Games, films and violence

It’s a question you hear a lot when a violent tragedy occurs: Do games and films desensitize us to violence? To be honest, I’ve never really thought about where I stand on the subject – whether they cause someone to actually become violent is a different question, and one I completely disagree with – but I saw something today that made me think about it, and I quickly made my mind up.

Obviously I can’t speak for everyone (Yes, this is just my opinion) but I believe that games and films do desensitize people to violence, or at least they have in my case. It’s hard – well, nigh on impossible – to say that this is a good thing, but I’m certainly not calling on a ban of all forms of media containing violence; I just happen to think that having seen – and enjoyed – films like Dawn of the Dead or No Country for Old Men, or played games like Bulletstorm or Fallout 3, that my reaction to seeing these violent things has been somewhat dulled.

A little while back, during the early stages of the protests in Bahrain, a couple of videos found there way into my timeline on Twitter: The first video was a group of peaceful protesters making their way down a street holding a bunch of placards and chanting; a minute or so later, gunshots were heard and it became apparent very quickly that they were being fired at. The group understandably dispersed very quickly, but from my recollection at least (I don’t plan on watched it again), at least one of the group was shot and killed.

The second video was filmed from some distance, high up in a building, looking down on a single protester. He appeared to be confronting someone, but it was hard to make exactly what was going on, not least because of the panicked noises coming from the group of people recording the video. The protester, it turns out, is confronting a group of armed soldiers to show that he is protesting peacefully, and he, for want of a better way of putting it, doesn’t really appreciate the threat of violence their guns seem to be giving. It’s not the clearest of videos, but it’s very obvious that when this protester turns his back and begins to walk away he is shot. The description of the video and the comments indicate that he was killed.

Don’t worry, I’m not a complete sociopath, both of these videos affected me deeply – the first one especially upset me quite a lot: the man that was shot was only a few feet from the person recording the entire thing, but the reason these videos affected me the way they did is because after witnessing these horrible tragedies, I subconsciously thought about the fact that those two people had died; Two lives had ended right in front of my eyes. I found that quite hard to deal with, I still do.

The reason I think films and games have desensitized me to scenes like this is because, had I not been aware of the fact that these were events that had happened hours or days earlier in another part of the world, I wouldn’t have felt so upset. Scenes like the ones in these videos are common in films and are almost expected in games these days, and it’s the reason I think age ratings on games are so important. Realism has become a huge factor in both mediums, so it can be worrying to see violence like this happen for real and not feel an instant revulsion. It’s horrific, in fact.

The thing I saw earlier today that got me thinking about this subject was another video that made it’s way to my Twitter timeline. I didn’t click on it right away, for the now obvious reasons above, but I did – curiosity is a bastard. The link did clearly indicate that someone was shot, so I certainly don’t have any excuse for clicking on it after a good minute of hesitation, but it didn’t prepare me for what I did see.

The video didn’t actually contain footage of anyone being shot, it contained footage of someone who had been shot. In the head. My initial reaction to this was, thankfully, disgust and horror. I don’t ever want to be desensitized to scenes like those included in this video. I don’t ever want to see scenes like that again. I wish I could unsee it, frankly. I spent a good chunk of this afternoon feeling sick, which, now that the feeling has gone, feels like the sort of reaction I should have had to the previous videos.

Again, I can’t stress enough how much I disagree that violence in games or films is wrong or should be banned etc. My initial reaction to the first two videos may not have been utter disgust or horror, but I was deeply affected by them – I still am – and I’m glad I was. Understanding the distinction between violence used in a medium like film or games, and seeing it happen to real people – real lives – is important, and it’s reason age ratings are there; You need to be horrified by violence in films before you learn that it’s just a film.

I’m not posting links to any of the videos, I’m not even going to look for them. The last one in particular is something I wouldn’t want anyone to see, and none of them are necessary to make the point I was hoping to make with this post. Apologies if this bothers you at all, but, y’know, deal with it. Also, it’s taken me an age to write this between distractions, so apologies again if it’s a little wayward at times.

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