The Importance of Violent Games
I expect this to be one of my more controversial blogs but I believe these things need to be said because the “common wisdom” on this subject is, in my opinion, dangerously wrong. In a previous blog on the subject of human males evolutionary influences towards craving hunting type games, I asserted that although hunting may have started as a pack activity to pursue game it would also have meant that the most dangerous competing predators remaining in the environment were other humans and thus the human need to hunt game probably evolved into a strong human need/necessity to hunt each other.
Many of my recent blogs have been on the subject of why people like to waste time playing games for no productive purpose. Where would the evolutionary stimulus to sit in front of a TV all day and push buttons for no productive purpose have arisen? The primary theme of these blogs is that modern humans have lived in an environment entirely UNLIKE the ones they evolved to survive in. We were independent and reproducing at 12-14 years of age and dead by our early twenties of disease, injuries or predation. For the past few generations we have not needed to hunt, make our own cloths or food, dig our own plumbing, heat our own homes constantly with wood, grow our own food, defend ourselves from predators, or worry that every contact with food, water or others may result in life ending diseases or parasitic infections. For tens of thousands to millions of years of our evolution WANTING to excel at these tasks and feeling good about it has resulted in our survival down to this era.
Today western humans face few or none of these adverse circumstances. Our children are treated and regarded as children long into an age when they would have lived out their entire reproductive lives in earlier times. Not only do they not have to engage in significant work in the form of physical labor to survive at a young age, they are not allowed to by law. Today “work” is sitting in a cubicle under a constant light source in a highly climate controlled environment moving a mouse and touching keys while occasionally consuming extremely nutrient rich foods that are acquired with no effort. It is little wonder that we are fat and depressed when we don’t have to move or even burn a few extra calories to regulate our own body temperature to survive while calorie rich food is constantly available.
The premise of my argument is that not only did we evolve to face and survive extremely adverse conditions requiring enormous exertions’, personal risk and meticulous repetitious physical labor. The fact that we have created a world in which it is no longer necessary does not mean we have ceased to WANT or NEED the stimulus that we derived from facing these difficult challenges and consistently overcoming them. We watch TV, play games, and force ourselves to go to a gym to work out for no productive purpose, or take other drugs to fill the void created in our lives by the lack of environmental adversity we evolved to NEED. Our species needs environmental hardship to be healthy. We need competition and possibly even warfare to be healthy. When we don’t get them we are sick, fat, depressed and dysfunctional.
A great deal of the media we consume is designed to fulfill deep primal needs we can no longer satisfy in the real world. It is commonly believed for example that playing violent games can cause children to crave violence in the real world. I submit that the exact opposite is true, that consuming media that satisfies deeply primal urges provides what we would consider a safe outlet for instincts that we would consider unacceptable to act out in the modern world. Children hitting, bullying, fighting with each other, forming gangs, etc. which are all regarded as shockingly unacceptable behavior today were absolute prerequisite training for survival among other highly predatory humans a few hundred years ago. In other words, consuming violent media does exactly what people claim it does, “desensitize” us to violence. But becoming “desensitized” to violence does not make us want more of it, it makes us want it less because we no longer get satisfaction from consuming it and the real world can never provide it in the volume and intensity that we get from a game. You can’t believe that video games can possibly provide a “realistic” depiction of violence without conceding that it would be impossible to match the levels of violence gratification from games in reality. Today we criminalize what is very natural aggressive behavior and try to expunge through conditioning the idea that even thinking or wanting to “hunt” is sick or wrong. A child that kills animals for fun is considered a “psychopath” today but not so long ago they were just learning to hunt just as all “psychotic” young predatory mammals do.
In some respects the violent and/or sexual nature of modern games and media may not be what causes people to behave in what civilization now considers deviant ways. The real problem may be that people no longer have legitimate outlets for these natural instincts and modern media provides the only safe method for satisfying them. Just as eating a big meal satisfies your appetite, playing violent games probably reduces children’s natural urge to engage in aggressive behaviors by satisfying them. I would not assert that this makes these forms of media a “good thing”, but short of turning off the television and making children work hard every day in a subsistence lifestyle and engage in competitive team sports, it would seem that they are the next most effective ways to pacify children and deter them from trying to satisfy their instinctive violent urges in the real world. I assert that lack of adversity in our lives is at the root of many of modern societies ailments and that the media we consume is how we satisfy these instincts safely. Now that we have abundant wasted time on our hands and no socially acceptable outlets for satisfying our primal motivations we consume media (and other things) to feel gratification that we would otherwise have achieved by hard physical work and physical competition for resources a few short generations earlier.
A lot of what modern society considers “deviant” behavior is in fact entirely “natural” behavior being expressed or satisfied in deviant ways. We have no evolutionary model for how we are supposed to conduct ourselves when we now live long past our natural lifespan and no real hardship or physically demanding effort is required of us to survive yet we remain instinctively programmed to behave as though we are actually living in a very different age and environment. In my opinion the “healthy” remedy for these problems in this era is that children should be expected to engage in physically demanding work at a young age and should be encouraged to participate in competitive physical sports. These activities stimulate a broad range of important instinctive desires in a healthy way that results in a natural sense of well-being, confidence and accomplishment as opposed to the artificial ones created through games and media. In short, facing and overcoming physical adversity is as essential to our health and well-being as good diet and exercise. It’s no coincidence that almost all of the media we consume revolves around stories about people overcoming various forms of adversity, it’s the feeling everybody desperately wants to experience.
It’s easy to blame games when kids go nuts and shoot up a school because we all know that ALL kids play games these days so of course there is a 100% correlation. It’s a tragedy that nobody notices that what these kids are NOT doing is being consistently socially engaged with their peers in team sports, or working hard at a demanding job. One of the most difficult adjustments for me coming out of Alaska at 16 after living a pretty rugged lifestyle was dealing with how sedentary civilized life was. I started running 12 miles/day and weight lifting to deal with it, but I was astonished at how comfortable kids my age were with doing nothing physically demanding all day.