Charity sent in a donation to NPR, which we both enjoy, and as a thank you gift they gave us a subscription to Newsweek. We had unsubscribed from Newsweek some time ago due to the rapidly decreasing quality of the content…but I figured I’d take another browse. The new magazine is certainly lighter and the articles are shorter…I’m wondering other than the fact that it finds its way into my mailbox why I’d want to read anything in it more than the high-quality articles found across the blogosphere.
Fast forward to June 18th, 2012 issue and the article “Zombie Apocalypse” by Tony Dokoupil. The sub-title, “Could the Internet bring on a face-eating epidemic?” If you would, allow me to dissect this article and its horrible atrocity against good reporting. Mr. Dokoupil, I trust you are able to write articles of much higher quality than this, and I am saddened that I need even write a response to such an article.
The Internet Makes Us Psychotic
Using reports from Susan Greenfield and Will Self the article suggests that psychosis is fostered by internet use. A brief statement at the end of the paragraph pushes us back to reality, “Does the Internet cause insanity? No. But for some vulnerable souls, it may excite their already destructive states of mind.” But the entire paragraph pushes us towards the conclusion that if internet use in itself doesn’t foster psychosis, it at least increases the risk of violent behavior by individuals with psychotic symptoms.
I would suggest a more balanced paragraph might have explained that researched is currently being done to explore how the internet affects the brain. There is some consensus that it does affect our brains – but there is little consensus at this juncture on whether these effects are positive or negative.
For example, individuals no longer need to remember as much content – b/c content can be easily discovered using Google and similar services. This is similar to the decrease in content requirements which would have occurred with the availability of books, where previously entire books were memorized on occasion to retain the content.
One could say the lack of content knowledge is a detriment – but perhaps (and I think it is) being counter-balanced by increases in critical and analytical thinking skills – e.g. intuitive problem solving abilities.
Rocco Magnotta – Social-Media “Whore”
The article continues on, drawing connections between Rocco Magnotta’s cannibalism and his extreme social media usage. I would suggest his extreme social media usage was likely caused by extreme feelings of isolation, depression, low self-esteem, or so on. That is, the social media extremism (over-utilization) was a result of his issues rather than the cause of the issues. He may have found himself unable to secure the attention he desired through regular interactions on social media (as he had already found himself unable to achieve via “real life interactions”) and thus saw the need to escalate to increasingly violent actions in order to secure attention and increase his self-perception of being unique and valuable.
One could argue that the social media use may have delayed his violent actions. When he was no longer able to secure the necessary boost to self-esteem in real life he shifted to virtual life – and this worked for a while…but since the issue in these cases is essentially the individual’s own self-perception rather than external individual’s provision of appropriate affirmation, he would and did encounter a time when social media was not adequate for boosting his self-perception, and thus the movement to cannibalism.
Anders Behring Breivik – World of Warcraft
Then there is the instance of Anders, the now infamous Norwegian who killed seventy-seven people. Dokoupil writes that he performed “…daily training on the shooting game World of Warcraft…” I don’t play World of Warcraft (WoW), but I do know that it is not a “shooting game” in the sense most people conceptualize shooting games. It is a MMORPG (massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game)…as such it focuses on challenges, adventures, roles, interactions, plot development, and yes – combat. But the combat is not primarily “shooting” and certainly not in the modern sense one intuits (guns). A true shooting game would be Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, Halo, and so on.
I don’t know whether Anders virtual and real lives fused – though I suppose this is possible. I once had a childhood friend who could not distinguish between realities…but he didn’t kill anyone over it. That said, if he did fuse realities, I would have expected Anders to have dressed up in medieval outfits and used a more primeval weapon to murder…which in this case would have been advantageous, since he certainly wouldn’t have been able to kill seventy-seven people with a low-tech weapon like he did with a GUN.
Violence in Video Games
I don’t play a lot of video games. When I do play video games they are almost always turn-based war games simulating historical time-periods. I enjoy recreating historical experiences and consider the games a learning experience as well as relaxing and entertaining. Ask me how I know more about the geography of the world than your average joe and I’ll report it was due to an old game called Empires. Ask me how I know about the geography of Europe, the Middle East, the United States – I’d say various World War II games, Medieval: Total War, and various Civil War games. Ask me how I know the names of commanders, of ancient weapons, about when clocks where invented or how horrible the devastation of the black plague was and I’ll reply in the same manner. Of course, I’ve also ready a LOT, but games help me “memorize” locations, situations, and so on in ways that a text alone can’t.
Sorry, ran off on a bit of a rabbit trail there – back to violence in video games. I’m not a fan of violent portrayals in video games. I find it disturbing that some games are created to allow individuals to play as the “bad guys” – and I don’t mean an anti-hero, but real “bad guys” doing really bad actions – raping, torturing, and graphically murdering. I don’t think there needs to be nearly the level of violence in video games in general as there is…imho, the attraction to video games is the challenge rather than the graphics (ala Minecraft’s success).
But, I’d also suggest that we don’t have a firm cause-effect link between what people play (in video games) and how they act in real life. I’d suggest that there are probably stronger corollaries between parental attention to children and their life actions. Sure, kids may play extremely violent video games, but I have to ask, where are the parents in the first place? Why is the child sitting inside playing video games all day anyways?
This article lacks merit and spreads FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt)….something we definitely don’t need. I’d suggest that publishers and reporters need to take a deep look inside themselves and ponder, “Am what I’m publishing and writing going to cause a zombie apocalypse?” Yeah, I don’t think it will either…but perhaps it is more likely than the internet or video games!
I do support ESRB ratings on video games and offering similar penalties as for selling cigarettes to individuals who sell underage individuals high-maturity ESRB rated games.
I am open to other ways in which we can curb the use or overuse of the internet and violent video games by children and teenagers while maintaining individual freedom and constitutional rights.