How Video Games Can Help - And Hurt - Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)

Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)

How Video Games Can Help - And Hurt

One day, not too long ago I woke up and came to a startling realization… that I am getting old, and with that age comes a degree of yearning for the days of my youth.

The array of entertainment options available to our children today is completely mind-boggling. There are so many choices that simple choosing an activity can occupy a great deal of a child’s time. We certainly didn’t have that problem.

If it was at all reasonable weather outside (meaning that if left to our own devices we were unlikely to freeze to death, contract heatstroke), we were expected to be outside and occupying ourselves. Indoor activities were rather limited, as cable television was new and novel, and it was a rare home that had it. I believe we were rather fortunate to live within a reasonable distance to a larger metropolitan area in that we had as many as 10 different television channels, depending on the weather. When forced indoors by weather or darkness, we needed a means to entertain ourselves.

As a child, board games were a large and important source of entertainment for my family, but none so much as checkers and chess.

It has always been thought that chess was a “Thinking Man’s Game.” Benjamin Franklin said, in “The Morals of Chess” (1779): “We learn by chess the habit of not being discouraged by present appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favorable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety of turns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hopes of victory from our own skill, or at least of getting a stalemate from the negligence of our adversary …”

Chess required planning, forethought, patience and strategy - much like today’s video games.

Video games used to be rather simple compared to today, and you had to go to an arcade to play them.

What was chess back then? Very simply, it was an enjoyable recreational pastime/game that required planning, forethought, patience and strategy that was played by a large number of people in the country. Does anything about that sound familiar?

Now, way back when I was a child, there was an amazing and wondrous device that was introduced to the world. It was called a “video game” and you had to go someplace called an “arcade” that had a bunch of them together in one room that was a cacophony of sounds, sugar-hyped youth and flashing lights, and they required you to stuff quarters into them in order to play.

Not too long after that, a home-based game was introduced - the Atari 2600. It was not fancy by today’s standards, but with games like “Space Invaders,” “Pong,” “Asteroids” and “Tank,” they were highly addictive to my generation’s youth.

I feel fortunate, now, that my parents did not deign to own any of these devices, and many of my friends’ parents felt similarly. Unfortunately, childhood has been drastically altered since. Video games (and especially first-person shooter games) have become today’s chess.

There are also those (sometimes including me) who believe that video games are a detriment to the development of a child. As with all things in life, it is likely the case that moderation is key. As for the effects video games can have on introducing a child to firearms, they have their positives and their negatives.


At least in several areas, according to a study published in “American Psychologist,” the journal of the American Psychological Association (APA), in January of 2014. It concludes: “Playing video games, including violent shooter games, may boost children’s learning, health and social skills.”

The study comes out as debate continues among psychologists and other health professionals regarding the effects of violent media on youth. An APA task force is conducting a comprehensive review of research on violence in video games and interactive media and will release its findings later this year.

“Important research has already been conducted for decades on the negative effects of gaming, including addiction, depression and aggression, and we are certainly not suggesting that this should be ignored,” says Isabela Granic, PhD, of Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands, lead author of the article. “However, to understand the impact of video games on children’s and adolescents’ development, a more balanced perspective is needed.

“While one widely held view maintains that playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, (emphasis mine) according to several studies reviewed in the article. This is particularly true for shooter video games, which are often violent, the authors found. A 2013 meta-analysis found that playing shooter video games improved a player’s capacity to think about objects in three dimensions just as well as academic courses designed to enhance these same skills, according to the study.” (emphasis mine)

“This has critical implications for education and career development, as previous research has established the power of spatial skills for achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Granic says.

This enhanced thinking was not found when playing other types of video games, such as puzzles or role-playing games.

Playing video games may also help children develop problem-solving skills, the authors said. The more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, such as role-playing games, the more they improved in problem solving and school grades the following year, according to a long-term study published in 2013. Children’s creativity was also enhanced by playing any kind of video game, including violent games, but not when the children used other forms of technology, such as a computer or cell phone, other research revealed.

Simple games that are easy to access and can be played quickly, such as “Angry Birds,” can improve players’ moods, promote relaxation and ward off anxiety, the study said. “If playing video games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider,” said Granic. The authors also highlighted the possibility that video games are effective tools for learning resilience in the face of failure. By learning to cope with ongoing failures in games, the authors suggest that children build emotional resilience they can rely upon in their everyday lives.

Another stereotype the research challenges is the socially isolated gamer. More than 70 percent of gamers play with a friend, and millions of people worldwide participate in massive virtual worlds through video games such as “Farmville” and “World of Warcraft,” the article noted. Multiplayer games become virtual social communities, where decisions need to be made quickly about whom to trust or reject and how to lead a group, the authors said. People who play video games, even if they are violent, that encourage cooperation are more likely to be helpful to others while gaming than those who play the same games competitively, a 2011 study found.

So, to the dismay of many in my generation, limited and controlled video game play, and especially involvement in multi-player, first-person shooter games, can be good.

Video games can also help build a great deal of hand-eye coordination, which, coincidentally, is an essential skill to be a good shooter.

