Violent video games reward children for killing people
May 24, 2002
Executive Intelligence Review
By Helga Zepp-LaRouche
Colonel Grossman is a former U.S. Army Ranger, and former professor at West Point and the University of Arkansas. He has written two books demonstrating how media and video-games violence is making killers out of some children, who become indifferent to the fact that their "target" is a human being. Colonel Grossman helps to train military, police, and emergency rescue units throughout the United States.
He has written two books, most recently On Killing; The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society and Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill. The latter is required reading at West Point and the Air Force Academy, and recommended reading for the FBI Academy and the Marine Corps Commandant's reading list. It is required in Peace Study programs in Quaker and Mennonite colleges, and at the University of California at Berkeley.
EIR reviewed his first book on March 10, 2000, and interviewed him in the March 17, 2000 issue. He gave the following interview to Helga Zepp-LaRouche on May 4, 2002. Mrs. LaRouche raised the alarm against what she called the "New Violence," in her address to the Feb. 20, 2000 conference of the Schiller Institute. An edited version of that address appeared in EIR, March 17, 2000.
EIR: I read your first book. Please tell us more about that and the most recent one.
Grossman: Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill is going to be released in German in September. It's already been translated, and an article from Der Spiegel will be added to it, and my understanding is that a chapter and intro from Der Spiegel, and a chapter from the individual involved with the last teen mass murder there in Germany, the actor-all of that will be in there.
And I say all that as a prelude to telling you, that On Killing will be released fairly soon. It's already been licensed for release in German language.... If you have already read Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill you know where I'm coming from.
I am personally on the road almost 300 days a year. I train the FBI; I train the Special Forces; I train the Marine Corps; I train law enforcement, nationwide and worldwide. My job is to examine the act of killing. How do we take a healthy 18-year-old boy, a soldier, a 22-year-old police officer, and make them capable of pulling the trigger? The mechanism we use is, we make killing a conditioned reflex, stimulus/response, stimulus/response. At the moment of truth, the proper stimulus pops up in front of them, and they kill without conscious thought.
If you truly dwell on the magnitude of what you are doing when you kill another human being; if you truly dwell on the reality of another living, vital person, who is loved, and thinks and feels; that's a very difficult thing to do. You've got to separate yourself from the humanity of the person you are killing - turn them into just a target. And the best mechanism we ever found for doing that, was this killing simulator, in which, instead of using bulls eye targets, as we did in World War II, we transitioned to a man-made silhouette, and we made killing a conditioned reflex.
The same phenomena that the military and law enforcement uses to enable killing-which is done with the safeguard of discipline-is being done indiscriminately to our children with violent video games. There is a major study that is going to be released in Indianapolis this year. An outfit called the Center for Successful Parenting, has paid several hundred thousand dollars-that's a lot of money, in this field-in research, hooking MRIs to children playing video games; magnetic resonating imaging, tracing the brain activity of children playing video games.
Now basically, the children who've never played the violent video game before, when they have to kill somebody, they're thinking about it. It's a conscious, thinking effort. But, the children who've played the games a lot, and are very good at the games-there is no conscious thought; there is nothing but brain stem activity; it completely bypasses their conscious brain. The video game turns killing into a conditioned reflex.
Now, you need three things to kill: You need the weapon, the skill, and the will to kill. The video games provide two out of three. They give the skill and the will to kill. The weapons have been there for a long, long time. During World War I, and prior to World War I, and throughout the years after World War I, and throughout World War II, high-capacity 9 mm pistols were everywhere in Germany. We had literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young soldiers, walking through Germany with military quality weapons, and high-capacity 9 mm pistols. The first real, double-stacked, high-capacity 9 mm pistol was probably the German Mauser, to this very day a highly-respected gun. It is well over 100 years old. The Luger is close to 100 years old, and there were hundreds of thousands of them in World War I. The weapons have been there for a long, long time....
