Saturday, February 26, 2011

Watching vs Committing Violence

For my essay on a moment of violence that has stuck with me, I wrote about the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 level No Russian. Gamers are a demographic that are already well acquainted with gruesome acts of violence. Lots of games try to specifically target their audience by making their games as edgy and gory as possible. At this point, games which allow or require you to murder opponents or innocents, even torture them, are no longer even notable. However, the level No Russian is a step beyond even that. In the level, an undercover US agent assists a Russian terrorist group in stalking through a densely packed airport while shooting anything that moves. The game features realistic guns and blood, and while the civilians do little to resist you, they do crawl around while injured and scream for help.The game allows you to skip this level at any time if you feel uncomfortable, which is perhaps the only time I have seen this option in a video game. When I first bought the game, before I had reached it, I decided to take a look at No Russian before playing it. It is freely accessible on Youtube, which sort of raises some questions on why it's okay to host detailed simulated violence on Youtube, but videos of real murders are removed. Anyway, take a few minutes to watch the gameplay:
Now, after watching that video, I decided to just skip the level. It's not very challenging gameplay, I understood the plot elements, and I didn't feel very comfortable playing through a massacre. That was a few years ago. When I wrote my essay, I watched the level on Youtube once again. Again, I felt uncomfortable watching it. However, thanks to a repaired Xbox, I started my game up again afterwards, and played through the level for the first time. When I sat down to actually play it, I ended up not feeling bad at all. Whether through cognitive dissonance, or the feeling of being in control instead of watching others commit violence, or even just the tactile feeling of playing a game instead of merely perceiving realistic violence, I felt totally okay with the level. I guess there might be an automatic gamer instinct which shields us when actually playing a game, whereas watching others do the same actions forces us to try to comprehend their motivations. On the other hand, it may simply be that watching violence is more disturbing than committing violence, which is a rather disturbing conclusion.


  1. Seriously, I felt very uncomfortable watching the video for many reasons. Your compatriots appear to have zero emotional reactions to the scene. In fact one of them fires his M6 with one hand at the fleeing innocents! The protagonist is forced to advance slowly (perhaps a play on words “No Rushin’ ”), so you are forced to watch the player massacre the civilians in an almost cold and vengeful manner. Finally, when I saw the protagonist approach the wounded man leaning against the wall, I was hoping for mercy until he pulled out his knife in a coup de grace.

    I haven’t played MW2, so seeing the whole event was a little out of context for me. But I certainly agree that watching is far more difficult than playing because you are out of control. In comparison, when your downstairs neighbors are blasting their music at 2am and you are trying to sleep and you feel powerless to make a difference, the feelings of irritation are exponentially greater. In that way, witnessing a gamer kill countless civilians will always be more horrible than doing it yourself because you are not in control. While watching, I felt like I was one of the victims of the massacre. Conversely, if I had been in control, I would have felt less empathy for the non-playable-characters.

    Watching another gamer playing MW2 is like stepping into the player’s mind and consequently seeing through the eyes of the “other.” Do you feel it adds to the discomfort when being the voyeur instead of the instigator?

  2. My God, that video was disturbing. Having never played any of the recent Call of Duty games, I wasn't aware on how realistic the graphics are now. I almost thought that the scene was real for a split second when it first opened. I wonder what will start to happen as video games become more and more realistic. When it eventually gets to the point where it is almost photo-realistic and virtually indistinguishable from watching a real movie with real people, will people still play these types of violent video games for entertainment? Would it eventually get to the point where it's just too eerie and disturbing to play?

  3. I find it very strange that you can skip this level. Its like the creators are acknowledging that some parts of their game are messed up. But I agree that when you are playing a game you become removed from what you are actually doing and dont really think of your actions. Games allow you to do some really heinous things but there is a disconnect between games and reality which allows you to do those terrible things without having any guilt or regret afterwards. maybe thats why people like video games in the first place; they allow you to get away from reality, if only for a while.

  4. I never thought of the play on words "no russian" as "no rushin'" it makes perfect sense! I'm a die-hard CoD fan and I play the online mode pretty regularly when I'm home (and if you're wondering, yes, I do ROCK at the online mode). When I first get games I play the story mode before the online. I had heard about the level but thought nothing of it really. When I played through the level I still thought nothing much of it; however, I did not find it particularly fun either. I guess I don't have a taste for that. So I tried to run through the level very quickly only to find out that you could not run much to my chagrin


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.