Before my one night stand with Just a Geek I spent much of the week reading Killing Monsters; Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence by Gerard Jones. This is a fascinating book that talks about some of the uses children have for fantasy and play violence in their lives. In a world that constantly points its finger and TV, movies and video games for all the problems with today’s youth, it is refreshing to read a book that tries to examine why children enjoy make-believe violence and what, if any, benefits it might have. While Jones’ work is more anecdotal than scientific, he does raise some very interesting points that are well worth considering. I am a bit biased because many of his viewpoints coincide with some of my long-held beliefs, but he presents them far more eloquently and persuasively than I have ever managed.
I’ve always been interested in the debate about media violence. I grew up with video games, comic books and action movies and enjoyed them a great deal. But I have always been a very non-violent person. For that and other reasons, I was an easy target and got into more than a few fights in elementary and high school. I eventually learned how to defend myself, but I disliked violence so much that any time I hit anyone I would subconciously bite my lip. The harder I hit someone, the harder I would bite. So every fight would end up the same way, me with a bloody lip regardless of whether my tormentors even landed a blow.
And while my experiences are obviously that of one individual, whenever I read another accusation leveled at the entertainment industry, I take it a bit personally. It was a big part of my growing up (along with sports and reading) and every time I hear a criticism at some level I take it as a criticism of my development. And I think I turned out pretty well. I’ve got problems just like everyone else, but for the most part I’m pretty well-adjusted (thanks Mom and Dad) Now, I can’t account for all the crap that gets released these days – and a lot of it makes itself pretty hard to defend – but blind condemnation of video games, TV or action movies makes me crazy. The inescapable fact is that there are millions of kids who play video games or watch action movies, and the percentages of those children who are violent remains pretty small. And I have yet to read a convincing study determining a causal relationship between real-world and make-believe violence. Yet “Video games are unhealthy” and “TV rots the mind” are statements that are taken as absolute truths by too many people.
As I said, my rhetoric is unpracticed and not particularly convincing. But if you are at all interested in the debate, I’d highly recommend reading Killing Monsters.