The new factor, is that the violent video games are giving the boys the skill and the will to kill; even as we reduce the number of weapons, the ability to use the weapons has gone up. If a criminal wants drugs, he'll get drugs, anywhere in the world. Drugs are illegal, but if the criminal wants drugs, he'll get them. If a criminal wants guns, he'll get them. No matter how illegal you make them, if a criminal wants them, he'll get them. But, whether or not the teenager has the desire to use drugs-if drugs have been glamorized, and he's been taught that it is the right thing to do-it's the media and the violent video games, that are far more important in this equation. If there is a new factor occurring, [it's that] we're greatly reducing the supply of guns. And yet, the incidence of these kinds of brutal murders-that has never happened before in human history, never before in human history.
EIR: That is an important point to make. This case in Erfurt has a couple of strange aspects to it: The police found in the house of the murderer, the video game Counterstrike, etc. They also found that he apparently had, from the Internet, and whatever sources, a lot of material on Littleton, the Columbine High School massacre. Apparently he trained for this for a full year, and nobody noticed. What is your explanation of that?
Grossman: The violent video games-there are literally hundreds of thousands of kids around the world who are avidly-it may be that there are millions of kids, who are training, like this boy was training. They're watching the movies, they're playing the games.
Counterstrike is an interesting game. Let me tell you some of the specifics about Counterstrike, that makes it particularly interesting: Number one, in this game, you break up into two groups. You can play the counterterrorist team, which are hunting down the terrorists, or you can play the terrorist. They break up into teams, and they actively engage in it, and those who are playing the terrorists, kill the innocents, and get points for it, you see. And so, in this game, it is not a game in which the good guys win, and you play the good guys, it's a game in which you play the bad guys. And you get points for killing innocents as the bad guys.
Furthermore, Counterstrike is a game which has a complex set of rules that rewards head shots. If you shoot at the enemy, and you hit them in the torso, you might get 15, 20, 30% probability of a kill, but if you shoot at the head, you get a 90% probability of a kill. And so, while you are shooting, you are trained in the game to do double taps to the head, poom-poom, poom-poom, two, three, four, five shots to the head, which is what's happened in the actual phenomenon: be trained to perform a certain way. Shoot the enemy in the head with multiple hits, and that is exactly what happened. It's a very realistic game, in which heads explode, and bodies fall, and people twitch and they die.
EIR: Why do you think nobody noticed this for one full year, because everybody says he behaved completely normal?
Grossman: Because there are literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of children like him, and they are all training to do the same thing, and the media tell us that this is normal! We have commercials on TV in America, we have commercials for the violent video games, and we're told that doing this is as normal as eating potato chips. Why should anybody be concerned about something that the media tell us is as normal as buying a pair of socks, or eating potato chips?
EIR: There was a case in 1996, in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in Australia, in which where some combat shooter killed 35 people, wounding 22. And the point was made that the killed-to-injured ratio, was 1.6:1, which is exceptionally good. Now, in the case of the Erfurt boy, he killed 16, and wounded, I think, 6 or 9. You have a killed-to-injured ratio of 2.5:1, approximately. Now, can you really acquire that kind of skill, which puts you in a special forces kind of level? Can you get that from computer games alone?
Grossman: Absolutely. I'll give you another case, the Paduka, Kentucky case [of 14-year-old killer Steven Carneal].
EIR: Yes, I'm familiar with that case.
Grossman: A stunning case. You know, I train the FBI, I train our Green Berets, and nobody in history can find an equivalent achievement of marksmanship skills. He fired eight shots, got eight hits on eight different kids, five of them were head shots; the other three, upper torso. Three of those children, with just one 22 caliber bullet-a 22 caliber bullet is a very small, anemic round-he put one 22 caliber bullet in every child. Three of them were killed, and one of them is paralyzed for life.
Now, this is the kind of supernatural shooting skills we're seeing. Part of it is visualization. Understand that a flight simulator can't teach a kid to fly. A flight simulator doesn't teach you to fly; it makes the learning curve much, much, faster. So, if you spend endless hours in a flight simulator, when you get in a real plane, you learn much faster. The kid in Paduka had spent countless thousands of hours playing the murder simulator, the point-and-shoot video games. He stole a pistol from a neighbor's house, and he fired two clips of ammunition-now that was his flight training-he fired two clips of ammo from a real pistol. Prior to that he'd never fired an actual pistol, but he transitioned very, very quickly from the simulator to the reality, because of all of his thousands of rounds.
