Many times, I read an article believing that I will soon write about it when I get home. Often times that fails. When I finally get the time to write about it, the article itself becomes buried in the sands of the internet and I’m unable to locate it.
That’s the case for today’s article. (Mind you, I only spent 45 seconds looking for it)
Thankfully, the article’s summary is simple: we criticize movies and entertainment for their glorification of violence, why do video games get a pass? If you have the time and motivation, you can find the article at The Week.
Despite growing up during an age where video gaming became the primary source of entertainment, I was never quite suckered in. Of course I went through stretches of gaming periods, mostly with Madden, but I never took much enjoyment in “first person shooters”. Grand Theft Auto was fun, mind you, but getting involved in far more strategic gaming just seemed like too much work. I don’t like to work….nor do I like stress. When playing Street Fighter on Sega Genesis, I would get infuriated. Anger isn’t my thing. So gaming never became a part of my identity.
So I empathize with the author of this article in that video games seemingly promote violence with its interactive nature without much reflection. From what I can recall, there is no subliminal message within Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty that gives any sort of reflection on violence. They’re presented as mere entertainment, a means of escape. Only the “action” and “excitement” around violence is shown and experienced….we don’t see the consequence of such actions.
But what bothered me about the article is that the author suggests that we don’t give movies and television that same pass…that when such violent material is presented in those mediums, it’s “called out” and discussed without much resistance. Yet strangely, The Walking Dead, James Bond, and countless superhero movies where thousands die pass through culture without any mention of their presentation of violence. In fact, ONLY video games get discussed in this regard while we give James Bond, Batman, and Rick Grimes a pass.
Nevertheless, I agree with the author’s fundamental assertion: our presentations of violence is troublesome. What can be done about it?
Infamously, Penn and Teller created the video game Desert Bus as a response to the moral panic that was occurring in the 90s. The purpose was to show that we don’t want accurate representations of the real world in our entertainment…we want escapism through excitement. (If we got actual representations, then our video games would be driving a bus at 45 mph from Phoenix to Las Vegas)
To combat the glorification of violence, predictably I take a Zizekian approach: show the violence!
An example of this is the aptly titled film A History of Violence. David Cronenberg not only shows gratuitous acts of violence…he also shows their consequences. In one scene, Viggo Mortensen viciously beats the shit out of a guy’s nose to rescue his son. After the individual was defeated, most films would likely not show the character’s face again as he would no longer be of consequence. But not here. Cronenberg shows this individual’s destroyed face and the pain he is enduring. It was a quick shot, but one that establishes that “throw away” violence which is usually shown in these films have victims: there is the initial act of violence, then there’s the aftermath that the hero rarely sticks around for. In such aftermath, there is blood, mangled bodies, confusion, distress, etc. As A History of Violence shows, violence is not a contained moment in time.
We see James Bond kill the unnamed henchman, but we rarely see Bond at home living with his actions. We also don’t see friends and family of the deceased henchman learn the news of his death.
It’s tempting in times like these where school shootings are all too present to DEMAND censorship or some sort of superficial response like “having a conversation”. But I argue the contrary. As Dave Chappelle acutely pointed out, it was only AFTER American readers were exposed to the consequence of violence via a picture Emmett Till’s battered and deceased body that the Civil Right’s Movement took off. If we want to decrease the prevalence of violence, we can’t hide from their consequences: they must be shown.
Show the pictures of the Parkland High School shootings…show the bloodied mangled bodies, show the confusion immediately afterwards, listen to the distressed students and their loved ones, listen to how death and violence has effected the lives of everyone involved.
This graphic display doesn’t “de-sensitize” us from violence…in fact it “re-sensitizes” us after years of desensitization from escapist violence. It’s the escapist form that has caused us so much harm, which includes molding conservative opinion that all it takes is a “good guy with a gun” to stop a shooter because in their minds, James Bond films are genuine representations of how violence works (this also explains why they sometimes get offended when far more genuine depictions of violence are shown in entertainment). When we have this informed opinion on how real violence operates, suddenly its escapist form is less palatable….OR we are better able to appreciate (or critically analyze) escapist entertainment.
To change the moral fiber of a society, you don’t shield them the dynamics of truth….but present it to them in a very real way. And here in the West, particularly the USA, we’ve been shielded from this truth. We’ve allowed our entertainment to inform us on reality and hence our desensitization from violence….and a complete disinterest in reality itself.
And that’s my primary criticism of gamer society. Indeed, I suppose that’s my criticism of ALL internet-based cultures, to include those that are “addicted” to some form of social media: reality failed to meet their romanticized expectations, so they retreat into a subculture or platform that helps affirm their conceptions. This society, or identity, becomes more REAL than, well….genuine reality. This artificial world, perhaps subconsciously, informs the gamer on the nature of violence or fuels a narcissistic ego of the Facebook user.
In short, we’ve become unable to distinguish between reality and our escapist pursuits of entertainment. To prevent violence, we cannot retreat behind censorship or the comforts of our digital personas, we must LOOK AT IT.