So, as if you hadn’t already guessed from previous posts (and if you’ve read them, thank you :)) I am pretty much a pacifistic. I take great pains to avoid violence and ugliness in my real life. I push back if I’ve reached my limits, don’t get me wrong — being a pacifist does not mean I’m a pantie-waist or a pushover. “Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept.” to quote Francis Quarles.
I would just rather there not be have to be a punch-kick-gouge response to just about every situation in life. I know I’m going against nature with that line of reasoning, and it has caused me a fair amount of mental anguish in many instances, because its a problem that has no solution.
I was prompted to write this blog post after reading this little gem from Kotaku about someone who beat Fallout 4 – without killing anything. I’ll get back to this a little later in the post.
Like any male my age, having been born at the tail end of the baby-boomer generation, I do enjoy — or I should say I digest –a fair amount of violent entertainment. Part of that could be that as an child growing up in the US I was fed a steady diet of violent media through the usual means: comic books, TV shows and movies. I grew up watching these images and processing all of this information that was basically telling me or conditioning me to accept that a violent solution to any problem was the most likely – if not preferred – outcome. Even the family-friendly, ‘wholesome’ programming and shows I was exposed to had a high violence/aggression/struggle quotient. Think about it… how many of your favorite films or TV shows or games have a word or phrase that implies violence?
War of the Worlds? Star Wars? Fight Club? Warcraft? The Hunger Games? Game of Thrones? Car Wars? Captain America: Civil War? It’s so common we don’t stop to think about it. It’s expected and it sells… so why change it.
The most thought provoking image of how predisposed we are to violence and aggression that I can recall, and which has stuck with me all these years, is from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember making my parents take me and my friends to the theater to see it in re-release for my tenth birthday – I wanted to see it for the caveman/ape sequence because I was all about the prehistoric world in those days. Turns out the rest of the movie was way over our heads then and we came out a bit confused and didn’t quite know what to make of the rest of it – but those apes were pretty darn cool let me tell you!
Any way, there’s a particular scene which for me really speaks to our species propensity for violence. It’s the scene during the Dawn of Man opening sequence, after the ape has touched the monolith and is looking at a pile of bones (skip to the 6:00 minute mark to see the moment I’m talking about) – and makes a connection – a leap of intuition that leads to understanding and which propels our ancestors on the evolutionary road to become our modern selves.
The way its filmed and the camera’s focus on the bones and skull shattering and the falling bodies of the tapirs, it really is a showcase for how we see the world – violent and blunt and brutal. The caption under the video paints it in a more positive light than that: “…by the usage of tools, man could stop being a victim of the world to become an active element, who has the power of action over nature.”
And that’s generally the upside that’s assigned to our aggressiveness… we are the dominate life-form because we have the power to use tools, i.e. weapons, to overpower nature and obstacles.
My childhood and teenage years were filled with this type of imagery, from four-color heroes socking the bad guys on the jaw to the more vicious and harder pulp novels and the constant stream of all guts and glory and gun-glorifying combat films that were on steady rotation on Saturday afternoon TV or in the local movie theater.
This trend continued throughout my early adult life and for a long time I never really questioned it. It seemed perfectly natural that my interests and hobbies all had an element of violence to them… the games I enjoyed playing were centered around combat mechanics (Risk, Chess, D&D, etc.) and the profession I chose to study and go to school for – acting – involved putting myself into roles and characters that exhibited or engaged in violent, sometimes murderous violence and aggression. And they were fun – because they were all “safe” activities or pursuits. None of the violence was real.
And I can hear you say… “Yeah, duh, Dave… what’s the big deal?”
I guess I’ve been asking myself – even if for a very long time I couldn’t actually put it into words – but I was struggling with the thought: is all of this focus on violence really what we should be putting out there? And how deep of an impact does it have on a person and how has it contributed to the very real problem we are facing in this country today: gun control and the consequences thereof.
Now, I realize that this isn’t an issue that will ever go away – not in my lifetime or in anyone’s lifetime for that matter. We live in a harsh and unforgiving world – one that insists on pitting one life-form against another for survival. That is reality.
The difference I think is the separation between what is necessary and what is entertainment. We live in an age where violence is a commodity – its packaged and processed and sold as entertainment and amusement.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s when home computers began to become affordable and were beginning to appear in every home – I found myself playing a lot of video games. And invariably, the games I was playing – Doom, Flashback, Mortal Kombat, Anvil of Dawn, and then later on Baldur’s Gate, Outlaws, Dungeon Keeper, and so many more… they all had as the main interface/interaction violent exchanges or goals… especially FPS games where almost every action in the games was geared toward ending the life of an ‘enemy’ combatant.
Which brings me back around to the player who beat Fallout 4 without killing anyone. There is a line near the end of the article, where the player laments that the developers focused so much on combat as the default and preferred method to “winning” the game.
Maybe its just that the interface we have for console and computer games hasn’t changed much in twenty or twenty five years – whether its keyboard and mouse or joystick or quad-controller – games seem to boil everything down to point and shoot. Or some variation on hack and slash, combos and ultra-kills. Even a game as innocent looking as Minecraft which places great emphasis on building and crafting… still has a fighting element to it.
Combat is easy, it’s thrilling and it’s expected. We get to act out situations on a grand scale and no one gets hurt, so… what’s the problem? It’s just fun, right?
Flower released in 2009 on the Playstation doesn’t include one enemy or any gameplay that includes aggression or violence. To quote: “Flower was primarily intended to arouse positive emotions in the player, rather than to be a challenging and “fun” game. This focus was sparked by [Jenova] Chen (the developer), who felt that the primary purpose of entertainment products like video games was the feelings that they evoked in the audience, and that the emotional range of most games was very limited. (emphasis mine.) Flower was a critical success… but the best selling game of 2009? Surprisingly it was an exercise tool… but look at the list of the top ten games of 2009:
10. Street Fighter IV
9. Halo Wars
8. Resident Evil 5 (PlayStation 3)
7. Call of Duty: World at War
6. Killzone 2
5. Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360)
4. Mario Kart Wii
3. Pokemon Platinum Version
2. Wii Play (w/ Remote)
1. Wii Fit (w/ Balance Board)
Eight of them are fighting games.
Are we conditioned to think that picking up a bone or a gun or a game controller and using it to pound through an obstacle is the best way to interact with the world? If the #GamerGate travesty has taught us anything, its that there are a lot of people whose instinct is to react violently to get their way to to make their point known, as this article illustrates.
I don’t know if there is an answer to that question. On one hand, the films and TV shows we watch, the books and comics we read and the games we play are simply entertainment. They are provided as simply a way to distract ourselves form the duller aspects of life. We need them in order to feel mentally and emotionally challenged. We view them, we process them and we ‘forget’ them and move on to the next one, our minds distracted or piqued by the next bright and shiny thing – even though they are for the most part the very same thing only with a fresh coat of paint.
They are also subtle unconscious reminders that we need to be willing or prepared to fight or to do battle with whatever might threaten or challenge us.
Fighting is everything.