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Halo: Reach?

Halo: Reach?

Do violent video games have a detrimental effect on our psyche?


Bob stands with his back to the wall, heart pounding, muscles taut, eyes straining to see through all the smoke and dust. Looking at his wrist-mounted satellite video feed, he can see the enemy regrouping just around the corner for the next attack. Of his original unit, one is dead, two missing, and the other two under sustained fire near the chopper.

His helmet monitor is blazing with red warning icons. His QCB powered armor system is losing effectiveness due to a battery pack leak, his MA37 assault rifle is running low on ammo, and a pair of XMF-31 assault aircraft will reach the zone in 41 seconds.

But he’s a SPARTAN- B312, a Noble Six commando, a hyper lethal soldier, and this is the stuff he eats for breakfast. (As a matter of fact, he will eat breakfast and head out to work as soon as he’s finished this battle, and he’s LATE!!) He pulls his visor down over his helmet and throws a M9 High-Explosive Dual-Purpose Grenade around the corner, charging out into the open parking lot, headed for the building at his ten o’clock.

Two Covenant fighters begin racing after him, plasma guns blazing. Bob lets the whole world go into slow-motion as he hurls himself into the air, slowly twisting around to face his enemies and shooting at them with everything he’s got. They both go down, blood spurting, writhing in pain, and he lets the world speed up again as he gives himself a  blast of Turbo Boost and makes it into the building just seconds before the XMF-31 aircraft come screaming through the air, laying waste to the entire lot he just left behind.

Suddenly Bob feels a tap on the shoulder. Spinning around, expecting to see a Covenant android soldier with a Type-52 Special App Rifle pointed at him, he sees his mother.

“Hey, why are you still here? Weren’t you supposed to be at work an hour ago? And why are you still wearing the same clothes you were wearing last night? Did you pull another all-nighter playing video games?”

Man. There is no bigger hero killer than Mom. Here Bob was about to save the entire colony world of Reach (or at least finish one more of the 32  missions it takes to save the entire colony world of Reach) and she had to pull the whole clothes-you-wore-yesterday shtick. They just don’t get it.

The average gamer devours 18 hours of streaming violence, partial nudity, gore, language, and blood every week.

Bungie studios released Halo:Reach on September 14, 2010 and by the end of the day had grossed over $200 million in sales. By the end of the first week, over 70 million online matches were logged, with players putting in roughly 6,000 years worth of time shooting at each other1, about the same amount of time as recorded human civilization. When they weren’t doing that, they uploaded over two million files and completed about 20 million daily challenges. And it wasn’t all for naught, as they earned a whopping 165 billion in credits to spend on new armor.

But even with all those numbers, it still wasn’t the most popular game of the week. That honor was given to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which grossed $310 million in its first 24 hours.

The Halo games have been rated "Mature Only" by the Entertainment Software Rating Board for everything from Blood and Gore, to Language, Partial Nudity, and Violence. The more popular Call of Duty game is also rated Mature for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, and Language2. And this is not in small doses — the average gamer devours 18 hours of streaming violence, partial nudity, gore, language, and blood every week3.

What kind of effect do these games have on people?

Some say that it is harmless because gamers know that it is all just a game. They cite studies that show that apes differentiate between play fighting when they just tussle, and real fighting when they rip each other apart. This is proof that deep in the psyche there is a clear wall between real fighting and gaming. In addition, they point to dropping levels of violent crime all over the country despite the rise of violent games.

Others say that the intense violence is having a very detrimental effect on our youth (and not-so-youth – the average age of gamers is 32!). They cite a study in the March issue of Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association, which shows that playing violent video games increases violent thinking, attitudes and behaviors among players4.

The Torah has an interesting mitzvah that might shed some light on this issue. There is a law in the Torah that says a person who inadvertently kills someone must flee to a City of Refuge. During Temple times, the Torah commanded all Jews to make pilgrimages to the Temple to be close to God during the holidays. Interestingly, the Torah also commands the Jewish people to put signposts at every crossroads directing inadvertent murders to the closest City of Refuge, but it does not command people to make signs to help pilgrims find their way to the Temple! Why are we helping the murderers but not the pilgrims?

The Sages explain that every interaction we have leaves an imprint on us. Even talking to a person who just murdered someone inadvertently could desensitize us.  God didn’t want us to come into contact with murderers so He commanded that we make signage to help them along.

But having an interaction with someone going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem could have a positive effect on people. So we don’t put up signs; instead we are encouraged to enter conversations with the people along the way.

If a two minute conversation giving directions to someone can impact our soul, how much more so would actions over a sustained period of time.

