Rebecca Hagelin
“Life is like a video game. Everyone has to die sometime.”

If you spent part of your youth playing “Pac-Man” and “Space Invaders,” such a statement must seem bizarre. Video games were … well, games -- innocent diversions that did nothing worse than eat up dotted lines and too much of our allowances. A waste of time? Perhaps. But nobody got hurt.

At least, they didn’t used to.

The opening statement above was spoken by Devin Moore, a teenager who murdered three people -- two police officers and a 911 dispatcher -- in a Fayettesville, Ala., police station in 2003. Arrested on suspicion of car theft, Moore was brought in for booking and ended up on a bloody rampage.

He lunged at Officer Arnold Strickland, grabbed his gun and shot him twice. Officer James Crump, who responded to the sound of the gunfire, was shot three times. And before he ran outside with police car keys he snatched, Moore put five bullets in Dispatcher Ace Mealer. Was this the first time Moore had committed such a heinous crime? Yes and no.

Moore was a huge fan of a notorious video game called Grand Theft Auto. As the title suggests, the goal is to steal cars. If that’s all there was to the "game" it would be bad enough, but it gets worse: the way to acquire and hold on to the cars is to kill the police officers who try to stop you. And the sick minds behind the game give you plenty of choices -- shooting them with a rifle, cutting them up with a chainsaw, setting them on fire, decapitation.

If you shoot an officer, you get extra points for shooting him in the head. It's no surprise, then, that all of Moore’s real-life victims had their heads blown off.

According to court records, Moore spent hundreds of hours playing Grand Theft, which has been described as “a murder simulator.”

But this time, his victims weren’t a collection of animated pixels on a TV screen. They were flesh-and-blood human beings whose lives were snuffed out in seconds. They had families who continue to mourn their loss -- such as Steve Strickland, Officer Strickland’s brother. Tomorrow, he will testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property. Chaired by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., the purpose of the hearing is to examine the constitutionality of state laws regulating the sale of ultra-violent video games to children. Three psychologists will testify about the potential link between playing violent video games and copycat violence, and whether the games contribute to aggressive behavior.

With the ever-expanding use of technology by our children, such hearings are critical. We must determine if Moore and other murderers like him are anomalies or if ultra violent video games dangerously warp the psyches of our youth. Those tempted to scoff at the connection between video games and behavior should bear a couple of things in mind. First, video games are not passive or spectator media. While playing the game, teenage boys and young men, the largest users of video games, actually become the characters who cut up their victims with chainsaws, set them on fire, or chop off their heads.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Carll of the American Psychological Association (who also will testify tomorrow), this active participation enhances the “learning” experience. And video games are often played repeatedly for hours on end -- so, hour after hour, teens playing games such as Grand Theft Auto “learn” how to kill police officers and earn points for their barbarianism.

The second fact to keep in mind is that teenagers’ brains are still developing and are extremely impressionable. The parents of teens hardly need reminding that for all their joys, teens often lack judgment, critical thinking skills and foresight.

Some are better than others, yes, but many (like Moore) are startlingly deficient. In short: Put a “murder simulator” in their hands, and you just might be asking for trouble. But don’t put words in my mouth – I am not saying that every kid that plays a violent video game will become a criminal.

And as a staunch conservative who believes that “the government that governs least governs best,” I’m not advocating a plethora of laws that may have a chilling effect on free speech. I do, however, recognize that it is sometimes necessary to provide special protections for minors from harmful materials - take pornography and alcohol, for example. As a mother, I also believe that our nation must examine how the products of our toxic culture affect the civility and safety of our children and of our society. We owe it to the students who died at Columbine; we owe it to Devin Moore’s victims; we owe it to our own children.

But armed with the truth, and a God-given mandate to train our own children, we must never depend on government to take care of our kids or raise them. Parents must wake up to the fact that our nation’s boys are being used and manipulated by an industry making billions of dollars by warping their minds. As I outline in my book, Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That’s Gone Stark Raving Mad, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to take back your home -- it takes active, loving, informed parenting. It takes setting boundaries and sticking with them. It takes understanding our kids, and understanding that our kids need us to guide them. Senator Brownback is taking a bold step and doing his job as an elected official in exploring the effects of video game violence - it's up to parents to use the information to protect our sons and our society.


Rebecca Hagelin

Rebecca Hagelin is a public speaker on the family and culture and the author of the new best seller, 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family.
 
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