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Killing Monsters is good for you

Newly-installed Church of England Archbishop Rowan Williams, about whom I made a brief mention on the blog yesterday seems an opinionated fellow, but I don’t want to discuss his particular insights on the possible invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Afghanistan or other foreign points. What really piqued my interest was his broad condemnation of consumerism, particularly the use by young children of video games, such as those which feature violence.

By happy coincidence, I have started to read a fascinating new book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence by American comic book author and child psychologist Gerard Jones, who has written about how violent video games like Doom or Tomb Raider can in reality help children to master insecurities and fears of all kinds.

Jones explores the many fantasy games now on the market, the importance of superheroes in comics and television, ending with the broad conclusion that this stuff is essentially good for children rather than harmful. He points to the fact that during the 1990s, when such games became wildly popular in the United States, teenage violence decreased. Of course, some horrific school shootings prompted commentators to wonder whether video games were making youngsters more violent, but Jones’ book tends to weaken that argument quite strongly.

He even shows how comics, action hero films starring the likes of James Bond or Spiderman can in reality help children suffering from low self confidence become stronger, more assertive (in a good way), and better suited to coping with the inevitable difficulties of adulthood. In many ways the book is a re-working of the need for fantasy and make-believe in childhood development.

His analysis is light-years away from that of Archbishop Williams, and I would guess, from that of many mainstream commentators for whom video games are just another dread feature of global capitalism. For me, the profusion of amazing games and top-notch films are one its great glories.

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