and I'm far from perfect. But my hope is that all the other parents out there join me, and by the time our kids enter the world on their own, things will be a little less scary for them.

Even if you don't have kids of your own, I hope you will talk with your family and friends about these things, and share with them the reasons you play games like this. Whether it's for the release of stress, simply for fun, or because it's a mindless way to get through painful times in your life, make sure they know it's not just because you love hunting people who look a certain way.

The video games don’t need to change. We do. Our world can be better. Our world will be better. We just have to have a little faith.  

Published Sep. 11th 2013
  • Coatedpolecat
    Featured Correspondent
    Great read!
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it, this was a touchy subject and i really wanted to approach it carefully. I am glad it's received positive feedback.
  • Kathy_1251

    You have a great handle on gaming and being a hands on parent! From someone that does not even know how to turn on a gaming console---but I am a parent and I am totally up lifted with your article.

    Love, discipline, and follow through seems to fit parenting and also gaming. Go for it Brian
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you Kathy! That's really nice of you, I appreciate it. :)
  • Kathy_1251

    You have a great handle on gaming and being a hands on parent! From someone that does not even know how to turn on a gaming console---but I am a parent, I'm totally up lifted with your articles.

    Love, discipline, and follow through seems to fit parenting and also gaming. Go for it Brian!!!!
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    Actually I always thought that Call of Duty did a good job of showing the difference between a bad person and labeling whole groups of people. Your character in Black Ops 1 and 2 interacts with people from all over the globe and so you get to see good and bad from those various nationalities.

    This is not to say that games in general don't stereotype their villains. Part of playing an escape is to have enemies you can feel neutral or even positive about eliminating. But, is that any different in how often a game or movie villain is a rich, white business man? So often that's the easy fallback for producers concerned over being label racist - make the bad guy a white corporate type.

    I think it always helps when your character has allies or meets positive people from the same area they are fighting in to balance the scale. Look at Far Cry 2. Most of the bad guys were African, but that's because the game is set there. But, you had plenty of other characters who were allies, helpers or locals you helped out.
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    You know you might be right, I probably generalized my shooters a little too much, but I think the point is still the same. There are many popular FPS games that send players on the unapologetic hunt for terrorists. I appreciate your feedback though, and your point about FC2 was a good one.
  • Supa508
    Couldn't agree with you more. There is a healthy way to play these games. These games are not the issue. The issues are with the individuals that don't understand the separation of fiction and reality. Also, it's on us the players. If we go into games and use our anonymity to just spew verbal diahaareah then we deserve the community we get. But if we conduct ourselves like adults and understand everyone has their individual tastes. Religion, social views, Etc. we will be all the better for it.
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you Supa, it's definitely on us to act as adults and set an example, and just hope others follow suit. Thanks for reading!
  • Vijemo Media
    Awesome post. A lot of gamers grew up in an era where it was much easier to discern gaming from reality. Now as graphics become more and more realistic, it won't be long before an entire generation grows up watching video games that look more realistic than the evening news. As exciting as the possibilities will be, it does concern me that this will become even more of an issue than it is today.
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you for the compliment and for posting. I agree that with graphics improving, games are becoming more difficult to separate from reality. Great point.

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