Although first person shooters are often heralded for their twitch controls, I remember my dad’s hands twitching more than mine when he watched me play 007: Nightfire. After I howled in celebration of a clutch kill one night, he gently revealed what was on his mind:
The lesson didn’t sink in for a long time. As a kid, guns were no more real to me than the polygonal weaponry I controlled on screen. Today they are much less abstract. When I scroll through my Twitter feed, I am sure to find the latest gun-related atrocity sandwiched between selfies and sports updates. We often fear becoming desensitized to violence because of media overexposure, but this constant reminder of real world violence has in fact resensitized me to its fictional representation.
My iPhone buzzed with news of a mass shooting as I entered the theater to watch the latest 007 flick (apparently still a fan), and the Hollywood gun battles that I used to find exhilerating turned out to be difficult to sit through. I thought about buying Fallout 4 this week, but while watching a gameplay video featuring slow motion headshots next to my Twitter feed announcing yet another shooting, it suddenly seemed much less appealing. I remembered the way my friend’s older sister sighed when she watched him play Call of Duty.
Reviews of the military shooter focused on barely perceptible visual improvements and minute changes to its rules. Those four words rang louder than all of them.
I am not suggesting that it is impossible to enjoy violent media as escapism, that you should avoid it entirely, or that it has a direct influence on real world actions. However, the less ignorant we become about the world around us, the more my dad’s lesson rings true. When considering a fantasy for entertainment, it’s worth remembering the reality.