So how does this all stack up? Bear with my highly unscientific analogy. If instinctual influences are a “1” then cultural influences, in comparison, are a “0.1” and societal influences are a “0.01.” Instincts still bleed through the palimpsest. Let me give you an example. I think most people would have to admit—whether they want to or not—that, for at least the past 50,000 years or so, when any kid anywhere in the world picks up a stick it becomes a spear or a sword (nowadays maybe a gun). Is this instinctive? Well, speaking anecdotally as a male member of the species, it certainly seemed instinctive when I was a kid. Being a Third Age kid, I just had the benefit of more sophisticated sticks. As a kid back in the ’50s and ’60s, playing army was what kids did. No big deal. From a societal standpoint, it was completely acceptable. No one thought anything of it. My parents didn’t.
One example. My parents were not particularly religious; we were lapsed Presbyterians. Maybe expunged, I don’t know. Anyway, Easter was traditionally celebrated in our household with a hidden Easter basket filled with chocolate and decorated eggs and usually a single gift. Kind of like Christmas junior. Anyway, one year I got the all-time best-ever Easter morning gift. It was… a .50 caliber water-cooled machine gun! On a tripod!
Let’s pause to let everyone get over their vapors at the thought of a kid receiving a toy .50 caliber water-cooled machine gun for Easter. It was no big deal. It simply goes to show how ubiquitous toy guns were. The Sears Christmas catalog had pages of toy guns and army soldier sets. Some form of military hardware was on every Christmas wish list. Toy guns even made it into Christmas music: “A pair of Hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots is the wish of Barney and Ben….” And Christmas movies, too [A Christmas Story].
Now fast forward to Millennial kids and God forbid they should play with toy guns. Geez, the pirate on the kiddie TV show now had a “feather sword.” Really? Clearly, Boomer parents were aghast at the thought of how toy guns would warp their children into aggressive violent monsters.
No. More. Toy. Guns. HBO Max is bringing back Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. There will still be slapstick cartoon violence, but Elmer will no longer be blasting Daffy with his shotgun and Sam will be missing his six shooters (Kim 2020).
So how has this grand attempt at rational-brain social engineering worked out? Welcome to Fortnite.... Starting at one million users in August 2017, Fortnite had grown to 350 million users by May 2020. And it is still growing. Over half of the players are in the 10-25 age bracket (Gen Zers). Over two-thirds are male (IQbal 2021). ... And Fortnite is only one of many combat games.
Different sticks. Same game. So much for enlightened social conditioning attempts to rewrite instincts.