Violence as spectacle is nothing new in the history of mankind. But with modern computer games, it is affecting children in ways never before imagined.
But the water
was not water. And the grass
wasn't grass either. Or trees
But the topic wasn't water or grass or trees
It was man
no one said a word
(Archana Verma, translated from Hindi by Arlene Zide and the poet)
The 12-year-old son of friends is never happy unless he is ‘gaming' at a screen. He is too polite to sulk if he cannot operate his game when he comes visiting but it is clear that he is waiting to get away to the box from which he doesn't want to return. Neither parent seems to realise how quickly this fantasy world could turn into a dangerously dark space from which their son might never emerge, because a part of this charming youngster's mind is already colonised by the creators of games that allow you to torpedo a ship or blow up an island for fun.
Since there is nothing in real life to give the child this adrenalin boost, he, like so many others, in his generation, continues to prove that the enjoyment of violence as entertainment is peculiar to our species. We think nothing of arousing terror and rage in trapped animals, turning it into a game and watching them turn vicious. At one time, pushing an elephant off a cliff and watching it as it fell, bump by bump, down a ravine, studying its injuries, listening to its trumpeting and placing bets on how long it would take for the noble betrayed animal to die was a sport of some minor rajas in India. Dhumaketu even has a story about a shikar who regrets the laughter he once shared with fellow hunters as they enjoyed the confusion of fledglings in the nest when the parent partridges were shot down.
What if games become real and what is the origin of this instinct?
Every culture and continent has its ‘strong man' myth, the powerful and virtuous hero who withstands or opposes adharma and destroys it in whatever form — be it demon or demi-god — in order to protect righteousness or innocence, whether it is a woman, a populace or a nation. Thus we have the baby Hercules killing twin snakes, before he grew up and took on a lion, Samson tearing open the mouth of the lion with his bare hands, destroying the Philistine army with the jaw-bone of an ass, Draupadi washing her hair in the blood that fountains from Dushasana's chest torn open by a vengeful Bhima. We are asked to admire these visions of brave violence which comes with Divine approval.
Historically, people paying for the spectacle of violence is nothing new. Gladiators, expensive to train and maintain, were asked to fight wild animals or each other to the death for the entertainment of ancient Romans. Boxing and wrestling, both of which damage the contestants, have world titles attached to them, and injuring a perfectly innocent bear, bull, dog or rooster for sport in a confined space without even giving it a chance to escape, continues, despite valiant protests from animal activists.
Violence as entertainment
As entertainment became more and more remote (actors on stage gave way to people in films who are easier to watch given the “distance”), audiences began to demand higher degrees of violence to get the required thrill and ‘actors' like themselves, not distant godlike forms. They received it in films and plays, which just a few decades ago were strictly graded and access of immature humans to them, controlled. Gradually, with the spread of gadgets facilitating virtual entertainment and virtual games, it has become impossible for the State to monitor child use and exposure to unsuitable and anti-learning films and games.
What should make us all anxious is that gradually, hour by hour, these games proceed to take over the mind of its users. Korea, where Internet speeds are the fastest in the world, has documented cases of children who have become unable to relate to their families because fantasy worlds have conquered their minds. Different sorts of counselling and treatment are underway for these youngsters who can no longer sleep in the dark or be comfortable in a room with doors and windows open. As for school-going or educational materials — they are things of the past with the “patient” unable to sit still anywhere except before a monitor where s/he can play his favourite game of people tearing into each other .
Games that invite us to enjoy inflicting pain and death on fellow humans will surely be the undoing of our species. Currently, society is not even sure how to deal with such dysfunctional children because no law ever anticipated such a problem.
In a society fast turning against its traditional axis of growth through restraint, we have reached some sort of brink in excesses. Every school curriculum revision has called for a child-oriented, life-oriented syllabus but not enough numbers of schools are thinking deeply enough about the moral and spiritual training of their wards. No classes are held on how they might live cooperatively rather than in killing competition with their classmates, something which is echoed and reinforced by these games on sale.
A generation ago an anonymous Vietnamese poet wrote, “If only we could give our children the sun, the moon and the stars, instead of this war.”
Do we think that creating virtual wars and games with violent messages to entertain children will not affect the world one day?