In Ethics of our Fathers, the Sages praise the mother of Rabbi Yehoshua, and credit her for some of his greatness. From the time he was a baby, she would park his carriage right next to a house of Torah study so that only words of holiness should go into his ears. On the flip side, children who grow up hearing swearing from adults and video games begin swearing at a much younger age, as a recent study by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts indicates.5

Jewish teachings seem to indicate that violent video games have a detrimental effect on our psyche, and science seems to agree. Yet we still have a significant affinity toward them, and spend enormous sums of money and time on them.

Why is that? And what does that say about us?

Join the discussion in the comment section below with your thoughts, experiences and feelings on this important topic.


October 24, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Ted Mowery, June 16, 2011 1:50 PM

I agree... to some degree

This article does not take into account some of the positive interactions a person can have in games which offer mixed interactions - NOT ALL OF THEM VIOLENT. For example in the games Fallout and Oblivion, there are a number of open-ended situations where a person could choose to do good or evil. I play these games and choose to do good. Not all slaying is evil - although most is. We have documented evidence with the Tanakh that Shimson slew 1000 philistines with a jawbone. Hardly offered them tea and crumpits - now, did he? So, I'd submit, that one some level - games are what you make of them. When I do play, I am not as much involved in the main storyline quests (some of which are well-written), but go out into the wilderness and eliminate evildoers and idol worshippers. Just my perspective - I am a Noachide in the process of orthodox conversion. I expect to no longer use or play video games post-conversion, though. Jury is out on whether I intend to have Netflix or a smaller tv (to watch Jewish movies). As a convert, I didn't grow up in Jewish culture, so my understanding of it is limited.

(13) Craig (Chaim), November 12, 2010 5:04 PM

As for the matter of addiction...

Just so we're not mixing up the issues of addiction and violence, I would also just like to point out that people can still be addicted to video or computer games which don't have any such violence whatsoever. Believe me, I've seen it first-hand in my own family... a certain member of my family (who shall remain nameless) was and probably still is obsessed with the basic computer games which probably come installed on your home computer, such as Solitare, Minesweeper, Tetris, etc. She would play them for hours, and she even got nasty with me when I politely asked her to get off the computer so I could do my homework. It didn't have the violence or whatever of "Halo", but it still made her mean and nasty. Again, I am merely pointing out that game addiction and violence are not mutually exclusive. Let's not mix apples and oranges here, that's all I'm saying.

(12) Elana, November 1, 2010 12:51 AM

Video Games

All I can tell you is that from personal experience with my children (teen and pre teen) playing these games. They do get more violent after they play these games. They have started "pretend" fighting at home (that always gets out of hand); cursing more (it seems more acceptable to them because they hear it and all their friends are playing it, so why not, etc.) It is horrible. I put my foot down with connecting these games to the internet. No way, no how. Who knows who they will be connected to to play these games. Please, it is the worst thing because it does not give them the opportunity to read, or even go outside to play. Can you imagine? I have to yell at them to go outside and play on a nice day. Whatever happened to organized sports??

(11) Anonymous, October 28, 2010 10:45 AM

Dangerous games

The real danger in these games is the ADDICTION itself, which is no less destructive on family life than drugs or alcohol. The only thing that stopped my husband was the very real threat of divorce. This stuff should be regulated or oulawed, as alcohol and drugs are.

(10) Craig (Chaim), October 27, 2010 8:14 PM

What nudity and bad language? Where did you get your info?

Rabbi Leiby Burnham, Okay, I can see that you're concerned about violence and its effect on impressionable minds, but a few things... where did you gather that the Halo games had nudity and bad language? I've played half of them at friends' houses and seen walkthroughs for all of them, and I have never seen or heard either. Sure, plenty of violence, but that's what happens in an interstellar war... (You want something even worse in that regard? Try the first person shooter games in the Unreal series.) (For the record, I'm into Halo more because I'm a science-fiction fan, and I have all the music soundtracks to them; like Star Wars, they're orchestral scores to science-fiction sagas.) Personally, I don't buy into the whole "video games make people violent" theory... sure, some people with violent tendencies might be drawn to them, and of course parents and guardians should keep a close eye on what their children do and learn and absorb, but I don't think that such entertainment is a curse or plague which no one is immune to. Actually, if I really wanted to, I could make religious and Biblical parallels between this game and real life, i.e. the humans are Jews and the alien Covenant are the evil nations of the world who want to kill them. Interestingly, it seems that the people behind the games have put a lot of Biblical nods into the games... However, we can talk more about this later, if you want. Sincerely, Craig (Chaim)

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