Mind the Gap: Does watching violent movies inspire violence in the real world?

A DP Challenge

I was 3 when my dad brought home the family’s first computer — a PC with Windows 3.1.1, back when MS Dos was separate from the regular operating system. Good ol’ 1990. While this writing challenge is supposed to be about the influence of violent movies in the real world, I was exposed to violent video games at a very early age and feel it’s a more appropriate place to begin by using my own experiences as an example. The first video game I played, at 3 years old, was Lemmings. It was a puzzle game where you were given a certain amount of little men with green hair for each level, and you have to give them different jobs to do in order to float, dig, climb their way to the exit. Sometimes, to save the most Lemmings, you had to sacrifice a few by blowing them up. They’d hold their little hands to their little heads, squeak and then explode into tiny bits of confetti with a cute popping sound. I found it hilarious to load all of them onto the screen at one, have them walk into one another and then hit the atom bomb button to watch them all explode at once. The noise made it funny.

While that might not seem all too terrible, I was later exposed to Leisure Suit Larry, Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist  and Duke Nukem 3D all within the next 5 years. Those three video games had varying degrees of sexual and violent content. Larry made it his mission to pick up on big-breasted, small-brained women while trying not to get beat up by their husbands, boyfriends, or someone in the mafia. Freddy supplied questionable remedies for physical ailments, and when he wasn’t doing that he was having his “ailment” physically remedied or involved in shoot-out in the middle of the town, Old West style. Duke Nukem was more about blowing the shit out of aliens and mutated LAPD officers than naked women, but they made an appearance from time to time in the form of strippers; you could walk up to them, flash a wad of cash and say “shake it baby.” That game had a parental lock on it, which got rid of all the women and minimized the gore, but neither my mom nor my dad made sure it was on. The 90’s version is far more tame than the one that came out in 2009. I’d let my child play DN 3D before I left them play DN Forever. DN Forever shows an alien raping and impregnating women, which would just be impossible to explain to an 8-year-old.

Now, just because I was a little girl who was allowed to see women objectified in video games and alien intestines splattered all over the computer screen does not mean I had bad parents nor did I grow up to become a deranged serial killer or school-shooter. I wasn’t even allowed to watch rated-R movies until I was about 15 or 16, and even then my mom was far more concerned about the sexual content than the violence. Chalk it up to growing up in the 90’s, but the MPAA has the exact same mindset when it comes to sexuality and violence. A movie can have all the violence it wants as long as there is no blood and still receive a PG-13 rating, while if one pair of boobs is flashed for longer than five seconds, it gets an R. The video game ESRB system is similar. So, do violent movies/video games inspire violence in the real world since it is so culturally accepted as a form of entertainment?

I would say that most fictional violence is written to be clearly justifiable by injecting common societal views of morality, honor, humanity, etc. A lot of that type of fiction is a psychological exploration of what people would do when taken out of the familiar context of modern society. We look back at the middle ages and think, my god, I can’t believe they used to cut off people’s head and put them up on spikes for people to see. We’re much more civilized now. But are we? Civility is just a set of rules that the majority aspires to, and it is that understanding combined with empathy which prevents people from hurting and/or killing others. Take the AMC show The Walking Dead; it depicts insane amounts of violence and gore, but it also presents a different set of social rules. Generally speaking, killing people on this show is okay because most of them are zombies. When a person wants to kill another living person, it is presented as not okay by another character assuming the role of the good guy to convince the bad guy otherwise. The same is true for Duke Nukem. He needed to kill as many aliens as possible because they were taking over the planet and he needed to save it. Granted, he was a bit of a sexist pig, but he saved the world nevertheless.

But then there are those movies which are more ambiguous in their representation of violence. American Psycho is a good example. While the audience is asked to be entertained by a psychopathic banking executive on his naked-chainsaw-slaying rampages, the character of Patrick Bateman still  knows that his urges are not normal because he hides it from it co-workers, as would a serial killer of his nature in the real world. American Psycho is a revenge fantasy of sorts and a commentary on banking executives in general – they want to make a killing off you. Or take the independent film, God Bless America, in which a man dying of a brain tumor teams up with a teenage girl to kill as many stupid and ungrateful people as they can.

It’s a revenge fantasy — combined with political humor and dark humor — that revolves around an aspect of American culture that strives for intelligence and the abolition of all idiots and assholes, like reality TV and people who take up two parking spots with their BMW. Those things upset me on a regular basis.

Again, do violent movies/video games inspire violence in the real world? No. I grew up playing violent games and then later watched violent movies, but I always had the moral compass to know the difference between fiction and real homicidal impulses. (Not to mention I probably spent 10% of my time actually playing video games.) Those who do not have the ability to distinguish between the two already have those impulses, and violent games and movies would only serve as possible means to carry out their said desires. Games and movies wouldn’t give them the idea that they want to kill because they already want to kill; it would just make them more creative. It’s the same notion with copycat shooters and bombers after a mass murder is televised on TV 24/7, which I would argue is more of a factor of driving people to hurt or kill. Those people already can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, so seeing something broadcast in a matter-of-fact fashion over the news does nothing to aid in that distinction.

If violent fiction isn’t to blame, then what is? My parents, or at least my mom, made sure I had good friends and was involved in outdoor activities. Parent involvement is HUGE to a child’s development as they are a child’s first example of…well…everything. A parent who speaks badly of a child’s teacher is going to influence him or her to do the same. A parent who tells their child not to be friends with the kid who has Down Syndrome because he/she looks weird is going to influence him or her to be a close-minded twat. The same thing goes with a parent recognizing symptoms of mental illness and getting their child treatment. Taking them to a shooting range when they have a serious mental disorder is probably not the best form of treatment. Parent your kids, damn it!

If we are going to combat the issue of school shootings and bombings, then we need to address the issue of mental illness. The first step is to unstigmatize it. The second is to make treatment easily assessable to all Americans. Third, every state should be mandated to report an individual who has been diagnosed as mentally unstable AND we need to pass universal background check because of this. The point is not to keep away guns from those who are healthy and stable, who can play a violent game one day and go out to the shooting range the next with friends or family. The point is to keep them away from those who are not in the “system” and to get them help so they can live meaningful and productive lives.

If violent video games and violent movies brainwash people into murdering people, then I should have been behind bars or in a psych-ward by the time I was 10 years old. I am proof that someone can be exposed to FAKE violence from a very young age and not be mentally scarred for life.


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