Video Games and the Construction of Violent Masculinity

Much of the research I have read on this topic (and I have exhausted myself doing so as I have two children who play video games and one of them is male) suggests no “direct” cause only correlations – in other words it is complicated, and the propensity for violence cannot be blamed on any one factor just like listening to heavy metal music, or reading comic books does not “make” you a sadist however if you already are, you are likely to enjoy the masculine and violent themes of much of that media and the same goes for games like Grand Theft Auto or Doom.

So producers wash their hands of the issue saying they are just catering to the consumers. The problem is that culture and media are so imbricated that there is no pinpointing of ONE source of messaging – it all works together to send hegemonic messaging to citizens that women want manly men, and you are supposed to want a woman, therefore you must be a manly man, and to do that you must be tough, and then there are various interpretations of what that means.

Social and evolutionary psychology studies suggest that the drive to procreate, and to survive underlies all this, then of course there are the factors that affect your psyche before you are seven. By then the messaging from your family, your community, your society and your culture are well embedded in your brain, before you have the capacity to think critically about it. As youth or adults we can laugh at some of these themes and assess them for the ridiculous fantasies that they are, but as children we cannot and if this is the main messaging that we are sending to our children, then we cannot be surprised that these concepts are so deeply engrained in our culture.

Anthropologists and psychologists will also argue that what was appropriate for the survival of aggressive nomadic sheep herder tribes (like the Britons and Celts – who many White Canadians are descended from as opposed to more peacefully-oriented agricultural societies) are not always the same skills we need to navigate contemporary society…so there is our ancient, inherited knowledge and belief systems, along with our individual drives, our cultural values, media messaging, family, community and school dysfunctions (that likely have included violence on some level), mentors or role models, hormone levels of testosterone and personal goals, abilities and resources that all factor into whether or not a man, or a woman for that matter, is likely to be more or less violent and aggressive.

My point is – that humans have the unique capacity to over-ride their lizard brain urges with frontal-lobe critical thinking, which is what makes more so-called civilized, chivalry and gentlemanly conduct possible, but it is slower and takes more effort, and is sometimes impeded by chemicals (drugs, alcohol, etc) or different physiological/psychological abilities. So there is no one answer to this issue.

Personally, I limited outside messaging (TV, Internet, Magazines and newspapers) with the youngest members in our household and when it was allowed, it was never restricted, but always mediated and deconstructed by older family members that usually resulted in interesting discussions. I think this is the key because I don’t believe in censorship or “molly-coddling” children – they need to learn about the world and know the ugly and the beautiful parts of it, so they can deal with it. Therefore, I think that training children to think critically is more important for personal empowerment and the future of humankind than blaming media.

nb: My son and daughter are now in university, seemingly well-adjusted and generally doing well in life. Although they spent a few early years annoyed with me for the differences in our household when compared to that of their friends – by middle school they were more appreciative and could quickly recognise biast messaging. 

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