It seems to be repost season around here. This time it's an article written seven and a half years ago, on 10 March 2012 (coincidentally, one year before My Opera closed down). I'm bringing it back now because it's referenced from another place that I'd forgotten about, but also because it somehow continues to be highly relevant after all this time. Doubly so as yet another mass shooting in the US of A is being blamed on videogames, even after multiple scientific studies have failed to spot any hint of a correlation. Think we'll ever be rid of this pernicious myth?
In the mean time, I wrote more about the way violence is misunderstood in western society. Game developers, you see, don't understand violence any better than the general public does. And violence in games (like in all fiction) is a statement, often of the political variety. It sends a message when you put a marine with an assault rifle in there to shoot at whomever the latest Hollywood blockbuster decided to paint as the bad guy of the month. You may not be causing violence, but you're contributing to the discourse, like it or not. Be aware of what you're saying.
Otherwise, the text holds up surprisingly well. People continue to grow more disconnected from the physical side of things, less understanding of each other's abilities and limitations. A growing movement has been pushing disability awareness, but outside of that? The assumption that all able-bodied people can do the same things in the same way still dominates, and it ruins lives. Doesn't help that we're obsessed with "fairness", by which we mean, "don't hand anyone a torn rag unless they've worked hard for it to prove worthy".
I'm veering off-topic by now. My point remains: a lot of people have little life experience, therefore a tenuous grip on reality, and that makes them easy to sway by fictional depictions that anyone who's done a thing or two can easily recognize as made up. So it's not that media have become more realistic in recent decades... but that life is increasingly experienced only through media.
Results are of course worryingly similar. Enjoy the original text... if you can.
In or out of touch with reality
I was reading this book on manga and anime recently, and
came across a bit about how members of the Aum cult (the guys with
the nerve gas attack at the Tokio subway in 1995) were influenced by
apocalyptic scenarios in the titular media. Back then, various
commenters opined that the increasing realism of visual arts made it
ever more difficult to distinguish between reality and fiction. And
that's a very interesting claim, because the modern human's grasp on
reality is indeed weak. But the real cause is the exact opposite of
what those commenters say it is.
Back when I was in a science-fiction club, we kept getting visitors
who were interested in the paranormal. They just wouldn't understand
that we were dealing with stories we knew were fictional. So not only
they couldn't tell the difference between reality and fiction, they
couln't even grasp the concept of intentionally created fiction. In
their minds, we simply must have believed starships and aliens where
real, just as they did! After all, why would someone seriously discuss
stuff that doesn't (yet) exist? :P
I suspect the same question was on the minds of those who used to
demonize Dungeons&Dragons back in the 1980s, thinking it was
about real magical rituals. I guess it seemed too improbable that
a game involving "just" books and dice could be so engrossing. It
must have been serious business!
See, western public opinion doesn't seem so concerned with realism.
Over time, they've demonized everything from rock and roll to Doom.
Which begs the question, how could anyone think such a cartoonish game
could be thought to have anything in common with real-life violence?
The answer is twofold: one, those who consider it evil have probably
never seen the game, let alone played it; second, and most importantly,
they don't know a thing about real life.
I won't tackle the issue of violence here; it's a big, sensitive topic
that warrants another write-up. Suffice to say, the average Westerner
has zero experience with physical violence, apart maybe from vague
memories of being bullied in school; it's easy for such a person to
believe violence is as easy, clean and effective as in Hollywood
blockbusters. (Interestingly, European movies tend to portray violence
much more realistically, and guess what, that doesn't make them less
But more generally, the average Westerner has no personal experience
with many things that are otherwise a part of life, and as such is
prone to make stuff up, or believe what others make up about them.
Don't believe me? Let's see. Have you ever...
- ...climbed a tree?
- ...picked up an apple from it...
- ...and eaten it?
- ...fallen from the tree...
- ...and broken a limb?
- ...cut firewood?
- ...made a fire?
- ...been close to a blaze?
- ...built a bow and arrow?
- ...fired it successfully?
- ...been close to a cow?
- ...beheaded a chicken?
- ...cooked a meal?
- ...assembled an Ikea desk...
- ...let alone built a dog house?
- ...made your own papercraft Chess set?
- ...fixed a broken water tap?
- ...how about a light switch?
- ...been electrocuted?
- ...nearly drowned?
I can tick about half the boxes on this list, and I made it on purpose.
How many people do you know who can't even tick one? Of course such
a person will be prone to thinking real life is more or less like in
the movies. Not that I wish anyone to break a leg! But if you never
have, then you don't know what it's like. And that wouldn't be any
problem... except one day your own kid might climb a tree... and slip.
It's easy for desk clerks to demean trench diggers, saying "anyone can
shovel dirt". It's equally easy for the trench diggers to demean desk
clerks, saying "anyone can push paper". But hand a desk clerk a shovel
and they won't even be able to drive it into the ground. Sit the
trench digger at a desk, and they'll admit with a crooked smile that
they never liked learning.
So much for imagining what it's like to be in somebody else's shoes.
We humans are judgemental, and we have to base our judgements on
something. If we're out of touch with real life, then of course
fiction will take its place in our minds. And we'll make laws based in
fantasy, which real people will then have to follow.
Get acquainted with real life, for everybody's sake, including yours.