The Guilty Pleasures of Violence

Are we letting our video-game mentality toward violence, rather than a Catholic view, affect how we want to respond to real-world violence?

In November of 2007, the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released. I purchased the game on day one. As soon as I got home, I popped the game into the console and engaged in the entertaining fun of shooting and killing those the game had designated as the enemy. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the game world, but one level in particular was the highlight of the game for me and many others—judging by the numerous threads on gaming community websites. The level was called “Death from Above” and allowed the player to man the turret in an AC-130 gunship.  

The view from the plane is through a night vision scope, and the player is tasked with aiding their cohorts in escaping to an extraction point. As I sprayed the enemies with hundreds of rounds of bullets, the rumble of the controller in my hands and the sounds coming through my surround sound made me feel that I was actually engaged in the activity that the game was simulating—at least my idea of what doing something like that would be like. The adrenaline gets pumping, and the feeling of power and control is addictive. The thought that this was a simulation of killing people and destroying property was utterly lost on me and most gamers I knew. 

I played games like this for many years and participated in online “discussions” about whether or not using violence as entertainment could push people into real-life violence. I fell on the side of it not doing so for the average person, though I did recognize that for those among us who were dealing with mental issues, it could have a negative impact. Years later, after quitting gaming, I can see the effects of being entertained by destruction and violence in my own life and the world around me. The recent attack on Israel by Hamas and Israel’s military response brought all of this back to mind. 

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As soon as I heard about the attack, I went to YouTube and began watching videos. First, I listened to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak of the retaliation Israel was prepared to inflict on Hamas. This justified punishment for an unjust attack stirred up aggression in me. Then I began watching videos of the rocket volleys from Hamas and then videos of the pounding artillery and rocket response from Israel. 

Finally, I watched videos of angry protests and violence between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine folks. As I watched the aggression, I found myself thinking this was cool and then quickly having to remind myself that this was not cool. This violence is not a game or a movie where the reset button can be pressed and fake blood and special effects are used. This is real life. This is retaliation, punishment, hate of our enemy, and vengeance on full display. 

Though I had an inkling at the time I played COD that it was teaching me something, it’s taken me quite a while to understand that we are designed to be taught and molded throughout our lives—not just up until the magical ages of eighteen or twenty-one when we like to think our minds and hearts are fully formed and beyond any further influence. This is how our mighty God created us. Whatever we ingest becomes part of us. This is true when we ingest junk food or healthy food and when we ingest violence and vengeance or peace and forgiveness. 

The first thought I had when I heard about the heavy bombardment of Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks was, “Good! That’s what they get! You do people dirty, you get dirty back!” This response brought a feeling of pleasure and a kind of sick enjoyment. Thankfully, the next thought was, “Really? So, what do you deserve to get back from Jesus considering all of the “dirty” you’ve done to Him and His people?”   The first thought I had when I heard about the heavy bombardment of Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks was, “Good! That’s what they get! You do people dirty, you get dirty back!”Tweet This

I recognized that I am drawn to the sin of vengeance because of concupiscence. Because of the “entertainment” I’ve ingested over the years, despite having quit gaming and most secular entertainment about ten years ago, I have a brain that has been taught to punish others and to see this punishment as always justified and entertaining in some way—whether it is justified, as it is in this case in my opinion, or isn’t. 

I know I am not alone in this mindset and am grateful that, though it is painful, I am willing to admit these thoughts and feelings and ask God to heal my mind and heart. My desensitization and that of many others in the world is part of the reason these acts—sometimes justified and other times not—engaged in by Israel, Hamas, the United States, and most other countries throughout the world are tolerated and sometimes celebrated. Though punishment and retaliation may sometimes be necessary for security and safety, these violent acts should never be celebrated or enjoyed. When they are, a line has been crossed; and I believe our use of violence as entertainment makes this line-crossing much easier. 

We no longer see the reality of the people who are killed, the communities that are traumatized, and the countries that are destroyed because we have played games and watched as entertainment these same activities for far too long. We no longer recognize the difference between punishment and vengeance, and we forget that just punishment is to be meted out with an eye on Jesus and His willingness to suffer and forgive, not annihilate. 

I do not write this thinking that I alone can change society, but I think that as He has opened my eyes to this in me, I can help open others’ eyes to the same in themselves; and together, we can ask Jesus to change us. We can ask Him to: restore the sadness, horror, and outrage that these violent acts should stir in us and others; help us to watch only to be informed, not to be entertained; help us to put away simulations of violence, recognizing that they are forming us in a way that makes violence, warfare, and destruction more likely, not less; remind us that the forgiveness He demonstrated for us is due to everyone, especially those who hurt us the most and least want to be forgiven; and give us back the gift of pain that sins of vengeance, indifference, and hatred should induce in us. 

Restore our tender hearts, Jesus, that You can begin to heal our shattered, broken world through us. 


  • Garrett D. Johnson

    Garrett D Johnson was born and raised in Washington DC and raised in a nominally Catholic family in Maryland. He left the Church in his late teens and lived a hedonistic lifestyle that included drugs, gaming, and living as a gay man until coming back to Catholicism in his late 30s. He is a blogger (his website is, a stylist, and a member of the Courage apostolate. His self-published autobiography Becoming a Good Man will be available in 2024.

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