Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Violence and Empathy



I've been reading with interest a report on how violent computer games can restrict the development of empathy in children .

When I was a kid, it was difficult to ascertain whether the collection of lurid pixels generated by my glorious BBC Model B Microcomputer (up there with the Austin Mini in the pantheon of marvellous British feats of engineering) were intended to represent a human being or a bowl of peanuts, or both, so you really couldn't really take shooting it particularly seriously. However, this is not to say my generation were not exposed to inane violence.

I remember very distinctly watching Rambo 2 or 3 ish on the telly, I was probably ten or so, and seeing Rambo sneak up on this guy who was stood around idly in a jungle, probably smoking a cigarette and scratching his leg with his AK47,
and then Rambo leaps up and breaks his neck, dumps him in a ditch and moves on. Suddenly I had this revelatory moment - I thought, hang on, that guy probably has a mum and a dad and brother like me, and now they are going to be really quite sad. This Rambo cat is actually a pretty serious scumbag. It upset me.

Incidently, I think he was also on the side of the Taliban, fighting against the Russians.

So, my experience suggests that such absurd violence can actually evoke empathy. In the case that it doesn't I've developed a solution, and it goes like this:

Take, for example, the Grand Theft Auto games, where killing any given pedestrian is only a problem if the police see you doing it, and then only if you can't out manoeuvre them. I propose a mini game in which for each non-gun-toting innocent bystander you mow down in a four by four, or beat to death with a golf club, you have to role-play the police officer giving the news to their weeping old mother.

That'll sort the youth.

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