Sunday, 14 April 2013

Rant: Violence in the Media - Do Guns in Films and Games Support the Arms Industry?

Browsing the Kotaku site I came across an interesting post which opened my eyes to something I had never before acknowledged. The post, titled Is the Decision to Buy Call of Duty or Battlefield a Moral Choice?, linked to a Youtube video made by PBS Idea Channel who stated the simple case that by buying a triple-A modern war game (Battlefield, Call of Duty) you are effectively buying licenses for the firearms depicted in those games and hence sending money to the arms companies.

The video itself looks at the moral aspects of the case, where the presenter who isn't himself a gun person loves to shoot things in games and thus presents the problem that he may be a hypocrite. But the video raises some interesting points about the moral implications of engaging in violent entertainment, especially since many are always quick to jump on the bandwagon that violent games and films make people violent in real life.

First off, let's dispel the rumours. Violence in the media does not contribute to violence in real life. There may be some cases which break this rule (Taxi Driver and the Reagan shooting for example) but for the most part there's been no solid correlation between the two ever having an effect on one another.
A good video to watch is one made by the Youtube gamer 'TotalBiscuit' who analyses the situation following the Connecticut shootings last year (it is biased as it's a gamer defending his beliefs but it's interesting to have a point of view from the other side).

But why do films and games rely so much on violent content? Unfortunately there isn't any other real explanation other than "Because it's satisfying". Tarantino films have always been notorious due to their violent content but if you were to take it away his films wouldn't be as satisfying to watch. That's not to say they aren't well written or directed because that's far from the truth, but the violence and the events depicted go hand in hand with one another and you need both for the complete experience.
On the other end of the scale, even the Saw movies (a franchise that basically comprises of people getting horrendously tortured) have a certain poetry in their depiction of violence and they aren't even decent movies to watch. But without the violence, there is nothing nothing to them.

Games, likewise, use violence to draw people into the universe that they're creating. Unlike films however, games can make the experience more immersive and this is where the problem has arisen. Many Sports games spent millions of dollars to acquire the likeness of famous sports-people so it makes sense that war games should spend huge amounts of money to acquire the likeness of weapons, right? Well, yes and no.

The fact that game companies feel the need to use real world items in games shows that they are lacking in imagination. I understand that most shooters nowadays have the "combat simulator" moniker attached to them, and part of that responsibility is to ensure as much realism as possible, and what better way to achieve this than to make the guns real. They look real, sound real and they react as they would in real life.

But most people don't care about this, they just want the game experience not the gun firing experience, and as a result they have to deal with the fact that their money has just made the gun companies stocks go up. At the end of the day, no one cares which rifle you used in a game but rather how good you are with it so why even bother to license them in the first place. What game companies should do is fictionalise their main weapons and keep the licensed ones available for download only, that way only the true gun-nuts out there will benefit from the transaction. This also means they don't have to shell out huge amounts of money paying the licensing fees; money that go go back into game development.

Films on the other hand do not allow such an in-depth personification of the viewer and the weapons involved and so do not pose the same problem. There's a few films out there (the names of which currently evade me) where a character lists out each of the defining features of a weapon but in the context of the film, this is generally to showcase their own ability rather than that of the weapon itself.
There is always the chance of product placement however this is not likely to be a problem either as movie-goers are a fickle bunch who rise up in anger whenever a product is given more screen-time than it should and it actually works more in negative effect so the same tactic would not work for guns.

So do guns in films and games support the arms industry? Well in films they certainly don't. You're more likely to be persuaded to buy a car or a watch than a gun through watching a film.
In games, you kinda do indirectly (depending on the game), but you'd do more harm in buying the actual weapon than by buying the game.

In any case, it's an interesting point to bring to light and it's probably something that needs more public awareness.

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