One thing on this boy in Erfurt, that we need to look for (and so far nobody has mentioned), is: I will bet you, that if we look at it, we'll find some local video arcade, where the boy played the point-and-shoot video games a lot. Do they have the point-and-shoot video games in Germany? You hold the plastic gun and shoot at targets on the screen, in the video arcades....
The average person doesn't comprehend how much bullets cost. Ammunition, bullets, are very expensive. Now, this boy does not have some vast amount of money available to him. He's already bought a pistol and a rifle. We know that he had about 500 rounds of ammunition in the school with him. He was a member of a club, but I would be interested to know how many rounds he had fired. Here, in America bullets cost about a quarter, for a 9 mm round.... So, imagine that you paid one euro for every four shots, that's in America. Now, I'll bet in Germany, it's more. It's worth checking in on. Check how much ammunition costs.
EIR: The funny thing is, he became a member of at least two clubs, one police club, and another sports shooting club. But after he had his weapon possession card, he went there only rarely. But, he was unavailable all day, because his parents didn't even know he had been kicked out of school. He pretended to go to school. So he apparently went somewhere else to train.
Grossman: Yes, and I'll bet you it was the video games. You see, training with ammunition, is very, very expensive. You can easily burn a $1,000, or 1,000 euros, in a single day, easily, within the blink of an eye. This boy had to be getting his training, and I'll bet you anything he was getting his training from the video games. There is some video arcade, somewhere, where this kid hung out, day, after day, after day, and rehearsed.
EIR: That is an interesting thing. I will definitely look into it. But I'd like to ask you a couple of more questions.
Now, in 1972, the U.S. Surgeon General already issued a report, saying there is a direct proof of the connection of media violence and youth violence.
Grossman: Yes, in 1972, the same Surgeon General who said tobacco causes cancer-everybody in the world knows that tobacco is bad for you; the same Surgeon General who says tobacco is bad for you, said that media violence causes violence in kids. So the Surgeon General, in 1972, made a definitive statement about violent visual imagery, all by itself, just watching a violent movie, being able to enable violence. C. Edward Koop, another Surgeon General, made another definitive statement. Joycelyn Elders, another Surgeon General, made another definitive statement. Our current Surgeon General has made definitive statements-all those statements were about violent visual imagery.
And then, the first definitive statement about the violent video games was made in July 2000; there was a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional conference-now this is basically both houses, both parties of the U.S. Congress-and at that conference, a joint statement was made by the medical community-this was the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This is all of our doctors, all of our pediatricians, all of our psychologists, all of our child psychiatrists-and what they said was: Media violence causes violence in kids, and the violent video games are particularly dangerous. Their specific statement was: Because of their interactive nature, the violent video games are demonstrated to be particularly dangerous; because of their interactive nature.
That's the first major, joint statement on the video games.
Now, let me continue to give you the video-game research. A meta-study released this year, by Dr. Craig Anderson, the University of Iowa-a meta-study is a study of studies-indicated the fact that the body of scholarly research on the video games definitively shows that they are extremely harmful. A study was done by the National Institute of Media and the Family; it was released last Spring. And what they did-they took over 500 high school boys, who didn't have extensive access to video games, and they broke these boys into two groups: the ones who were prone to high levels of violence, as demonstrated by actual behavior in school, as reported by their teachers, and the ones with low levels of violence. And then they took these children, and gave them violent video games, their own play-station with violent games, and they sent them home.
Now the kids have the joined the world of violent video-game players, and they measured their actual behavior in school. What they found was, the ones who had low levels of violence prior to the video game, are now more violent than the kids with high levels of violence [before]. At the end of one semester, the kids with high levels of violence are now through the roof in the degree of violence. This is what we call the pathological play phenomenon. Video games teach you to kill, and they make killing a conditioned reflex, and you put a gun in your hand, and these people are extraordinarily deadly.
But, there are several things that video games do, and let me track them one by one.
The first is the pathological play. Now, when you and I were kids, we played "toy guns." Did you ever play "toy guns"?
