Generations of Bloodletting

Humans have a deep seeded attachment to violence. We also have a tendency to easily anger each other. Road Rage is common on most highways and city streets. Were it not for laws and the unappealing idea of serving time in prison, the wild west’s everyone-for-themselves code would have permeated into our modern world. As our society flourished over the centuries, we have appropriated shades of said bond into our artistic endeavors. Video games’ graphic depictions of violence has provided players with a means to release tension. The biggest selling titles of the current generation of platforms has us decimating opponents from a first-person perspective using any number of variants on that most famous implement of death, the gun. The massive popularity of first-person shooters is a sure sign that people are an aggressive species in spite our continued push for self-preservation.

What happens when mario falls down a random environmental gap? Artist Ryan Coleman shows us with The Pit

My own relationship with that base urge to kill, maim and destroy was, as with most people of my generation, quelled with video game violence. My introduction to virtual carnage came from the seemingly benign, fever-dream abstractions found in colorful 2D platformers. Squashing Goombas and watching Mario after Mario fall to their dooms in some off screen abyss were common sights to which I gave little consideration. The deaths my favorite heroes were fated to relive over and over were little more than contrived obstacles for me, as the player, to surmount. The violence I inflicted upon my squat, pixelated enemies evoked a satisfying visceral charge that would prove addicting.

Many demons have been mowed down by chaingun totting teenagers during the 90's.

My exposure to cartoonish, over-the-top violence continued with likes of the infamous PC classic Doom. A title that was met with strong enmity from religious and political groups warning parents of the corrupting dangers virtual violence posed the mental health of young people. Even after the 1999 school shootings in Columbine Colorado, Doom had remained the poster child for the anti-game legislation movement long after it’s first release in the early 1990’s.

Mortal Kombat introduced my arcade dwelling cohorts and I to photorealistic, albeit still clearly digital, portrayals of stylish decapitations, incinerations and impalements. In spite growing concerns from our respective families, we kids knew better than to try to punch through our friends’ ribcages and yank out their still-beating hearts. What’s more, even as we wallowed in the arrogance of our adolescent years, we were well aware of the ridiculous and improbable nature of digitized violence. Once the initial oomph of watching a lifelike person being torn apart wore off, the farcical stamp of MK‘s extreme violence shone through. The maniacal medley of metal-inspired imagery and unfettered displays of martial arts gore immediately sunk its hooks into my teenage cognizance. Needless to say, I got good at the first MK, and this frightened my family.

The Pit: My favorite MKI stage.
Gore, gibs and splatter patterns, oh my!

It was not until Unreal Tournament 2004 that I was acquainted to the virtual bloodsport known as the death match. Frags, gibs and flak cannons assimilated into my daily ritual. Aggression and the temperaments of day-to-day stressors are eased with the tension releasing act of stacking frags on multiple opponents on your favorite map.

 In the wake of Mortal Kombat II‘s 1994 release on home consoles, the video game industry was in the early stages of adopting a self-governing body that would rate games in accordance with the content that had the potential to be deemed objectionable by parents; thereby making these games inappropriate for players under a certain age group. Thus, the ESRB was born. Rather than applying a black-and-white scale to game ratings, the ESRB used a clear, well-defined letter system (E = Everyone, T = Teen, etcetera) coupled with explicit descriptors that itemized any objectionable content in a given release. To this day, the implications are still being felt as recently as this past June when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of video games deeming them to be free artistic speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution.
Where all dead, dirty, sinful pixels go…

Human beings are perplexed, conflicted creatures when it comes to the bedlam of slaughtering one another. At once we are both fascinated and repulsed by the transient carnage that ensues from a full head-on collision or random inner-city shootout. Flirting with our own mortality is a part of our natural curiosity. Thus does our attraction to homicidal behaviors draw many of us to game violence. Real violence, the likes of which is committed everyday all around the world, has deep ramifications; made all the more real when all of our senses, not just sight and to a lesser extent touch, are engaged in absorbing the event. Computer-created simulator in which user agency plays a part in creating subdues the vehement urge to commit murder for petty reasons.

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