Two weeks ago I penned a bit on the game Five Nights at Freddy's, the viral video game phenomenon that's captured the imagination of modern children. It's a simple game, a game which creates artificial stress, triggering the gamer’s survival instincts. It employs fear, misdirection, implied violence, and jump scare tactics to suck the gamer deeper into the Five Nights' world. And the Five Nights' world is a dark world indeed. I won't recap the plot of the game in its entirety (For more on the plot, CLICK HERE), but in general, the game challenges the player to survive the attacks of animatronic puppets during the night-guard shift at a spooky pizzeria. What gives with the animatronic puppets? They're characters in a complex narrative involving a child predator and a series of grizzly murders.
It sounds like good, wholesome, family entertainment that any child-development psychologist would recommend--right?
The Five Nights' characters have become the stuff of urban legend at elementary schools across the country. Though my children have never played the game, the playground stories leave them in sleepless fits on some nights. And it's not just my children. Parent after parent has reached out to me over the last two weeks, and told me their children are terrified of the game. What's more, two child psychologists have sent word that Five Nights is a frequent topic of conversation in their pediatric therapy sessions.
Over the last two weeks, I've been considering the response to that original piece. I've been thanked. I've been accused of fear-mongering and handwringing. The response has been varied and dramatic. Of course it has. This is the internet. But today, I'm writing this piece as a point of clarification. This isn't all about video games and entertainment, see. The video games and entertainment are simply a vehicle for exploring the greater issue--the interaction between the marketplace and the soul.
In "Have We Become Addicted to Violence," an article written for Psychology Today, Dr. Diane Dreher discusses the how violent and fear-driven media has affected our children. She cites studies showing that our children spend 40 hours per week watching violent television and movies, and playing violent video games. It's a steady diet, and as our children consume, consume, consume, their brains normalize the darkness.
In a process known as “social modeling,” psychologist Albert Bandura found that we learn our values and behavior from the people around us (2003). Social modeling includes our cultural memes: what we watch and read, even the games we play.
Our technological gadgets are ingenious, ubiquitous--and incredibly addictive, according to neuroscientist Robert Numan (2014). Many of them model behavior on screen that would be diagnosed as pathological. (Citation.)
Dresser concludes that when the evidence is considered, some psychologists are coming to the common-sense conclusion. The entertainment digested by our children has, in fact, "led children to imitate in real life the sadism they see on screen."
Does this sound like fear-mongering and needless handwringing to you? [tweetherder text="For those of you who might be unpersuaded, allow me to remind you, psychology is science."]For those of you who might be unpersuaded, allow me to remind you--psychology is science.[/tweetherder]
The Marketplace of Misdirection and Addiction
These days, it's a forgone conclusion that cigarettes cause cancer. Science has done the work. The evidence is clear. And yet, between the 1930s and 1960s, cigarettes were marketed as harmless, hip, and cool. In fact, in the 1940s a Camel cigarette commercial boasted, "[m]ore doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette."
Eventually, scientific research caught the cigarette marketing-machine by the tail and exposed the truth. Cigarettes were killing us.
The market, see, makes a habit of promising harmless addiction. It conditions us to believe that the vice of the day is normal, fun, and cool. It tells us that there is no scientific evidence proving harm from habit-X to the consumer. The market equates the absence of harmful evidence with a positive affirmation of the behavior. And lest there be any doubt, the market coopts the very specialists who should be opposed to any given addiction--e.g., the doctor to the cigarette--and uses them to affirm the addictive behavior.
"What does this have to do with fear-filled and violent television, movies, and video games?" you ask. I look at the normalization of fear and violence in our present society, and wonder how the "40 hours per week watching violent television and movies, and playing violent video games," is not a contributing factor to the pathological sickness of our day. Perhaps there's not a great deal of evidence suggesting a correlation today, but there's beginning to be more. As a pediatrician informed me last week, "scientific research moves more slowly than we'd like, but it will prove what the pediatricians already anecdotally know--violent entertainment is contributing to the fear-filled and violent behavior of our children."
I think we're in the early stages of studies relating to the effects of entertainment on our children, and I earnestly believe those studies will show what many intuitively know. We'll see how we bought the marketing materials, how we allowed our children to take the option of easy entertainment at the expense of their generation's long-term health. We'll see how we were duped by the slick salesmen and fancy advertisements. We were used.
[tweetherder text="We have made the mistakes of our fathers, only with different addictions."]We've made our father's mistakes, just with a different addiction.[/tweetherder]
This brings me to the broader concern. It's not a so much about the perils of entertainment as it is about the perils of the marketplace. We eat the pills they push, wash them down with the poisoned Kool-Aid. We've asked too few questions, trusted that the market tells us too few lies. We go blithely, consuming the next great addiction pushed by profiteers. And when we discover the market's mendacity, we shift to the next addiction waiting in the wings.
To make matters worse, the market takes great effort to bypass the parent these days. It hopes to get straight into the hands of the children--the easiest of all manipulations. It sneaks into their mobile devices and the advertisers notify them of the coolest, hippest, newest, basest addiction. Market fear and reap a reward--this is the market's motto.
What does it say when we allow the suicide marketing machine to infiltrate our own homes, to so normalize fear and violence that our pre-adolescents are too acquainted with the darkness of the human condition? When we fail to act on our intuition--avoid violence and fear--and instead bend to the will of the market--buy violence and fear--are we forfeiting a necessary part of our humanity? Are we forfeiting a part of our souls?
The pimps of profit-motive are reckless. They are mendacious. They systemically barter blips and bits for your parts of your Godward intuition. It's a racket, see.
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