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July 14, 2005



I'd suggest you consider the possibility that the problem isn't with your engoyment of football but with your dismissal of video games. When you say

I don't want to dominate or humiliate him; our competition is a friendly rivalry. Deep friendship -- even love -- can comfortably co-exist with a real desire to defeat the very person one loves in a game or athletic competition. (If you grew up in my family playing croquet, dominoes, bridge, or table tennis, you'd know that in a heartbeat.) I don't see how that correlates to killing fantasy characters in a video game.

It seems, with respect, a bit obtuse. The correlation, of course, is when you compete directly against your friends in a video game. This can be a competitive bonding experience of the sort you discuss. I've seen it; I've experienced it to some degree. I also find some of the more extreme violence in some video games troubling, but that issue is orthogonal to the question of whether it can be the sort of positive competitive bonding agent you discuss.

We all tend to generalize from our own experience. I guess since a few of my friends who are exceedingly mild-mannered and have never raised a fist in anger have played violent video games all their lives, I'm skeptical about a strong, generalized connection of the sort you see. It's not a fantasy world for them, it's a contest of skill. They'll reject a violent video game for a (relatively) non-violent one if the quality of gameplay is better.


Here, DJW, is where I do have to plead my ignorance. I don't know much about video games, and was until recently convinced that it was an inherently solitary activity. I don't doubt that the bonding you describe is genuine. The athlete in me still wants to make sure that teens get their cardio-vascular exercise, but I am learning not to be so dismissive of video games.

On the other hand, I cannot believe that shooting games of the arcade variety have no impact on the inner emotional terrain of those who play them regularly.


The games I used to play were home games, played on some precursor of the modern X-box (I never paid any attention to the hardware, they all belonged to my roommates). In the racing and sneak-around-and-try to shoot-people games, the TV gets divided up into 4 screens, one for each player's POV. Modern technology allows for the syncing up of multiple TVs; a friend of mine hosts parties for 16 this way, where 16 people are all playing at the same time. It's much more fertile ground for social bonding than, for example, the other things you do with TVs. Many-perhaps most-arcade games have multiplayer modes, or at least they used to.

Agreed on exercise. I'm skeptical enough on the concerns about violence to think that this is a much more serious concern.


In yesterday's violent fantasy post, you said this:

Porn offers the viewer the fantasy of consequence-free sex; the games offer the player consequence-free violenc.

I think it's the existence of consequences in sports that differentiate them from violent video games. There are rules and officials and penalties and players' respect for each other that prevent the match from devolving into chaos. The fact that you are playing with real people inherently limits the extent of the violence. And I should note that violence if it happens is generally accidental, not intentional. Perhaps this is a distinction of degree, and not in essence, but it is a distinction nonetheless.

For what it's worth, I prefer the sports where the rules that do exist place stricter boundaries on the injuries that can occur (basketball, soccer, tennis) and have a great distaste for those in which beating one another up goes without saying (boxing, hockey).

Thea DeGroot

The church I grew up in did not consider itself pacifist, but they did try to draw a distinction between sports. My Christian high school did not have football; we had soccer. Basketball was the big deal sport. Homecoming happened during the basketball season.

There have been studies that showed watching violence on television caused more aggressive behavior in young children. Young children have fewer layers of socialization to counteract violent images. Old folks have more. But I would say that there are still affects even in older folks. Pacifists talk about building pacifist instincts so that when confronted by a difficult situation your instinct is to choose a non-violent/non-aggressive path. Instincts are built over the long haul. It comes through choosing peace in many, many situations. I think our entertainment is included in this effort.

I don’t think we are so simply wired that an experience with violent entertainment will immediately result in a violent action. But anyone who has trained their body, for music or sports, or other coordination skills will tell you that instinct is built through repetition. If someone is constantly feeding themselves through violent entertainment, when faced with a difficult situation what will their instinct be? A gamer may just instinctively reach for a joy-stick to zap their attacker.

Thea DeGroot

I'm going to break the cardinal rule in humour and try that last line again:

A gamer may very well INSTINCTIVELY . . . reach for a joy-stick to zap their attacker :-)


I'm a huge football fan (I root wildly for the Green Bay Packers, and have been fortunate enough to attend three games at Lambeau over the last few years) so I'm fascinated by your notion that American football is necessarily problematic for pacifists.

It's my sense that the men who play the game love it, and I'm not sure it's fair to argue that they shouldn't engage in the sport they've chosen. To be sure, some young men are injured before their careers can properly begin; others may play for problematic reasons (the scholarship is the only way to get through school, e.g.). But on the whole I don't feel that I understand the players' mindset well enough to judge whether or not playing football is good for them.