Grossman: Most children do. They had toy guns, and they said, "Bang, bang, I got you, Ozzie." And I said, "Bang, bang, I got you," to my sister, and my sister said, "No, you didn't." So, I hit her with my cap-gun. And she cried, and she went to Mama, and I got in big trouble. And I learned that my sister is real, and my brother is real, the dog is real, the kids are real. If I hurt them, I'm going to get in trouble. This is a lesson. You know, children go through the biting stage, and children go through the hitting stage. Every child goes through a stage when they hit. It's a developmental phenomenon. Every child, almost every child, goes through a stage when they bite, and they've got to be taught not to do that. That this is a harmful phenomenon....
Now, in the violent video games, I blow my virtual playmates' heads off, and see explosions of blood countless thousands of times. Do I get in trouble? I get points! You see, this is pathological play.
EIR: What you said before, that never in history some mechanism like that existed-
Grossman: Let me ask you this: Do you know what the all-time record-let's define juvenile as 18 and below-if we define juvenile as 18 and below, do you know what the all-time record juvenile mass-murder in human history is?
Grossman: Columbine High School. The all-time Guinness World Record, juvenile mass-murder in human history is Columbine High School.
EIR: Well, now topped by Erfurt.
Grossman: Well, he was 19. We would have to define juvenile as 21 or below. Do you see?
EIR: I see.
Grossman: If we define juvenile as 21 or below, which many people do, then Erfurt is clearly the all-time record juvenile mass-murder in human history. Prior to Columbine, the all-time record juvenile mass-murder in human history was Jonesboro, Arkansas, with an 11- and 13-year-old boy.
You see, these things have never happened before in history. The gun, the primary killing instrument at Columbine was a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun; 12-gauge, pump-action shotguns have been in existence for over a century-well over a century. The primary killing instrument in Jonesboro was a 30 calibre M-1 carbine, a World War II weapon. It's been in existence for half a century. Hundreds of thousands manufactured and distributed. But it is only today that we've got children willing to commit these crimes. And the new factor is not the guns. The new factor is the murder simulators.
Dr. Jim Magee did the primary profile on all the school killers. Dr. James Magee did the profile, and he calls them the "classroom avenger." He profiled 17 of the school killers in America. Every single one of the school killers was infatuated with media violence. He said that the one factor that they all had in common is this infatuation with media violence.
So, this is pathological play. Now, understand what I'm talking about: We know that puppies and kittens aren't real. You cannot get a murder charge for killing a puppy. You can't get a manslaughter charge for killing 10,000 kittens. But, the way a child treats a puppy predicts the way that they will treat real people.
Now, the creatures on the video game are not real. The individuals on that screen, on the video game are not real, any more than a puppy or a kitten is a real person. But, the way that they treat those people predicts what is going to happen in real life. Now, what if, every time your child make the puppy cry you gave him a cookie, wouldn't that be sick? Every time your child crushes a kitten, you give him a cookie. That would be sick. But we immerse them in the video-game environment, and they cause horrible death and suffering on their virtual playmates, and they get a cookie. You see, that's the pathological play.
EIR: I fully agree, but let me ask you this: Well, I don't know if you know, but two years ago, I made a conference presentation in the United States, which was in the aftermath of Littleton, where I looked at the evolution of violence. And I started with some of the so-called cult movies.... "Friday the 13th," "Natural Born Killers," and all of these others. I even included Pokémon, because in my view, Pokémon is like an entry track, because the emotionality is completely negative.
Grossman: Just like Power Rangers. It's violence marketed at very young children. Exactly. Yes.
EIR: Oh, you agree with that?
Grossman: They're entry level. See, entry level violence, it begins at very low levels, and then it works on up. Power Rangers, to me, is the worst thing out there. And Pokémon is a notch below Power Rangers. But when we take violence, and we market it to children, it's the addictive ingredient. They're rivetted to it.
EIR: I accidentally met a 6-year-old boy, who was Pokémon-addicted. I was shocked about what he said. He said that everybody, every child in the world knows Pokémon. And I said, "No, many people, many children in the world are too poor to even have access." And he said, "Well, if they are poor, we should kill them because if we don't kill them, they kill us." I got so shocked, that I started to investigate this whole matter.
