This week on the Today Show, they have been talking about a recent major study that documents the negative effects of screen time on children. Part of the study revealed that children who play violent video games are more likely to act violently towards others.
I could have told them that without spending however many millions of dollars on a study. (Although I do understand the importance and value of documenting and quantifying results.) Anything that we consume with our minds has the power affect our behavior. For example, it has long been known that pornography affects the way people act sexually. People who act in sexually deviant ways (child molesters, rapists, etc.) are nearly always consumers of pornography. Nobody is surprised to discover that a rapist has pornographic materials that depict rape fantasies. It’s a connection that makes perfectly rational sense.
The purpose of this new study was to clarify if violent video games CAUSE violent behavior, rather than serve as a harmless outlet for violent tendencies that already exist—which is the perspective of many gamers and game developers. I say potato, you say potato. Surely the correct answer is that it’s both.
Human beings have violent tendencies. This is part of our hard-wiring. If we feel threatened or are protecting love ones, even the most benevolent of us is capable of violent behavior. Violent tendencies can also be increased by childhood experiences of violence.
But regardless of genetics or childhood experiences, when we choose to experience or participate in explicitly-violent activities, we are also shaping our minds and our behaviors. Even when we know that a game is “pretend,” I firmly believe that what we consume with our minds affects us as much as the food we consume with our bodies. We are what we eat.
When we are talking about the minds of children, the effects of such consumption (body and mind) is substantially increased. Just as the food children eat profoundly affects their physical development, so do emotional and mental experiences affect the development of their minds, egos and self-esteem. Of course violent games shape children’s minds in ways that lead them to practice violence in their own lives. The games teach these malleable minds that if you don’t like someone, violence towards that person will “fix” the situation.
But it’s not just true for children. As adults, our personalities are already mostly formed, so what we feed our minds and spirits may affect us less profoundly than it would a still-developing child. Yet it is still true that if we “consume” violence or pornography or hate-based rhetoric, we do damage to our spirits, to our sense of self, and to our view of the world. While some may argue that violent games are a release for them, I would suggest that’s only half the story and that violence experienced in any form shapes character and affects future behavior. We are—or we become—what we eat.
And now we have some proof.
So who do you want to be in the world? What sort of person is God calling you to become? After you decide this, then choose activities and actions that will help create and nurture that person. Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Or as Ann less-famously paraphrased: “Be the person that you want to be in the world.”