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Tetris Killed My Kids!

March 10th, 2011 by

The Premise:
The relationship with the public and the media has been closely tied for many years. The media industry want to give us what we expect and what we, as an evolving society want, changes with age. But some would argue that what we want from the entertainment industry or even the news can spiral out of control chasing prosperity and forget the underlying morals of our society. Some people even go as far as to say that our need for more shocking imagery and constant boundary pushing, is not simply entertainment but a run-away freight train desensitizing us and societies children. Two clearly opposing points of view haunt this issue. One side play the freedom of speech card while the other fight for the protection of children’s vulnerable minds. Violence in the media is clearly increasing but is this such a problem?

History Of Violence in Art:
We as humans have had a long history with art. It seems that no matter how far back you go art has always depicted gore, violence and death. Cave paintings used to depict fairly tame imagery of hunting expeditions. We then move onto slightly more sinister stories and more plot driven folklore tails that used to not only be read by adults, but children alike.

Psychology of Media Violence:
So we know we have a history of violence in our culture and art since we could grind coloured paste and apply it to stone with quills of hair. Because of this history we know that violence in art isn’t new or a recent sociological problem. There must be something we humans need in these portrayal or violence. Violence in films has increased over the years, for example the western genre used to be violent but the levels where much more tame. Also the content of these films used to be right and wrong symbolized by black and white. The “Dirty” western genre was a new spin on the genre overflowing with in-justice and grittier violent content. Other genres have also upped the ante in the violence stakes, this may be the advance in graphical technology over the past twenty years and directors can therefore achieve more realistic explosions and bullet impact effects.

Different Kinds of Media:
Through history people have always blamed stories and the media for sociological shortcomings. In 1830 a man called Thomas Bowdler thought that Shakespeare would corrupt young girls and bring down a sociological breakdown. Of course we now know this wasn’t true. This shows that I you remove the fog of time that even Shakespeare wasn’t immune to the accusatory fingers of his time and that we have a long history of playing the blame game.

Comics used to originally be a medium for children’s stories. Comics shifted to a more adult tone as their fans grew up and people used to accuse comics of poisoning the mind of the young. The reality was that some comics where not even intended for infant consumption but due to the ignorance of parents the violent imagery got seen by a lot of young people. The main issue there was that there where no rating system, no governing body to regulate and inform parents of the contents of these comics.
Video games also had a very similar history, as games grew from friendly pixel versus pixel action they evolved into more mature games graphically and in terms of the content within them. Mortal Kombat is the prime example of media hysteria and violence. The video game industry was in the chrysalis stage of finding out new ways to push the boundaries in terms of the game-play but also its audiences. One of the creators of Abe’s Odyssey said that by definition video games as a medium are set up to be violent. When you add a restriction of computing power and a competitive spirit its always easier to just cancel out or kill enemies. Because violence in this medium was growing this gave rise to the ESRB rating system. Even though children can’t buy some M rated games parents still bypass these restrictions and buy the games themselves.

Technophobia is the irrational fear of newer technology and turning a blind eye to technology that was around in their own youth. The invention of the steam train was thought to be an evil invention by some because they said women could go from town to town and this would promote promiscuous behaviour among women. Telephones used to be thought of as evil for similar reasons and when you think of it television and video game violence is no different from the former examples. It seems that every generation throughout history believes that their generation of youth are somehow broken morally from the previous generation. This is partly due to the power of nostalgia and the jealousy of easier lives born from new technology including television and other media. In 1751 a man called Henry Fielding thought that the new music scene idolized criminals and would promote criminal behaviour among the working class.

The reason people accuse these new medias of ruining their children is because of a widely studied theory called desensitisation. This theory suggests that the more a person is exposed to a certain attitude or behaviour by the media. The more the viewer will take on some of the characteristics presented to them. This theory relies on the notion that the boundaries between realities become blurred sub-consciously and that the Super-Ego of an individual becomes tainted by what is deemed “Cool” in the media. If this theory is a reality then news broadcaster also have a part to play in this mess. Violence on the news and how violence is reported has changed over the years. News reports often present violence almost like a movie, complete with real life villains and heroes.

