The Secret Child Soldiers of the West

Whatever happened to the internet’s virtual avatar Joseph Kony?  The 2012 multi-media internet campaign created and promoted by the group Invisible Children described itself as a movement seeking to end the conflict in Uganda and told the story of a former child soldier called Jacob.  The campaign caught the attention of people from all walks of life, but the media specifically focused on the righteous indignation and outrage expressed by celebrities (surprised?) and high profile community representatives.  The real life Joseph Kony is alive and well of course, still waging war with the help of child soldiers, mainly in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The former Catholic altar boy, who claims Divinity as well as being God’s spokesperson here on earth, has been fighting to install a government in Uganda based on the Bible’s Ten Commandments.  But that hasn’t happened, so for the time being Kony is still at large with his child soldiers while being wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). When his child soldiers are not fighting, they are usually high on drugs, and play violent video games. Reports suggest their life is tough and very dangerous. They are used to carry out highly dangerous tasks as message bearers and spies. Moreover, reports suggest that they are often used for sexual gratification by older soldiers.

There are several reasons why children are used as soldiers. Firstly, they are more docile and impressionable and easier to train. Secondly, during their training they have to kill and maim others. They do this willingly or have often been raised in violent circumstances or simply get a thrill out of the kill. Sometimes they are under the influence of narcotics. Finally, traumatised and fearing for their lives, they have gained a sense of belonging in a community whose only goal is to kill and maim others.

Adam Lanza was a child soldier. But he was a virtual child soldier. Before going on his killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary school, it is reported that Lanza spent hours playing a violent online video game- Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.  Since it was launched and made public this shockingly violent interactive multi-media program erroneously called a game, has grossed over $ 1Billion in sales. In its first 24 hours of release it managed sales in excess of $500 million dollars. So what’s this game all about? Essentially it is described as a First Shooter Video Game. That means the player has an assault weapon on their screen and they shoot as many people dead as he/she can. The so called kills are accompanied with explicit graphic detail of exploding heads and body parts, along with screaming obscenities. The enemies are of course of African, Latin American or European origin-so negative cultural stereotypes abound in the so called game.  The Examiner.com website released some astounding statistics about the game and it is worthwhile quoting here in full:

For about 3 weeks, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 has been in the hands of players. The numbers are booming and players have killed the world’s population of 7 billion people about two and a half times over, being totalled around 18 billion kills. Players have been playing for about 19,000 virtual years. Nearly 375 billion shots have been fired.

Of the 18 billion kills, 1.5 billion have been head shots, averaging out to eight percent of all fallen losing their head. Over 106 million gamers have been stabbed in the back…Call of Duty players have destroyed over 319 million cars. (Lake, A, 2012)

Family friendly stores like Toysrus sell the game alongside their cuddly toys and baby care items. While respectable, conservative online retailers like Amazon.com also market the game as one of their top selling items. It is estimated that over 11 million accounts have been set up to play the game, and among those 11 million accounts a high percentage of the players are in the 12-15 year old age group. Furthermore, online reviews suggest that children as young as 8 years old play the game. Here’s what some of the children have to say about the game:

Kid, 11; love it. it is on for ages 11 and up.

Kid, 12 years old

What the review fails to realize is that you can turn off the blood and cursing. The game is violent. Basically the games goal is to kill as much as possible. I mean I hear worse words at school.

Teen, 14 years old

This game might look bad in the review but you don’t really concentrate on an enemy once they’re already dead.

Kid 10 years old

Black Ops is good for 10 and older in my opinion. When you first go to the main menu, a message will pop up asking if you want to enable graphic content. If you do not want your kids to see blood, gore, or hear very bad language press no. Now the blood and gore will disappear and very dirty words such as f*** will be censored. The game should be fine under these settings. However, these settings do not apply in multiplayer and online. Only let your kids play with friends online because players can have very inappropriate conversations. Also, words such as da*n, he*l, and a**hole are used in the single player campaign and it can be too violent for younger viewers. Hope this helps!!!

Kid 11 years old

First of all. There is no specific “language filter.”  But there is a content reducer. It takes out F-Words, blood, and gore. If you play the game with the content filter, it is just like a rated T game i think. If you play without the filter, it is really profane. It has a lot; and I mean a lot of blood and language without it. It tells a really complicated story but it makes sense at the end. I guess it can be “educational” by showing all of these different places and etc… that had to do with the Cold war and such but its my opinion. The controls are very easy to pick up on. If you have played MW2, the controls are the exact same. In conclusion, it is a great game. If you are a fan of the series or not, you will like it

Kid 12 years old:

This is the best Call of Duty I have played, and not as violent as Modern Warfare 2. The violence is not very bad except for a scene where you shove glass down a man’s mouth and then punch him in the face. I got it the day it came out for my PS3. Get the game.

