Statement of Lt Col Gave Grossman

Before the New York State Legislature
October 1999

I am Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army, (Retired). My expertise in the area of human aggression and violence includes service as a West Point psychology professor, a professor of military science, the author of a Pulitzer nominated book and numerous peer reviewed encyclopedia entries on this topic. More information concerning my credentials is outlined in the enclosed bio and CV.

It is my professional opinion, and it is the opinion of major experts in this area (such as the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the American Academy of Mental Health, and the Surgeon General), based on extensive research, that violent video games are harmful to children. Legislation to rate these games, and enforcement of the ratings in order to keep the violent games out of the hands of children, is essential to the safety and security of the population of New York. The games that permit a child to hold and aim a gun, and fire it at humans, are particularly harmful, since these devices teach shooting skills. They are firearms training devices at best, and murder simulators at worst. 

Media violence overview

The AMA, the APA, NIMH, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Surgeon General, and the United Nations (UNESCO) have all made definitive statements about the relationship between childhood exposure to visual violent images and later manifestation of real world aggression and violent criminal acts. (A chronology of key findings and statements on media violence is enclosed.) The impact of visual, violent imagery on children has been identified as the key variable responsible for an explosion of violent crime around the world. The per capita aggravated assault rate in the U.S. increased almost sevenfold between the mid-1950s and the middle of this decade. In Canada per capita assaults increased almost fivefold between 1964 and 1993. Between 1977 and 1993, the per capita assault rate increased nearly fivefold in Norway and Greece. In Australia and New Zealand the per capita assault rate increased approximately fourfold, tripled in Sweden, and approximately doubled in: Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands, and Scotland. The common denominator in all these nations is the influence of media violence on children.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has definitively concluded that "...long-term childhood exposure to TV is a causal factor behind approximately one-half of the homicides committed in the U.S., or approximately 10,000 homicides committed annually," and that "...if, hypothetically, TV technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the U.S." (June 10th, 1992 issue of JAMA, a copy is enclosed.) One major, longitudinal study of 875 children conducted across 22 years (Eron & Huesmann, 1984), determined, at the .001 level of statistical significance (.05 is considered statistically significant by even the most rigorous scientific standards), that the amount of TV watched at age 8 was the single greatest predictor of criminal acts committed by age 30.

In this study, the "seriousness" of adult criminal acts of males who had a "high" frequency of TV viewing at age 8, was approximately 4 to 5 times higher than those with a "low" frequency of TV viewing. Every one of these major authorities agrees that all the data on media violence immediately transfers to violent video games. To argue otherwise is like arguing that the data on cigarettes does not apply to cigars. In the realm of violent video games, in addition to the data on the impact of visual, violent images on children, there is now approximately 50 years worth of research indicating the value of simulators in "programming" or "conditioning" a set of responses in individuals. Everything from fire drills to airline pilots' use of flight simulators are based upon the research in simulations. Such research has led to the military making extensive use of such simulation to enable soldiers to pull the trigger and to shoot accurately in combat. 

Case study

The classic case of the influence of video games can be found in the Paducah, Kentucky, school shooting. I served as a consultant in this case, and my understanding of the facts, based upon official records, is that...

Michael Carneal, a 14-year old boy who had never fired a handgun before, stole a pistol, fired a few practice shots the night before and came into his school the next morning with the gun. In this case 8 shots were apparently fired, for 8 hits--4 of them head shots, one neck, and 3 upper torso. This is simply astounding, unprecedented marksmanship, especially when it comes from a child who apparently had never fired a real pistol in his life (prior to stealing the gun) and had only fired a .22 caliber rifle once at a summer camp.

I am an Army Ranger, "expert" qualified on all major U.S. small arms and many NATO weapons, an instructor for: the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers (ASLET); the International Association Society of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Emergency Response Teams; the California Highway Patrol Academy; and numerous other state patrol academies. I have fired many tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, and even with all of this I sincerely doubt that I could have fired as accurately under these circumstances. Indeed, I have never heard of anything remotely like this in its degree of deadly accuracy under these circumstances. The Illinois Highway Patrol in an assessment of the accuracy of their officers across several years found that the average officer, in the average engagement, at the average distance of 23 feet, hit with 13% of the rounds fired. In the Amadu Dialo shooting in New York City, four members of an elite NYPD unit fired 41 rounds at an unarmed African immigrant, at point-blank range, and hit 19 times. That is the norm, even in the best of conditions, among trained, professional law enforcement officers. In the recent Jewish daycare center shootings in Los Angeles, the shooter is reported to have fired 70 shots, and wounded 5 individuals. This is what should be expected from an untrained shooter.