But the football-fan mindset is familiar to me, so that's the one I want to speak to. Allow me to suggest that there's a difference between cheering when a skillful play is executed well (even if that play is a tackle or a sack), and cheering when an opposing team member is injured. The former is healthy; the latter is disgusting.

Is football a violent game? Absolutely. Playing it involves risk, and the men who do it know that. To my mind, it's okay and even good to get caught up in the joy of watching the sport...as long as we don't allow our immersion in the competition to blunt our humanity to the point where we forget that these are human beings, who deserve our silence and our compassion if they're injured on the field.

Christopher Bernard

have you read Bonhoeffer's Ethics? just think you would enjoy it.


Rachel, I've struggled around that issue of "rooting for injuries" for years.

True, ugly story about me: it was 1990, as I recall, and I was at the Cal-USC game at the Coliseum (which ended in a tie, the last tie game in Cal Golden Bear history). After an SC score, "Traveler", the SC mascot (a horse) threw his rider, leaving the rider stunned and bleeding. HALF THE CAL SECTION INSTINCTIVELY CHEERED -- ME AMONG THEM -- when we saw the rider go down. Once we saw he was hurt (he left on a stretcher, but his hand was raised in the Trojan salute), we quieted down and were more somber. But honestly, maybe I'm just a particularly sinful man, but it's sometimes hard for me to get the blood lust out of my system. It's gotten easier to watch football as I've gotten older, I'm happy to say.

Chris, do I love Bonhoeffer! Son, I was readin' him 'fore youse was born! "Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die" and all that.



Great thoughts...we've been discussing some of this at bls' blog, The Topmost Apple on a slightly more tongue-in-cheek mode.


Slightly off topic, but I share one of Hugo's concerns. I don't play video games, but I am a huge hockey fan, and I'm aware that there is a major conflict between my feminism and my dislike of the culture that surrounds hockey. Hockey culture has a lot in common with football culture, and suffers from the same problems with sexual assault. During the current collective bargaining conflict, many players returned to Europe to play there. Within a few months 2 were arrested in Sweden for rape. My first thought was to wonder how many times they had done the same thing in the US or Canada and just not been arrested (kudos to the Swedes on this one, they have better rape laws than we do). There is also a pervasive culture of sexual harrassment at hockey games, so pervasive that I won't go to games without a male escort. How does one reconcile one's political and personal beliefs with a sport that one loves but that is surrounded by a toxic subculture? Should I feel guilty for contributing financially to the continuation of this subculture through ticket sales, buying jerseys etc?
I'd love to hear more thoughts from Hugo about this (or from any other feminists on the board, or even women in general - I know we have at least 2 Texans here so I know they know football).


I don't know much about video games

Often in error, never in doubt, eh? ;)

Joe Perez

You concluded:
"Fantasy is not without its redemptive purposes, but when it is about sexual conquest or violent destruction, it is, I think, at odds with what it means to live an authentically Christian life."

I've never agreed with you Hugo on pornography, so I'm not with you on fantasy either. Here are some rambling stream of consciousness thoughts about your post. I think what you say about fantasy is true on one level. Refusing to indulge in fantasies that are psychologically or spiritually harmful is probably a good thing for most people most of the time. Pedophile rapists, for example, should probably not be encouraged to cultivate an active fantasy life. But for most people, fantasy simply doesn't have the harmful consequences you think it does. Only your philosophical and theological judgments make fantasy "wrong," and therefore you want to cut it out, or repress the offensive fantasy. Your judgments, however, are only valid on one level of thinking about fantasy: the moralist's. Moralizing about fantasy is one legitimate function, but it's not a very complete picture of what constitutes human flourishing. Go deeper into "fantasy is not without its redemptive purposes" and there you will have a litany of reasons not to oppose or get overly moralistic about pornography or fantasy. The distinctions you make between pornography and erotica (one is good, the other is bad, guess which) strike me as strained ... but then I don't buy the whole "objectification" crapola argument either. If using pornography makes you feel guilty, don't do it. But that doesn't make porn bad, except in your mind. Porn is just another human cultural invention like any other, with a whole host of good and bad and in-between qualities. It can be used for a whole spectrum of purposes from those very low in developmental maturity to very highly mature purposes; and purposes from low to high can all be valid for persons at different times and places. Even saints can need to look at a hunky jock or a buxom lass to get off now and then, and no there's nothing wrong with that, IMAJ. It may not be the highest or most noble or most selfless (what's so damn wrong with selfishness anyways?) act imaginable. Serving soup to the homeless would probably be more dignified. But there are few things more human.

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There have been studies that showed watching violence on television caused more aggressive behavior in young children. Young children have fewer layers of socialization to counteract violent images. Old folks have more. But I would say that there are still affects even in older folks.


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