But actually, I wanted to ask you something else. I may come back to this Pokémon question. But, given the fact that for any reasonable human being, even if you only assume a desensitization, and becoming more brutalized and bestialized. I mean, for me, that would be enough of a reason not to have this stuff.
Grossman: Right. The pathological play phenomenon.
EIR: Right. But given the fact that this started in the military, to increase kill-ratio, because after World War II and the Korean War, people came to the conclusion that this was not high enough. What I would be interested in is, where did this thing go commercial?
Grossman: Well, it was almost an example of parallel evolution. The truth is that the bleed-across from military to civilian was almost non-existent. A taboo line had been crossed. When the military started shooting real depictions of human beings instead of bulls-eye targets, then it became OK for the civilian world to do it.
You see, in World War II, there really was a cultural taboo against practicing shooting depictions of human beings. It just was not done. We couldn't really fully grasp the fact that we're going to kill human beings, and so we taught them to shoot at bulls-eye targets. Once the military transitioned into shooting at man-shaped silhouettes, then that was aped and mimicked by the civilian population with the violent video games. But it is really a process of parallel evolution, if you will.
EIR: But it was not the general public which produced these videos, it was commercial interests.
Grossman: It was, but the commercial interests were often little garage enterprises. It didn't take a great deal of technology. The first real bleed-across in these things was when the military began to adopt the civilian games to train their own people. And they began-.
You see, again, bullets are very expensive, ranges are expensive. Firing real guns is, in any large quantity, a very expensive proposition. And here, the civilian world has come up with simulators that allow us to do this at very cheap prices, and the military just virtually bought them off the shelf. The initial game was a duck hunt. I don't know if you remember, it was one of the early Nintendo games. You had a plastic pistol, and little images popped up on the screen. You know, the gun probably cost $5, just a light gun, to mass produce it. The video-game imagery was very cheap, and yet it was teaching pistol marksmanship skills phenomenally well. So, the United States Army bought a couple thousand Nintendo games, replaced a plastic pistol with a plastic M-16.
EIR: What is your suggestion for how to get rid of this problem?
Grossman: Let's talk about the violent video games. You see, one of the problems is that the violent video games have allied themselves with the television industry. Initially, when these video-game problems became public, after the Columbine massacre, the television industry had declared open season on the video-game industry. The television industry was doing some great exposés on the video-game industry, and was beating them up. The video-game industry immediately allied themselves with the television industry. Their lobbyists are now the same organization. Their lobbyists work for each other now.
What happened was that [Motion Picture Association president] Jack Valenti is the head lobbyist for Hollywood. The video-game industry basically fell under them. They accepted their protection, because what happened was, the television industry quickly figured out, that if we control video games, the television industry is next. Once you acknowledge that anything harmful can come over that screen, once you get in people's mind that something harmful can come over that screen, then the television industry's impact on children is next. The television industry has engaged in the most systematic disinformation campaign in human history. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Surgeon General-everybody's screaming from the mountainside, and yet the television industry has managed to keep the average American citizen ignorant of the harmful impacts of this product.
So, the thing that we're fighting here is the political influence of the television industry. Europe can be the vulnerable flank. Europe, and this tragedy in Europe, can really be an opportunity to do "maneuver warfare," Auftragstaktik. We find an area of weakness. We pit strength against weakness-
EIR: I can tell you, that I was actually positively surprised to see, that the debate here after the Erfurt event was much more to the point, pointing to these killer videos. But, I'm a little bit afraid, that if one does not really move-because what you need is legislation on a national level, but you need an international movement. So, I have proposed that Germany should use this shock-and the whole population is under shock-to propose an international protocol for prohibition and proscription.