I trained a battalion of Green Berets, the Texas Rangers, the California Highway Patrol, the Australian Federal Police, and numerous other elite military and law enforcement organizations, and when I told them of Michael Carneal's achievement they were simply amazed. Nowhere in the annals of military or law enforcement or criminal history can any of us find an equivalent achievement, and this from a 14-year old boy with no previous experience in firing a handgun. Michael Carneal had never fired an actual pistol before, but he had fired thousands of bullets in the video game "murder simulators." His superhuman accuracy, combined with the fact that he "stood still," firing two-handed, not wavering far to the left or far to the right in his shooting "field," and firing only one shot at each target, are all behaviors that are completely unnatural to either trained or "native" shooters, behaviors that could only have been learned in a video game.

It is not natural to fire one shot at every target. The normal, near universal response of anyone with a semiautomatic weapon, in combat or while hunting, is to fire at a target until it drops, and then to move on to another target. But, if you are very, very good at video games, you will only fire one shot at every target, not even waiting for that target to drop before moving on to another target, because you "know" (from countless thousands of previous repetitions of the action) that you have hit and you "know" that the target will fall when it is hit with no need to waste time shooting it further. (Some games do not use the one-shot-one-kill model, but many, if not most, do.)

As a player in the video game your goal is simply to rack up the highest "score" as quickly as possible. And, many of the video games (such as "House of the Dead," "Goldeneye," or "Turok") give bonus effects for head shots. This is reinforced by Michael Carneal's "blank and passive" facial expression, and his report that it was all "like a dream" which are common reactions of someone who is in the "flow state" associated with completing an operantly conditioned response under a stressful situation: like children in a fire drill, or an expert typist finding the next key. These kind of video games provide the "motor reflexes" responsible for over 75% of the firing on the modern battlefield. In addition, they provide violent suggestions and reinforcement for violent behavior. (The application of this to the military is outlined in my book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. This book was nominated for the Pulitzer prize for nonfiction in 1995, has been translated into Japanese and Italian, and is currently being used as a standard text in numerous universities and academies, to include West Point, and the California Highway Patrol Academy.)

I have reviewed these conclusions with other experts in the field of law enforcement marksmanship training. Based upon my communications with them, the heads of the three major national and international law enforcement training organizations (IALEFI, ASLET and PPCT) have all concurred with these conclusions, and they have told me that they would be willing to serve (pro bono) as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of these games. Certainly, if the information I received is correct, no firearms expert can deny the extraordinary marksmanship achievement in the Michael Carneal case (and many others like it), and that the influence of video games is the only possible explanation for that aspect of this tragedy.

The case against video games

Based upon research outlined in my book, On Killing, President Clinton stated in his national radio address on April 24, 1999, following the Littleton shootings that: "A former Lieutenant Colonel and psychologist, Professor David Grossman, has said that these games teach young people to kill with all the precision of a military training program, but none of the character training that goes along with it. For children who get the right training at home and who have the ability to distinguish between real and unreal consequences, they're still games. But for children who are especially vulnerable to the lure of violence, they can be far more." The President's conclusions are completely correct. The U.S. Army has taken the basic Super Nintendo, replaced the plastic pistol with a plastic M-16, modified the targets that appear on the screen, and this device (known as the Multipurpose Arcade Combat Simulator (MACS)) is used extensively for military marksmanship training. Similarly, the U.S. Marine Corps has licensed the basic "first person shooter" game "Doom," and is using it to train their combat fire teams in tactics and to rehearse (or "script") combat actions of killing. (Some claim that the Marines only use it to develop teamwork, but if that was the desire they could use flag football; the Marines' goal is to develop teamwork in killing.

The video game industry cannot market these devices to the military to train individuals whose job it is to kill, and then claim that they have no expectation that such devices would be potentially harmful when marketed to children. The video game industry blatantly markets their products as killing devices:

One advertisement, in a "gaming" magazine, for a joystick that gives feedback (thus you feel the recoil of a gun when you pull the trigger), says: "Psychiatrists say it is important to feel something when you kill."