Kid 11 years old:

Can someone tell my parents in a comment that this game is just fine? They think that just because i play it i am going to go outside and shoot someone. That’s crazy. (Common Sense Media, 2011)

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is one of a series of graphically horrific, sadistic and violent interactive multi-media manipulative experiences, and while marketed as a game for older teenagers and adults they  specifically target the innocence of children as potential users.  Users engage in simulated war like activities in which avatar like enemies, more often than not racist stereotypes, have to be killed in extremis in order for the online user to score points or win. The most worrying aspect of these kinds of online interactive controlling programs is that children are being manipulated and conditioned into negative psychological thinking, disturbing behavioural patterns and aggressive attitudes.  For example that certain races are the enemy or that killing is an integral part of life’s experiences, or that being at war is a natural state of existence. This is subtle but effective social conditioning and programming at its worst. It is highly manipulative propaganda too, with the message that killing people is fine if you have a clear mission in mind and feel compelled to do so. In one particular interactive program Modern Warfare 2 a scene is set up in an airport, and the user infiltrates a terrorist group earning their trust. The objective is to kill every civilian in the airport then get out. The graphic visuals include unarmed people in an airport running for their lives while being shot down in cold blood.
According to the American Psychological Association, violent video games increase children’s aggression. They become conditioned to react in a strong negative way, rather than responding in a discerning way.  For example they could attack something, or be mean to another person for no particular reason other than gaining personal pleasure.  Also research suggests that there’s an increased frequency of violent responses from children who engage with these interactive multi-media programs. A more disturbing aspect to these programs too is that like the child soldiers in Uganda and the DRC these interactive programs do not teach moral accountability or responsibility or the importance of an ethical worldview. The children who engage with them are rewarded for creating suffering and maiming and killing, and according to some psychologists, they inturn adopt aggressive postures, language and attitudes as normal coping mechanism in everyday life.  There’s also well researched evidence which suggests that engaging with explicitly graphic violent multi-media programs correlates with children and young people being less caring, kind and helpful towards each other and others, and that should they become addicted to these interactive media, like their child-soldier counterparts in Africa, they need to undergo a significant period of deprogramming to return to a relatively normal state of being in which they are able to engage with more healthy and positive ways of relating to their peers and significant other people in their lives.
The media, parents, care-givers, schools and other social institutions which take on responsibility for the disseminating of knowledge and information, and the education and welfare of children seem conflicted. On the one hand they argue for creating a nurturing community of children and youths, who as  learners and civil citizens will embrace positive healthy personal and social values that will create functional and sustainable communities. Yet, they shift blame away from themselves for the actions of those in their communities who have been programmed and conditioned through interactive multi-media platforms, to enjoy creating death and mayhem through killing others.

It’s time for us to recognize and act on the truism that corporate culture appropriates the innocence of children, just like Joseph Kony. It is about time that groups like Invisble Children, along with other Child Safety Organisations  and the Education profession, recognize and understand how compliant, obedient children at home and at school , when left alone or with their peers, are vulnerable to the manipulation and powerful conditioning of violent, interactive multi-media platforms which masquerade as games and entertainment.

There’s a powerful argument which asserts that the real teachers of our children are not in our schools, universities, colleges, churches, or other supportive social institutions. They reside in the boardrooms and advertising agencies of the corporate world; with its hidden agenda of offering a violent and aggressive consumer culture to children.

What are disappearing are trustful, supportive and productive bonds between adults and children. These are being replaced by a culture of suspicion, and a social consciousness endorsed through mis-trust and negative interactive multi-media platforms where everyone is a potential enemy. A nihilist social discourse is replacing the once positive hopeful social narrative  that regardless of our culture, religious and political beliefs or indivdiual life styles, humanity in general is able to work towards peaceful co-existence.

References:

Common Sense Media. (2011, March 9). All teen and kid reviews for Call of Duty: Black Ops. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from Common Sense Media: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-reviews/call-of-duty-black-ops/user-reviews/kids

Lake, A. (2012, December 2). Call of Duty Black Ops 2 statistics and figures. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from examiner.com: http://www.examiner.com/article/call-of-duty-black-ops-2-statistics-and-figures

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