When I came across Assassination Generation in the library, I figured it would be an interesting, if maybe somewhat controversial read. After all, the subtitle of this book is ‘Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing’. I hadn’t expected it to be so disturbing. This book rattled me to my core.
Dave Grossman, the author of this book, is not a ‘media specialist’ or something similarly vague, like all-too-many authors of articles and books on the effects of video games on children. He’s a retired Lt. Col. in the US Army, but also a former West Point Psychology professor and a recognized expert in the field of human aggression and the roots of violent crime, like killing. The reason I’m leading with this, is because I was struck by how uniquely qualified this man is to talk about the psychology of killing.
The key message of this book is simple: violent video games, especially first-person shooter games, influence children and teens in a highly negative way and have been essential in the epidemic of mass shootings. And the scientific evidence he lays out for this is overwhelming, disturbing, and has completely convinced me.
Research after study has shown how exposing younger children to these games traumatizes them, how the brains of teens who play first-person shooter games a lot change, how their natural ‘inhibition’ to kill disappears. The book details how those gruesome mass killings we know all too well (Columbine, Sandy Hook, the mass murderer in Isla Vista, etc.) all have this one thing in common: the guys who did this (addictively) played these violent video games.
You’ll have to read the book to see all the evidence and facts, but one thing really stood out to me—a highly disturbing fact. In real life, most killers don’t shoot their victim in the head, but somewhere in the torso. Crime psychologists consider a victim shot in the head a highly personal murder, very violent. Most mass shootings however have resulted in victims being shot in the face. That’s because in most first-person shooter games you get a reward for shooting your targets in the face. These killers had gotten so desensitized and numb by hundreds, thousands of hours of shooting in games that they were able to shoot first graders straight in the face. That alone made me get chills.
To be honest, I started reading with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’m not a gamer and my 9-year old son hasn’t progressed beyond Skylanders yet (and after reading this book I can safely say he won’t be playing these games as long as he’s under my roof), so I can’t say I have much experience with violent games. I’ve seen them, of course, having worked in youth ministry for a long time. I would have imagined they’d had some impact, but not like this. Not in a brain-altering, becoming completely desensitized way. And like the author, I see far-reaching complications for the future. That’s the highly disturbing part of this book (as were some of the descriptions of games, which went way further than I had even thought possible).
On a side note: from a purely writing perspective, this is not the best book I’ve read—far from it. The structure wasn’t entirely clear to me and at times it felt repetitive. The message and sheer facts were so impressive though, that I still consider this a groundbreaking book.
If you have boys (these games are mostly played by boys and female mass murderers are rare), if you work with teen boys, or if you even play these games yourself, you need to read Assassination Generation. Try to read it with an open mind. You may not agree with everything, but you’ll get a healthy bit of perspective on the effect these games have on children and teens.
I would love to hear how you think about the effect of violent video games on kids and teens.