  1. An ad for one video game says: "Kill your friends guilt free."
  2. Another ad for a home video game shooting system says: "More fun than shooting your neighbor's cat."
  3. Recent ads for "Quake II" (a follow-on to "Doom," by the same manufacturer) says: "We took what was killer, and made it mass murder."
  4. An ad for the same game has a picture of a corpse with a toe tag, saying: "He practiced on a PC." (Personal computer.)
  5. An ad for a Sony Playstation controller that gives feedback shows an old man and his wife, saying: "George Anderson, 64. Responsible for thousands of deaths and ruthless beatings, is about to discover how it feels."
  6. An ad for one Playstation game says: "Destroying your enemies is not must devour their souls."
  7. An ad for a networking kit says: "Gratuitous violence is 200 times faster with a D-Link Network."

Thus, the industry's own ads acknowledge that their products are "killer...mass murder...ruthless beatings...[and] gratuitous beatings." (Copies of these advertisements are enclosed.) The industry's own rating systems indicate that many of their games are inappropriate for children. Yet the industry has spent enormous sums of money fighting legislative initiatives designed to regulate the availability of their products to children. Imagine if the gun, tobacco, alcohol, or even the fireworks industry had rated and acknowledged their products as harmful to children, but then refused to accept regulation of the sale of their products to children. Furthermore, imagine if these industries had intentionally and irresponsibly marketed their products with advertisements clearly oriented toward children. If this were the situation, then these industries would arguably find themselves subject to even greater litigation and liability than is currently the case.

In a recent case, the book, Hit Man was used as a manual to commit a multiple murder. The family of the victims of this murder sued the publisher and author of this book. Based on my reading of the decision in that case (which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court), this case could be brought to trial because the book, Hit Man: taught criminal behavior, exhorted the reader to engage in criminal behavior, and then taught the reader to develop a blatant disregard for human life.

It is interesting to me to apply these same criteria to the video games:-The violent video games teach criminal behavior: i.e., shooting human beings, to include motor skills, aiming skills, target selection, and trigger control.

The video games and their advertisements exhort the reader to engage in criminal behavior while teaching blatant disregard for human life: being rewarded for harming and killing humans, and: "Kill your friends...More fun than shooting your neighbor's cat...Destroying your enemies is not must devour their souls."

The video game industry knows that their products are not for children, and they openly support and expect enforcement of the ratings on their products. In a current issue of PC Gamer Magazine (the industry's leading magazine), the game "Kingpin" is discussed. (This is a hyperviolent game in which the player leads a life of crime, killing, pimping and selling drugs, working up to a position of leadership.)

There are certain people who believe "Kingpin" crosses the line of good taste and shouldn't be in the hands of children or young teens. Those people would be absolutely right! If you see the game in the store, you'll notice a big yellow sticker across the front of the box stating the game was designed for mature audiences, and that you'll need an ID to prove you're old enough to buy it. (PC Gamer, Oct 99, "The Killing Box" pg 213.)

In other words, it is the responsibility of stores and society to enforce the industry's rating system. And they are right.In that same magazine there is a review of a new, hyperviolent game called Soldier of Fortune, in which the magazine says that:

Don't expect to be able to buy this one without a picture ID...It is inevitable that, given the recent controversy regarding violence in games, Soldier of Fortune will attract its share of flack...Raven is hoping to head at least some of the criticism off with ... warnings on the packaging. 'Raven's plan from day one was to make a game for mature audiences that would carry a mature ESBR rating,' says [the manufacturer]. 'When the rating has been established ... how can they criticize the game? If people don't take advantage of the tools we are providing, they're the ones opening themselves up to criticism.' (PC Gamer, Oct 99, pg 27.)

In other words, again, according to the industry, they are counting on us to enforce the ratings, if we do not enforce their ratings, we are to blame. And they are right. But the industry will oppose this legislation. They will claim that their rating and labeling system is enough to protect kids from the products that they themselves admit should not be in the hands of children, and they will oppose enforcement of their warning labels. This is simply offensive to the intelligence of the legislators and people of the great state of New York. Again, what would happen if the gun or tobacco or alcohol industry had tried to use that logic? I strongly support this legislation, and I sincerely believe that if it is not passed we will pay a tragic price in lives, just as surely as if we had failed to keep guns or alcohol or tobacco out of the hands of kids.

Respectfully submitted,

Dave Grossman
Lt. Col., U.S. Army (Ret.)
Director, Killology Research Group

CV and bio, Dave Grossman
Chronology of Findings on Media Violence
Journal of the American Medical Association, June 10th,
1992, article by Dr. Brandon Centerwall
Copies of video game advertisements.