When it comes to violence in entertainment, American culture is lost in the depths of a rapid downward spiral. This is most notable in film and video-game culture. Their content has graphics, which—to their artistic credit—are becoming more realistic with the advancement of technology. However, it is this very realism that creates the shift between depictions of violence in the past and those of the present. As they become more “well done” and “epic” they are attracting more popular attention and are thus more ordinary than ever before.
The primary concern with the ordinary-ness of increasingly horrific violence is that it desensitizes us. But this is nothing new. We’ve heard it before from every critique of horror and suspense content, every viewer turned off by Game of Thrones’ grotesqueness, every concerned and finger-wagging older relative. While people might over-react for different reasons, what it boils down to is the fact that desensitization means that—like substance abuse and addiction—we become normalized to extremes of violence until things that should horrify us hardly makes us flinch. And then we need more. And when this is coupled with the entertainment factor, we in our American styles of comfortable living remove ourselves further and further from the violence that occur daily around the world.
This being said, some portrayals of violence do not exactly contribute to this entertainment side of violence. Film especially can bring awareness to global issues of both the past and present in its depictions of violence, whether in war, street crime, domestic violence, etc. But, if the violence put into media is meant to be consumed for our pleasure and not to invoke sympathy towards people groups who are victimized and persecuted, we are trivializing these global issues that are very much real.
And if our lifestyles of comfort are what keeps film and video game culture alive and well by its distancing of us from the rest of the world, then I see no way that this trend of increasing desensitization will end in our nation. While fully aware of world events that are happening in Syria, for example, we keep those tragedies on the television screen and out of our personal lives. We can play a video game centered on some arbitrary objective that involves shooting people without the realistic idea plaguing the backs of our minds that someone might do the same thing to us or people we know and love. Can we imagine it? Perhaps we can. Perhaps we can’t.
Picture this: a twelve year old in Yemen is playing Halo as they hear the rattle of machine guns or the wail of air-raid sirens outside their window. And their playing has nothing to do with coping with the warzone that surrounds them. It’s just for fun. It probably doesn’t happen, does it? So what does that say about us now?