REVIEW: Killing Monsters

I recently finished reading another book from the 50 Boooks For Everyone In The Game Industry [link gone] list.

Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence caught my attention when I saw it on the list. My first degree was in psychology and I was especially interested in social psychology, understanding societal influences and how groups think. Media plays a huge role in our society and without a doubt they influence our perceptions.

I’ve never believed the whole idea that violent video games make violent people. But every time there’s a school shooting, that idea always makes an appearance in the news stories. Violence is scary and it’d be great if we could find the cause of that effect, especially if it were something we could control or better yet eliminate. Video games are an easy target for obvious reason, but they may not be the right one.

Killing Monsters doesn’t just cover video games though, they really only make up a small portion of what’s covered in the book. Movies and TV are given most of the focus, while toys cover the rest. Pokemon, Power Rangers and toy guns have frightened recent generations of parents. Many have banned those things entirely from their homes in hopes that the absence of violent influences from their children’s lives will prevent the children from growing up violent.

But the stance that the author takes is that it’s not about playing out psychotically murderous fantasies, it’s about playing with power in a way that you can’t in real life. If a child doesn’t understand how be powerful during playtime, how can they handle being in a powerful position as an adult? If adults fear a child’s fantasy world, who has the harder time distinguishing between fantasy and reality; the parents or the child?

Everyone gets angry and frustrated. Everyone wants to feel like they’re in control. Through play we start to learn the boundaries of what’s ok and what isn’t when dealing with those issues. Being told we can’t play with those kinds of emotions tells us that that side of us isn’t ok. We have to hide those things. And if we feel anger or frustration or controlling, something is wrong with us. But when we’re able to play with those, we can accept the whole, good and bad. And, given the proper guidance, we can learn our boundaries (and those of others) and improve our reactions in situations that test those emotions.

It’s a pretty fascinating book and it’s really affected my view on what’s ok for kids in terms of make-believe violence. After all, it’s make-believe.