How Values Are Tested
It was the beginning of May, and I had just signed up for weeklong high school elective called “Gaming and You!” During this elective for the Howard Gardner School in Alexandria, Virginia, we played board games, card games, tabletop games, and video games. We also had discussions about game mechanics and the effects that gaming has on people’s lives, whether positive or negative. I was very happy and lucky to get into this elective with some of my closest friends. When class started, the teacher asked this question: “What kinds of games do you like to play?”
I have always loved playing sports video games like Madden NFL or NBA 2K, and I had just recently purchased Star Wars: Battlefront. Since I am a Quaker, I don’t believe in violence and the act of killing another life form, whether it is a person, animal, or alien species, but I have played some games that contradict these beliefs. As the question was being answered all around the room, I noticed that many of the people that I am friends with play the kind of horrible, gruesome games that I do not like and do not play since I am a Quaker.
During lunch, two of my closest friends were talking about very violent games that they hoped to play during the elective, games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. I replied I had never played them and asked what they were like. The response I got back was, “Oh man, you haven’t lived until you’ve played those games!”
I am an Eagle Scout and continue to be very involved with scouting. I love to make films and hope to have a career in filming. I have an internship at a top-notch documentary film company called Pendragwn Productions, and I have learned many important life lessons. So when my friend said I hadn’t lived because I hadn’t played these horrible, gruesome games, it hit me hard. I had lived a very good and fulfilling life so far, but was I really missing something? Because we would be playing these violent video games during this elective, I decided to write about how hard it is to be a teenager and a Quaker and not play these types of games.
I mostly play sports games, but I also play action-packed superhero games, racing games, Lego games, and the occasional Star Wars series. In these games characters frequently try to do the right thing and stop “bad guys” from harming innocent people. In games like Star Wars, the “good guys” use shooting to stop the “bad guys” from harming people; it feels like the violence is an act of moral justice. When playing those games as a good-guy character, I’ve always felt like I’m doing something to help protect innocent lives. There is even a part at the very end of the famous Star Wars game The Force Unleashed II where you can spare the life of Darth Vader or kill him. I always choose to spare him, not only because I am Quaker but because the Rebels can get lots of information about the Empire from him, an argument which one of the characters makes during this point in the game.
On the day we were playing violent video games like Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat, I found—to my surprise—it wasn’t fun at all. In fact, it was sickening because of how much blood is shown and how realistic it looks. I have always wanted to play these types of games (my parents wouldn’t let me since we’re Quakers), but when they gave me their permission to play them during the gaming elective, I felt disappointed and didn’t want to continue. There was a Magic: The Gathering game going on at a nearby table, and I decided to play that instead. I overheard some of the Call of Duty players making jokes about how one of them died in the game and I laughed along with them, even though I knew in my gut this was wrong. In the moment, I got swept up by the game and felt that it was okay to make jokes about how someone died in the game because other people were doing it. After taking a break for lunch, I realized how horrible I was acting. What if that was someone I cared about who was just killed by a grenade? What if it was a random person who was trying to do the right thing that was shot up to pieces? I soon felt guilty for playing those games and for the comments I made about my virtual soldier dying a horrible, traumatic death.
What is so scary when you play those games is not how gruesome and violent they are or even how realistic they look. No: what is so scary is that you get swept up in the moment the minute you pick up the controller and decide to play. It is that moment when you don’t really think; you just act. It is that moment when you make cracks and jokes about how your virtual soldier died. It is that moment when all of who you are goes completely down the toilet, and you become something you don’t want to become: someone horrible, aggressive, violent, and scary. The complete and totally unlikeable anti-you, or, if you want to reference pop culture, the bizarro you, appears, and the good-guy you disappears.
The point is this: when you or anyone plays these types of games, you become sucked into the world of your anti-self, and, if you continue playing them, over time that anti-you is just you. I have seen it happen to some of the smartest people I know. They played these types of video games, and they changed from being a nice guy to acting like a jerk. I’m not saying it happens to every gamer, but you can become something different, something that you never wanted to be.
As a teenager, I have always wanted to play games like Call of Duty or the Uncharted series. There is that sense of wanting to belong and be cool and know what they are talking about. What I say to teenagers and children is this: stay away from these games, and go back to studying for the SAT or hanging out with friends, because in the end, when you’re 40, you won’t be thinking to yourself, “Man, I should have played that video game more.” Violent video games—and really any type of video game—are a distraction from what you really should be trying to work toward in life, which is getting good grades in school, making friends, getting into an intimate relationship, having your dream job, and having a family. Video games really are just another barrier to what we’re all trying to get to, which is a happy life. If you are going to play video games, then play sports games, racing games, and superhero games. Don’t be like everyone else and play violent video games, because you may regret it in the long run.
Looking back on all this, I realize that Quakerism is a huge part of my life, and it has made me a better person because of it. My experience with violent video games during the gaming elective made me stop and think about games like those with a Star Wars theme. In reality, there are no “good guys” or “bad guys,” just human beings. Whether it’s death by gun or by lightsaber, is killing in a video game ever justified? As a Quaker, I believe there’s good in everyone. I’m not sure how all of this fits in with my love of Star Wars. I don’t play it very often, but the next time I do, I’ll have a different perspective on those lightsaber battles.
My week of playing violent video games was very hard for me, but I learned valuable life lessons from it. Peace is a Quaker value for a reason.