This article is a guest submission from Dexter17.
The process of desensitisation is a process that the human race prefers to relegate to the back of the mind. It is incomprehensible to some that they would fail to become significantly moved by scenes of an extreme nature, but consciously or not, it happens. With the internet on tap and easily accessible news feeds, we are continuously being battered by all forms of media output, and it would take a naive person to deny that this emotional lambasting is failing to moderately manipulate the mind.
Essentially, desensitisation means reducing the brain’s sensitivity to a specific stimulus. This is typically achieved by exposing the brain to the stimulus a multiple number of times, so it becomes more comfortable with the stimulus and as such experiences a less intense response to it. For example, someone with an irrational fear of spiders could be helped by being exposed to them for short periods over a lengthened amount of time, and the same theory can be applied where global news is concerned.
The effect of an extreme video may be significant for the first view, but if a similar video was replayed every week for the following year, the effect of the video would gradually diminish until the human brain perceived it as normal.
This kind of process pitches an interesting situation for our beloved videogame industry. It thrives on forcing the player to invest an emotional engagement with the videogame, but if every videogame poses a similar conditional state this effect will gradually lessen, providing developers with a need to push the boundaries in search of an improved emotional channel. This serves as the motivation that developers need to innovate so that the player can continue to feel the full impact that would come with watching that extreme video for the first time, and as such, proves positive for all parties involved.
However, it’s a contrasting state of play where violent videogames are concerned, and a severe discordance with the positive progression that I have previously mentioned. Whereas The Punisher on Playstation 2 may have shocked on its release, it now appears comparatively tame when stacked against titles such as the recent SAW: Flesh and Blood. But if our reaction to the extremes of violence found in the likes of Grand Theft Auto has become attenuated over the years, this poses any developer with a will to survive in the current economic climate with an increasingly tough question: how do you evoke a response when the stereotypical player has become desensitised to the traditional forms of pixelated brutality?
The obvious answer is to invest more time in developing the characters, providing the same violence that has been seen before but adding an extra degree of emotional depth behind it. Despite this, there is no escaping the fact that some videogame plots dictate that violence is the driving factor, and in this case the developer in question will be forced to push the unwritten line and hope that the classification boards such as the BBFC take kindly to their efforts. The industry needs to evolve, and making the player feel something is a crucial part of any successful title.
The disturbing proposition is that unless rapid new technologies are discovered, developers will be unable to do this due to the desensitisation of the player that has run its course since the inception of the first violent videogame.
The industry isn’t going to die overnight; whatever happens, developers like ThatGameCompany will always be around to offer emotionally rich experiences that don’t depend on savagery. However, unless the already relatively lenient British censorship regulations are overhauled, developers may be confined to what violent dishes they have already served up, and this could potentially stifle the already saturated violent videogame market. Maybe the brain is trying to tell us something; maybe we should throw our violent shooters and sandboxes aside and make way for more emotional experiences that make us think, feel, but most of all, enjoy, without a blade or bullet in sight.