Grossman: Right. Let me tell you three things that I would like to see happen, and that I believe are achievable steps that ought to be strived for:
The first thing is, you know that Norway has a law that makes it illegal to market to children. Children are not fair game. You cannot have a commercial telling children, "Buy this toy." You cannot have a commercial to children saying, "Eat this sugary substance." Now, when Norway had joined the European Union (EU), they were trying to convince the rest of Europe to do it, and the rest of Europe just laughed them off. Because, frankly, the media interests won't do that. But as soon as it's no longer legal to market to children, then the Power Rangers and the Pokémon, and all of those other toxic things go away.... Quebec has a law like that. Now, Quebec is one of the poorest provinces in Canada, and yet they have one of the lowest crime rates. And one of the reasons why, is that Quebec, although the television bleeds in from other areas and on the cable TV, in Quebec it's against the law to market to children. There aren't as many shows selling violence to children.
So, number one, the Norwegian law should be fostered Europe-wide, and Germany should embrace that law right from the very beginning.
Number two: We should, obviously, restrict the violent video games. We should treat the violent video games like we do guns. If you want to ban them, that's fine. I have no objection to that, but the reality is that we can put restrictions on them like we do with alcohol or tobacco, or better yet, with guns. We need to understand, that you need three things to kill. The weapon, the skill, and the will to kill. The video games provide two out of three. The murder simulators should be restricted, every bit as much as the guns should be restricted. If I give a child a gun, and I let him practice for a little while, I can take the gun away. But, if I give the child the will and the skill to kill, I can't take that out of his hands. That's permanent. And so, the video games obviously need to be severely restricted.
Number one, the Norway law: Don't market to children. Number two, we limit acces to video games. Number three, the Internet. The problem is, as long as children have access to the Internet, they're going to be able to download the violent video games. So, they're going to be able to play on the international forum. So, you might outlaw video games, but the children still get access. So here's the answer to that one. The Internet should be treated like the Autobahn [Germany's high-speed freeway]. The Internet equals the Autobahn. A child cannot drive a car. A child can get on the Autobahn, but only if an adult is driving him. Children should not have unrestricted access to the Internet. It should be illegal for any child to have access to the Internet without a filter. There are marvelous, marvelous filtering software products available. And the filtering software is getting better and better, year by year. It's one of the areas where the technology is working for us. As the technology gets better and better, the filtering software gets better and better. And, just as a child should not drive himself on the Autobahn, a child should not be permitted to navigate himself around the Internet, and there should be filtering software, and no child should be permitted to get on the Internet without filtering software....
The German government needs to hold the German video game industry accountable. We need to sue them. They have products that they know are for adults only. Their own rating system says it is for adults only, but they refuse to accept any regulation of the product. Do you understand the legal liability, if you have a product that you acknowledge is for adults only, and yet actively market the product to children?
EIR: But why cannot the Parliament, the Congress, simply enact laws and forbid it?
Grossman: Yes, that's good, but then go back and punish them, for what they've done so far. And so you see, you get them from two directions. Number one, you ban them from doing it any more, and number two, you go back and punish them for what they've done so far.... Imagine if they refuse to set any regulation on their product when it comes to children, and then a child, under the influence of their alcohol has a traffic accident and kills somebody. This industry should be held accountable.
EIR: I agree. I thank you very much.
There is a whole other subject matter which has already poisoned the minds of millions of people around the world, and obviously one has to think what one can do to eventually undo the damage from that, because of what happens to society.
Grossman: The most important thing is the Stanford Study, the one thing that I had yet to tell you about. Stanford University demonstrated, that, in the end, the most powerful solution to this problem is education.... Simply by educating children about the health impact of violent video games and violent television, there was a 40% reduction in violence in this test score, because the majority of the children voluntarily turned it off. When their elementary school teachers tell them about this, the children believe it, they know it, and they take action.
EIR: I not only mean education about videos, but education in general. In Germany the education reforms, 30 years ago, have eliminated this basic education of the character. And if you don't have that, and you only go for facts and multiple-choice kind of learning, then you destroy the basis for the inner resistance of the child.
Grossman: And more than that, what happens is you've created a vacuum. If you don't fill their character, the media will. And if we neglect our responsibility to teach character to the children, then the television industry does. And what Hollywood teaches our children is not what we want. Hollywood teaches the children that violence is good, violence is needed. It takes away any restraints for discipline on the child, and the result is horror.
EIR: Yes, I fully agree. I'm very happy that I was able to talk to you.
Grossman: God bless you, and thank you.