Arts, Featured Column, Column

The Future of Violence in Entertainment

It’s been a crazy time going through Game of Thrones with one of my roommates for his first run-through of the series. Compared to most people starting out on their Game of Thrones journeys, he is blissfully unaware of many of the show’s spoilers that have become pop-culture icons over the last few years—he knows nothing. I haven’t actively sat with him through every step of the four seasons he has gone through, but I’ve been there for all of the show’s highlights, and there have been more than a few episodes on in the background as I go through my weekly work.

I’ve never gone through the whole show multiple times, but I’ve seen quite a few episodes more than once. Going through it chronologically with my roommate, I’ve noticed that the show has gotten progressively bloodier with each season and that the special effects teams have gotten a lot better at making some of the show’s more brutal moments more convincing.

In the first season of GoT there were a few beheadings that were made up of a few tricky shot cuts and some fake heads. Season 2 saw a guy get his head crushed by a falling rock. This death was reminiscent of that of the poor reporter from Hot Fuzz who got his head crushed by a pedant on a church, as both of these instances’ CGI effects looked comically badly rendered. Season 4 featured two of the most grisly deaths of the show’s history: the Mountain crushing Oberyn’s head in with his bare hands and Jon Snow taking down a Thenn with one hammer-blow that broke through his skull. These last two kills made me think about how the show and other pieces of entertainment have handled the development of special effects and CGI technology and how creative teams are employing these technologies to give audiences the most brutal programs, movies, and games humans have encountered.

“Where do we go from here?” was the first question I asked myself. For years I’ve been playing video games that have allowed me to chainsaw people in half and run through the streets of a fictional New York City shooting innocent people. I don’t think I need to harp much more on violence in movies and on TV with the descriptions above. But, remembering that we humans have an affinity for always taking concepts and practices to the next level, where do we go from here? How could we make our media more violent?

Virtual reality is the answer, of course. As virtual gaming appears to become more and more of a feasible reality, it stands to reason that the platform will evolve into something pretty immersive. What happens when the kid playing Grand Theft Auto IX isn’t just pulling a trigger on a controller to shoot a stylistically-rendered person on a TV screen? What happens to his mode of thinking when he’s wearing headgear that fully sets him in the “game” he’s playing and when the graphics in that “game” are so good that he’s not shooting stylized people anymore, when they look entirely real?

As conflicted as my feelings are towards the program, HBO’s Westworld has these questions floating around a multitude of others about consciousness and reality. Some of the real people in the show argue about killing the robots that inhabit the park—some ask questions like, “What’s the difference between killing them and killing a real person if they look, act, and feel just like we do?” The show’s more sadistic characters that take pleasure in shooting and killing the park’s robots try to distance themselves from their actions, but their actions say a lot about them. The robots on the show feel pain and emotions just like we do. They’re made of flesh and bone just like us. The only difference is that the robots were created in a lab.

It’s extremely important, as we continue to develop entertainment technologies that expand the possibilities of what can be done on-screen and in video games, that we remind ourselves of these types of questions that Westworld and I are posing. In many ways, with the violence we see daily on TV and in movies and video games, we have already numbed ourselves to the horrors we are witnessing. Sure, violence in entertainment is a useful and time-tested tool. We need to make sure, however, that we realize what we’re seeing and doing when we see a war in a movie or go rampaging through a game killing everything in our path to victory. Otherwise, we may lose a key component of our humanity.

Featured Image By HBO

November 3, 2016