The Training of First-Person Shooters


Shortly after posting on my conclusion, basically, that the more-fundamental problem when it comes to school shootings isn’t that people have the means to kill each other, but that they want to, I came across a Facebook post by Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Giovanni Feroce on the same question.  One part of Feroce’s thinking caught my attention in particular, because it’s something I’m having to ponder, myself, as a father:

Proliferation and “life like” gaming involving shooting (I have immediately forbid my teenage son from playing those games on a daily basis and with no supervision or discussion as to the difference between training and complete disregard for rules of engagement when playing those types of games; we will need to further discuss over the next few weeks). He said “I understand” – very proud of him (we’ll see how long that lasts, I am sure I will be reproached shortly to ease up).

One can ban such games from the household for a number of justifiable reasons, but as a parent’s individual response to school shootings, it only makes sense for one of two.  Either you fear that your child might become a school shooter, or you think your child’s playing the games is contributing to a fad that might encourage school shooters.

The game currently sweeping through the schools like a fad is Fortnite, which is somewhat cartoonish but does involve running around shooting at people.  It is available in a free “Battle Royale” version that drops 100 players on an island with constantly closing boundaries, and they must gather weapons and building materials in a fight to be the last one standing.  Having played it some, myself, it seems to me that the game is, in its aesthetic, little different from my own childhood games running around the woods with water pistols, laser tag guns, nerf weapons, paint ball guns, and so on.  (Of course, running around the woods is preferable for many other reasons, although I have to adjust for the fact that ticks were unknown in the woods of my North Jersey childhood.)

Around the time that Laser Tag swelled in popularity, I visited with my Marine uncle, and he mentioned that the military sometimes trained with such technology.  I’ve heard the same about first-person shooters, which raises an important question in the present context:  What sort of training do these games provide children?  More specifically, if it came to a school shooting in which your child is not the killer, how will these games have prepared him or her for that moment, if at all?

One suspects that terror would tend to wipe away any training that isn’t repeated, explicit, and genuinely physical, but the general lessons are pretty clear.  If you come across somebody with a more-deadly weapon who wants to kill you, the best move is to run as fast as you can, zig-zagging, jumping, and putting obstacles between you and the attacker.  Given your surroundings, sometimes it’s better to hide.  And if neither option is available, respond quickly and decisively with whatever weapon you have.

I’m not endorsing these games for all children, and I’m certainly not presenting them as a healthy alternative to other childhood activities, but I have to admit that I’m reconsidering some of my earlier thoughts about them when it comes to news stories about violence.

  • Justin Katz

    That’s not the upshot of what I’m saying at all. Rather: Don’t change gun laws and don’t prohibit the games if your only reason is concern about school shootings.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    As kids, even before “games”, we played “war” with sticks for rifles. As an adult, when Digital Corp. was still a player, I belonged to a paint ball group, the “Digital danger rangers”. For “political” reasons the locations of the games was kept secret. You had to sign into a Digital site and enter “Invitation Casimir”. Everyone had to be a hero, no one would take a perimeter position.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I agree, it is some sort of “sign of the times”. I don’t recall it, of course, but the “St. Valentine’s Day massacre” involved machine gunning 7 mobsters and shocked the nation. I think the “Shoot out at the OK corral” involved 6 people. Although the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre gave us the Sullivan Act which outlawed the Thompson (The gun that made the 20’s roar) .I don’t think the AR-15 is a root cause.
    I have noticed that most of these shootings, from “The Texas Tower Incident” to “Las Vegas” have some distance, or random shooting. The video from the Florida school carries the sound of rapid fire which presumably did not allow aiming. You don’t see their eyes go blank.