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Bang! You're dead.
POSTED NOV 6, 2002


1. Anatomy of murders

2. The game room

3. Do so!

4. Do not!



"A thrilling first-person action game. Become a member of the world's premier land force, trained and equipped to achieve decisive victory -- anywhere. Earn the right to call yourself a Soldier, letting the enemies of freedom know that America's Army has arrived."

collage of images from 'America's Army' of soldiers and guns, plus image of American flag and Uncle Sam

Don't believe the buzz? Here's the buzz on America's Army from a defunct website (
Gaming Invasion: "... I found a new free vice to become addicted to. What is this amazing, free computer game you ask? Why, none other than the GOVERNMENT'S very own America's Army: Operations. I'll tell you, I had my doubts at first, considering the previous endeavors of the good ol'detail from the 'I  Want You' Uncle Sam posters US government (*cough* Vietnam and Panama *cough*), but Big Brother did not let me down on this one. In fact, AA:O is among the best militarily-based FPS [first-person shooter] games I have ever played. Did I mention it's free?""

The most dangerous game
The DC sniper killings are finally -- mercifully -- last week's headlines. But this question remains: Why are Americans so violent? Why is the murder rate in the United States many times higher than rates in Canada, Mexico or Western Europe?

Could part of the problem reside in entertainment that, like the movie Red Dragon, glamorizes murderers, even ritualistic serial killers? Could video games that put a virtual gun in your hands make you want to take up a real gun?

young woman with long hair, concentrated look on her face,  sits at a Mac, playing a video game. Caught in the rapture of a killing spree, a CounterStrike aficionado guards her flank, squeezing off brief, efficient bursts from her virtual fire stick.

It's only common sense to wonder. After all, the DC snipers quoted video-gamer lingo in their note: "I am God." And the two Columbine High School killers were obsessed with violent video games.

The best-selling video games are violent, and new entries are ratcheting up the gore in a lunge for market share.

And the audience for video games is growing. In 1999, the average boy aged 8 to 13 played for 7.5 hours a week, and 2.5 percent of college freshmen were playing at least 20 hours per week. Fifty-nine percent of girls, and 73 percent of boys reported in 1996 that their favorite games were violent.

The sound of bodies falling
The speculation about a link between virtual violence and actual mayhem reflects an older discussion about the real-world effects of violent movies and television. To hear some say it, public morals have been sliding since the Hoover Administration, and media of all sorts are to blame.

That may be hyperbole, but as movies and video games grow ever more graphic and gory, as sadists and superheroes alike are glamorized in ever higher technology, is it just simple conservative hand-wringing to wonder how this stuff affects kids?

collage of soldiers from combat game, with US flag in background

Fifty years ago, the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" painted a disturbing word-portrait of a man-hunt. Today, hunting humans is as close as the nearest video game -- and they are growing more realistic with each passing year.

Ready for a visit to the video-game parlor? A "first-person-shooter" game has your name on it.



  The Why Files  

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Terry Devitt, editor; Sarah Goforth, project assistant; S.V. Medaris, designer/illustrator; David Tenenbaum, feature writer; Amy Toburen, content development executive

©2002, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.