(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 6 January 2003.)
'FORWARD COMMAND Post,' 'Burnout 2: Point of Impact', and 'Grand Auto Theft', are amongst the most popular video games in the world.
In them are numerous acts of gratuitous violence, such as killing policemen, spectacular car crashes and gory murders. Having sex with prostitutes is another 'entertaining' feature. Such behaviour is 'taught' to any five-year-old exposed to these games. They thrill to the action, and for many of the young it spells freedom of expression. And yet this is not far removed from the sadism enacted by former 'TV star', the inimitable Freddie Kruger.
You may say that not all video games are violent. Well, that's true. But, a simple survey of available statistics shows that games incorporating brutality and destruction are by far the most popular.
A game is a game, but we have to question why the most popular ones include kids killing cops and bashing prostitutes to death? To my mind it confirms that we live in a society desensitised to human suffering - in the name of God, community or whatever.
The end rarely justifies the means. The Gita informs us that if we become overly attached to wanting anything, and if that desire goes unfulfilled, this is what leads to anger. And when anger overtakes us, our memories fog up, our hearts harden, and we cease to function rationally. It is at this point that we can commit unnecessarily violent acts, and this is one reason why society needs police protection. Violence is only permissible, say the wise, in extreme and exceptional circumstances, as when one's life is seriously threatened.
Many young people have lots of energy, but their high spirits and aggressive tendencies can be channelled in a positive way through activities like football, running, wrestling, cricket and weight-lifting.
Video games, like just about anything involving advanced technology, can be used for good purposes. A knife can be used therapeutically by a surgeon or viciously by a homicidal maniac.
If violence must be there, it can be used to show that goodwill ultimately triumph over evil - in all cases.
Beyond Star Wars? Maybe. If you'd want to write the script, I'd love to see it!
The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON governing body commission.