Grossman: Assassination Generation (I)

Review, Lt Col. Dave Grossman, Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing, Little Brown and Company, NY (2016) 264 pp.

This is a valuable book. It is not terribly well organized, but although it circles round and round, repeating the same type of fact in different contexts, it is worth one’s while to persevere. It has a decent index, so once you have read through it, you will be able to find what you were looking for.

If it has one big message, it is that the electronic media being used by children, youth, and adolescents, is ruining our world: the users are becoming physically unwell, emotionally immature (when not positively anti-social and given to aggression), and even losing intellectual skills.

Grossman describes the problem of rising violence, especially school shootings (chiefly but only in the USA), links their rise to pathological use of electronic media, and discusses the solutions on an individual, family, and social level. Note that I refer to his “linking” the increase in violence with that of abuse of media. The latter does not always cause the former, but, the link is greater when children are exposed to violence (tucked away on p.192), and it increases as longer time is spent before a screen showing violent images. Also of great weight in aggravating the problem is the degree to which these games and other presentations are realistic and engaging (p.153).

The corollary of the electronic media addiction is that many people now suffer from a “nature deficit disorder.” Grossman refers to the arguments, which I am certain are correct, that we are made to get out into nature, especially when children (p.173). I would go further and say that children are not being allowed to spend enough time in nature to sense the goodness, truth, and beauty of God manifesting through it. I believe that most children will sense this, even if they can never explain to themselves what it is they have felt.

It is possible for humanity to get ahead of itself through its technology, or rather, to develop technology which we do not have the maturity to use. I would suggest that the development of nuclear weapons is one excellent example; and the engineering of viruses with enhanced capacity, however defined, is another.

But these are not the only examples. I would point also to change-of-gender surgery and treatment. It is not just unnatural, it is anti-natural, and we demonstrably do not have the maturity and wisdom to use it. Artificial Intelligence seems to be taking us into the same anti-natural realm.

It is always a question of judgment as to how technology and science are developed, and when their usage is good and when it is bad or neutral. But so far there has been little discussion of this. It is assumed that we cannot stop the progress of “science.” Whether it is realistic to attempt closing down certain technologies is a hard question. But I believe that whether it can be stopped or not, in particular directions (e.g. A.I.), we can and should strive to use it more wisely. I will now turn in more detail to the contents of the book.


Grossman sets out his basic arguments, both as to problems, and as to solutions (the principles in the S.M.A.R.T. and “Take the Challenge” programmes. He then describes the 1997 school shooting in Paducah, Kentucky, where a fourteen year old fired eight shots, each of which hit a different victim. Five of the shots landed in the head, and three in the upper torso. Only a few days before he had fired a real pistol for the one and only time in his life, before this virtuoso display of gunmanship. Regular law enforcement consider a 50% hit rate normal, but this murderer, with a fraction of their training achieved 100% (13-14). Witnesses said that he had a “strange, calm look on his face” (14). Unlike most shooters, he did not fire at a target until it fell, but aimed one bullet at each head and moved on to his next target (14-15). Grossman’s explanation of his shooting method, his success, and his expression is that the killer had been playing:

first-person shooter video games” every night for years: “processed the events as if he were playing a video game – reverting to an almost mindless state that had been carved into his neurons through years of operant and classical conditioning at home and at the arcade. He calmly put a bullet in every target that popped up on his “screen” (14).

Even the fact that he made “one-shot kills” aimed at the head points to his having learnt his skills from a game, where that type of shooting produces high scores especially for head shots (14-15). The video games he played were effectively “mass-murder simulators” (15). Almost as horrifying, but not at all surprising, is that the game industry lobby attached Grossman’s testimony on this with what he describes as a pack of lies (15-16).

Chapter One

Grossman states that the phenomenon of juveniles (adolescents of seventeen years or younger) first appeared in 1975 (19-21). He says, accordingly, that “We have created the most violent generation in history,” and attributes much blame to the games industry (27). Another important matter when speaking of statistics is that today’s increasing murder rate is only about a quarter of what it would be if we had the medical technology of the 1970s (28-29). That is, the murder figures are being kept down by better treatments. Further, more people are killing strangers than had been the case (29).

In chapter two, Grossman deals with what he calls “common excuses for the virus of violence.” He argues that the number of guns in a society does not necessarily with the number of murders, partly because other methods can be used. Also, what is striking now is the number of juveniles involved in violence (32-35). One of the more interesting aspects of this chapter is that when he deals with the argument that parents should stop the children watching the games, it does in fact turn out that “we can essentially cut aggression in half” (44). However, too few parents are stopping the children playing the games.

Grossman then cites evidence that violence on t.v. has been breeding violence in real life (45-48). The evidence shows that use of violent mediea (whether on t.v. or through these games) is “associated with alterations in brain functioning, including reduced frontal lobe activation and reduced impulse control” (48), as well as increased depression, anxiety, and “social phobia” (49). Some of the facts he reveals are startling, e.g. that the shooter at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, who claimed to be affiliated with ISIS, was also a fan of video games (51). I wonder how often the murderers are addicted to video games, but no one enquires, or if they do, it is not reported.

to be continued

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