Are we being threatened by the new culture of student “gamers” and what is being described as their “alternative reality?”

During my Campus Aggression Prevention System Webinar, I was asked about the new culture of student “gamers” and what was described as their “alternative reality.”   It is true that two individuals can, and often do, walk into a classroom discussing their accomplished kills the night before on “Call of Duty: Black Ops” video game.  The Faculty member hears, “There is no way the Famas is better than an AK47. The Famas doesn’t do the same kind of damage. It takes twice as many shots to kill someone.”  The Faculty member calls you, frightened and wants the students removed!  Let’s face it, after hearing about how scary Jarod Loughner was to his faculty, it is no wonder the faculty across the nation are on edge about any conversation that sounds aggressive.

I have two things to share with you on this matter.  First, this is why we developed the “Judicious Interview,” a method using scientific cause and effect principals in order to ascertain whether their intent is hostile, malicious and benign.   A quick questions posed to these young students will quickly ascertain that they are discussing a game and are not a threat to class or campus.

The second part of my answer is quite lengthy but due to your question it is, in my mind, important for you to understand.  Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Pulitzer nominated for his book, “On Killing, The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” wrote a very socially eye-opening book, “Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill.”  In this book, Grossman reveals the steady evolution of young boys and girls and their conversion from innocence and their instinctual reluctance to attack another person, through the use of video games and TV violence that erodes this instinctual reluctance.  Grossman takes us back to the end of World War Two when General Marshal conducted a survey of his soldiers to find that only 15% were able to raise their weapons, aim at another human being and pull the trigger with the expressed intend of killing another human being.  In other words, 85% were unable to attack another human. Why, because the instinct not to attack (kill) another human is so very compelling in humans.  Of course, this was unacceptable for the military so they began having their soldiers firing at silhouettes of humans, which would “pop up,” the soldier would fire and the silhouettes would drop.  The human silhouette would then “pop up” again and the soldier would again fire. In other words, the military was teaching their soldiers to “impulse shoot.”  Because of this, by the Korean War, the military’s shoot rate had increased to over 50% percent and in the Vietnam War the military’s shoot rate had increased to over 90%.  The military had by-passed a humans’ instinctual reluctance to attack or kill another human through the use of impulse shooting.  A similar circumstance is occurring with our children.  In the absence of a responsible adult, teaching these children the difference between the virtual-real world of video games where they experience the virtual real visuals and sounds of killing as they “take out” the multiples of enemies that surround them, Grossman points out how these young boys and girls are losing their instinct not to attack another human being.  If you question this, please discuss this with any astute high school teacher and now college professor. 

When we (the Center for Aggression Management) began training at colleges and universities across the Nation four years ago, we were told that professors were far too busy to take our training.  Over the past two years, we have been told by an increasing number of Vice Presidents of Student Affairs that their professors are “scared to death” of the students entering their classes; that their body language and behaviors are similar to that of sociopaths.

One university executive explained how young students entering into their classes were frustrated and angered by the inability of their professors to keep up with modern technology. They no longer wanted to purchase books at the university’s book store, they wanted to “download them online.”  This friction between professors and students is causing a real contempt, loss of respect and even rebellion by students toward their technologically-challenged professors. 

Combine this with our heroes coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers who, on the world’s battlefields, have long lost their instinct not to kill another human-being create a very interesting dynamic.  Every college and university is vying for the attentions of return veterans who have been promised by our government a paid-for education.  Soldiers, now older students, who have an immense respect for authority (their professors), are exhibiting real contempt for these younger students who show little or no respect to their professors.  We have a growing population of young student exhibiting sociopathic behavior and we have an increasing number of older students (soldiers coming home from the battlefield) who have lost their instinct not to kill another human being.  These are concerning circumstances and are expected to play out over the next several years.

So, our concern with “gamers” and their “alternative reality” is to some extent true in more ways than we may image.  We are heading for some very interesting times.   


  1. james

    We are running out of excuses for not studying how the dynamic of the aggressive personality is contextualized in the larger culture.

    Bless you, John, for your willingness to confront these issues without flinching. You are one of the few who realize that aggression management requires an awareness and critique of much more than just isolated incidents.

    Violence, unfortunately, is the new American religion. As long as we keep buying into the “myth of redemptive violence” we are blind to its effects. It’s the old parable of the boiling frog. If the water is heated gradually, the frog in the pan is unaware of what is happening and is killed.

    Most of us are like bugs crawling across a map. We sense a succession of lines and letters, but it takes people with profound relational and patterned thinking styles to see the whole territory. Your remarks on the veteran/student dynamic demonstrate the type of global awareness and problem-solving skills that need to brought to bear to help us find our way out of this difficulty.

  2. John D. Byrnes

    Thank you, James, for your kind words.  It is important to make a living from what ones loves to do, but it is statements of encouragement like this that are our true rewards!

  3. Kirk

    The computer tells me I must add a comment in order to subscribe. Unfortunately, this is the reason I want to subscribe. I do not want a computer telling me what I can do and what is right. The advent of such a structure that does not treat people like people is one of our greatest enemies to aggression. LinkedIn does not think taht I am who I am because I cannot read a scribble of letters. I had a detached retina and am handicapped visually. The option of a verbal clue is just as bad. The irony is that I do not know of anything particularly confidential on LinkedIn. The “bullying” is being done by a computer. Just a thought for an admitted senior citizen.

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