That very first game that was introduced, the Atari 2600, had a joystick with a single button on it. It also had a paddle, which was a dial to be used with the tennis and pong games. They were, by today’s standards, very simple.

Today’s newest game systems and the games they play on them require a great deal more skill and coordination. The average video game controller has eight to 10 different buttons and two separate joysticks manipulated with fingers. Pushing buttons and moving the separate joysticks in coordinated orders and motions have an effect on the play of the game. It is actually rather fascinating.

Video games today are played in three dimensions, with the ability to look around in a first person perspective. The relationship to shooting is simple… good hand eye coordination equals a better shooter. A better “natural” shooter makes for a positive initial experience.


Another benefit of video games is that many of them contain firearms as part of the game. These firearms are usually based upon actual firearms in use over time.

For example, in a World War II military game, the weaponry includes the M1 Garand, the Colt 1911 .45 ACP and even the Mosin Nagant Japanese bolt-action rifle.

One of the most popular games on the market today, “Call of Duty,” includes numerous weapons with which the avid participants become highly familiar, including the Remington Model 700 .308 (the most popular sniper rifle in the world); the Beretta M9; various AR-15 platforms; the venerable AK-47 and many, many more…

These games are what are referred to as first-person shooter games. The entire game is played from the perspective of a person walking through the gaming area, in complete three-dimensional realism. So, how is this good?

Each weapon requires the player to aim in order to fire. There are different sight pictures for each different type of weapon. This includes telescopic sights with crosshairs, ghost ring-type sights, holographic sights, shotgun bead-style sights, and the common front post/rear groove sight.

I find that when I am introducing firearms to children who have played these games, they already have a basic knowledge of things like sight picture and how to aim and shoot. That, combined with the increased hand eye coordination abilities, can make for a positive overall experience.

Finally, when interacting with these avid gamers, I find that a lot of them know the exact type of weapon we are shooting or using for demonstration.

Many of them even know brand names that are commonly associated with the type of weapon we are using. For example, I was introducing some children to shooting an AR-15, and one of them asked me if it was an “ArmaLite,” and did I have an Eotech holographic sight to try?

These children also experience a strong desire to try shooting.


I believe that there are several glaring negatives to video games when it comes to their effect on youth and introducing them to firearms.

First, and foremost, the cardinal rule of firearm safety is that you never, ever point a gun at anything you do not want to kill or destroy. These games all go entirely against that rule, and make children comfortable with taking a sight picture on a human being. I’m not a big fan of that.

Second, because of the familiarity that a lot of these kids have with some of the weapons in the game, it can make them overly confident in their ability to use and operate safely what is a dangerous and complicated device. Also not a good thing.

Have you ever thought about the massive amount of influence these games can have on a young child?

For example, this is what Wikipedia has to say about the most popular first-person shooter game, “Call of Duty”: “Call of Duty (commonly shortened to CoD) is a first-person and third-person shooter video game franchise. The series began on the PC, and later expanded to consoles and handhelds. Several spin-off games have also been released. The earlier games in the series are set primarily in World War II, including Call of Duty, Call of Duty 2, and Call of Duty 3. Beginning with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which is set in modern times, the series has shifted focus away from World War II. Modern Warfare (released November 2007) was followed by Call of Duty: World at War; and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Black Ops (released November 2010) takes place in the Cold War, while Modern Warfare 3 (released November 2011) takes place in a near-future setting. Black Ops II (released November 2012) takes place in the year 2025. Call of Duty: Ghosts was released in November 2013. In May 2014, Advanced Warfare was announced.

Overconfidence is not a good trait when learning firearms safety. Start with simple firearms and then move up to guns more complicated in components and actions.


On April 20, 1999, at approximately 11:19 a.m., Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both dressed in black trench coats, entered the school grounds and began shooting fellow students outside Columbine High School. They then moved inside the high school and began targeting random students and faculty. When it was all over, there were 12 students and a teacher dead, over twenty wounded, and both the community and the entire nation reacted in shock.

When the tragedy in Columbine, Colorado, occurred, the two youth involved were said to have learned how to use and become enamored by firearms from playing hours and hours of violent, first-person shooter games. I can’t help but wonder, would things have been different if they were taught respect and safe handling of firearms?

“As of November 11, 2011, the Call of Duty series had sold over 100 million copies. (emphasis mine) As of March 31, 2012, there are 40 million monthly active players across all of the Call of Duty titles, with 10 million users of the online service Call of Duty: Elite and two million paying annual members. Over 1.6 billion hours of online gameplay have been logged on Modern Warfare 3 since its 2011 release. Sales of all Call of Duty games topped US$10 billion, according to Activision.” (emphasis mine) Source:

40+ million kids play that game, cooperatively every month.

Finally, I find that children who are heavy users and players of video games tend to spend the vast majority of their free time in front of a television set playing games and being hyperstimulated for, sometimes, hours on end. This tends to give them a short attention span (something that makes teaching a bit more difficult - just ask any grammar school teacher) and much more focused on indoor, sedentary activities than outdoor, active activities. I don’t think this is a good thing.

Whether or not your child owns video games, and where and how often they play, is up to you as a parent. There are clear benefits to moderate use, but it seems evident that there is a detriment to children from the heavy use of video games.