Grappling with beasts, hoodlums and whip-wielding minxes, subsequently finishing them off by clobbering them over the heads with a beer bottle and smiling victoriously as they flew backwards, smacked the rain slicked ground and flickered out of the war-torn streets of rage in Sega’s classic…Streets of Rage, was only the merest taste of what violence was to fall before my eyes in later gaming years.
The next experience, after finally convincing my parents to chaperone me to the now long-defunct Apollo Video store and rent it, came in the form of Rockstar’s eponymous top-down classic Grand Theft Auto. Renting this celebrant rampager offered further jovially-framed violence, albeit far more gratuitous. Running down Elvis impersonators and weaving processions of evangelists, their pulped corpses smearing across the roads, invoked justifiably righteous adolescent joy.
Everything changed when Manhunt came along. What a humdinger. All of a sudden, committing violent deeds through the conduit of a controller felt like far less of an inconsequential joy-fest. Thanks, Rockstar!
To this day, Manhunt is still one of the most explicit, controversial videogames ever released. It was therefore unsurprising when the most licentious of British scandal sheets (hint: the rag in question took a few front-page breaks from telling about how Charles and Diana continually fought about whether to have pheasant or goose at the Sunday dinner table) leapt upon it, holding it up as exemplar of violent-media leading to violent real-life deeds when, in 2004, a claw-hammer murderer was found to have had the game among his collection and was purportedly ‘obsessed’ with it. To me, this equation felt wholly out of sync.
Manhunt was the first game I played which made violence legitimately scary. A gritty, pitiless nightmare of a game wherein you, the player, were tasked with gruesomely dispatching thugs who had kidnapped your family, it was no colourful bash.
By enacting in-game violence, inputting commands to jab the knife into the victim, or make concave their head with a baseball bat, I found myself frightened by the potential for similarly brutal acts in real life. I can’t comment on the culprit – maybe he genuinely was a doolally Sally wrongly inspired by the game – but titles like Manhunt have really only served as a deterrent for me personally; and I suspect this would be the case for most right-headed folk. Games like Manhunt always satisfied my intrigue for the macabre but provided a safe outlet for it. What if, instead of demonising games and insisting they’re tools of influence, they were viewed more as educational devices – especially so in the case of those hyper-real types – to show people the true horror of taking lives?
Nowadays violence in games is completely normal, and even expected – it kind of always has been. Desensitisation is often viewed as a bad thing, too, but there is little evidence to support a connection between game violence and reality. For all their severance and exploding bodies and heads being lopped off, games have made violence a spectacle to a dying degree. Violence in games is just another haircut in the real world, or a ride on a train; and that’s just dandy.
What do you think, Crashers?! Does unleashing violent chaos in a game function more as simple stress-reliever or serve as the impetus to go outside and engage in a real-world killing spree?