A story on the front page of today's New York Times entitled "Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game," describes the fact that many pastors around the country are so desperate to attract teens to their churches that they are sponsoring events in which children sit around in groups playing the popular violent video game, Halo. The latest version, Halo 3, has exceeded $300 million in sales in just two weeks. The game is rated M, for mature audiences, which means you have to be 17 to buy it. And yet, young teenagers are participating in these sessions, which are often followed by a lesson involving church teachings. There has been some criticism of these policies, but many pastors seem to argue that children know that it's only pixels they are shooting, so they're confident that the trade-off is worth it.
Well, there's a great deal of research on the harmful effects of violent video games. Here's a link to Professor Craig Anderson's web site, where he discusses many of these findings and their implications. And the web site of the Center for Successful Parenting talks about the impact of playing violent video games on brain activity and has an archive of research on media violence. In addition, research on the effects of prosocial communication documents that trying to undo the strong audiovisual and interactive media messages of violence by giving verbal explanations after the fact is woefully inadequate. What these children are coming to church to learn is that violence is a great solution to conflict, that it's easy, exhilarating and risk free, and that the church endorses it! What are church leaders thinking? Isn't there any other way to attract kids? And if not, are they creating more problems than they know?