Case Studies:
Because of media violence is on the increase people have blamed video games such a Doom for violent behaviour. Doom was the game blamed for the Columbine massacre because apparently they had been trained to kill by the game. Of course this doesn’t make any sense as Doom bears almost no similarities to real combat nor could it be used as a virtual training aid. Super violent movies such as Child’s Play Three where blamed for a murder when in fact there was not one shred of evidence the child had even seen the film at all.

People’s expectations of violence in the media have grown over the years due to directors and the media pushing boundaries. We now come to accept a increased level of violence as time passes, but this is partly because of new technology and prosthetics in the film industry. A key factor is also that directors and advertisers like to use shock tactics to get a point to hit home. It seems to me that any negative effects of this increasing violence is unfounded and seems to imply that middle and upper class people are immune to the effects of this media, after all they realise that they are not getting any tendencies to kill murder or maim. It seems a patronising attitude to have that working class and as they see it “uneducated” people are somehow more weak minded and will be brainwashed into mindless violence.

4 Responses to “Tetris Killed My Kids!”
  1. Wow what a post Mitchell !
    Very interesting to see some historical similarities as well.

    I also remember the fuss made about Childs Play 3 – however all I seem to remember it does was making all us kids go out and watch it to see what the fuss was all about.
    Perhaps bringing these things to peoples attention is actually not the way to go about things

  2. avatar Adamski UK says:

    Informative and educational. Thank You.

    While reading your piece I couldn’t help think about the positive nature of art, music, literature and video games.
    Something that the media of today (perhaps yesteryear too?) is very reluctant to give more than a couple of column inches to.
    The levels of communication we have around us today leaves us bombarded and saturated by the media, no matter how much we try and avoid it.

    Regarding the film industry and technological improvements, I have to say that (and I believe it was Hitchcock that said it?) its what you don’t see on the screen that is the most harrowing. Examples being the autopsy scene in “Sympathy for Mr Vengance” and the whole of the first Alien film.

    I personally thought the Modern Warfare 2 scene which involved being shot, doused in petrol and set alight (all from the characters point of view) was an incredibly powerful piece. This was mature violence at its peak in video games. There was nothing ‘graphic’ on screen, it was the sheer futility of it all that made it unbearable.
    I doubt this would have the same impact on a pre-pubescent teen as it did to a 30 something gamer.

    On reflection, as a child, I did not have the frame of reference in order to appreciate violence in video games.

  3. avatar barbex says:

    Very interesting read. Especially the historical context was quite amusing. But I still see myself struggling to explain Bulletstorm to my non-gaming friends.
    Le sigh.

  4. avatar DangerousBobby says:

    A nice piece, I found myself agreeing with the sentiment and the historic examples a great touch.

    One of the main problems is a lack of knowledge around the measures which are being placed to prevent violent games being played by those who are too young to do so, the ratings on films are understood and rarely do you see a parent persuaded into getting their kin something like ‘Oldboy’ just because they think it looks cool. Contrasted with what happens when a new GTA arrives, parents seem to ignore the big ol’ “18″ rating and assume that their ward will be fine and dandy, only to be shocked when they see their child casually mowing down people purely as they, ‘Got bored.’

    The interactive nature of games can make the violence worse, for example watching a film where innocent people are killed is purely voyeuristic where as in a game, and simply as it sprang to my mind, the level ‘No Russian’ in Modern Warfare 2 the fact that you can actively shoot bystanders can make the violence seem much worse than it would be if you were simply watching a movie. The difference I suppose between watching Titus and Andronicus simply unfold and taking cues from the audience as to what to do to the sons, e.g. bake them in a pie and feed them to their mother…

    This is a hurdle that will simply have to be passed and I feel confident that it will be in time, as gaming becomes more mainstream and people become more educated about games and the ratings that they carry.


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