Sunday, 27 July 2014

Macabre for the masses

The other day I completed 'Sniper Elite 3' on the Xbox and I have to say I thought it was a fantastic game - possibly about as good as a first-person shooter gets, although I'm sure there's plenty of people who would argue the point. The game predictably relies heavily on stealth and long-range kills rather than the more usual run-and-gun techniques that many use in games of this genre. A particularly entertaining aspect of the game is the x-ray cam which shows in glorious slow-motion detail the internal destruction of the target's body as your bullet rips its path through him. You can enjoy such highlights as the bullet entering the eye socket, punching grey matter and skull fragments from the back of the head, or slicing its way through the sternum and heart, taking the spine apart on the way out, all to the grisly sounds of the victim's death rattle as he gurgles on his own blood.
The really worrying part is not that someone went to the trouble of creating this gore-fest or that enjoyment is obtained from glorifying death (the targets are Nazis after all), but that I simply couldn't get enough of this spectacle - to the point of taking extra time over my shots to ensure I got the most dramatic and bloody kill possible.
However, as I have no problem separating fantasy and reality, there's no real reason for concern. Indeed we all have a macabre side to us to some degree or other. If we didn't there wouldn't be tailbacks in both directions of the motorway when there's a crash, because those travelling in the unimpeded direction wouldn't have the automatic desire to slow down and have a look to see if there's a mangled corpse hanging out of the wreckage. Sounds a bit sick in those terms doesn't it, but when you stop and think about it that's exactly what's going on. We have a built in fascination for the nasty icky stuff. It's the reason people watch action movies where the hero gets tooled up and rampages around racking up some super-human body count. Death and destruction abound but it's entertaining because we know it's not real and the victims are all bad guys anyway so who cares, right?
The big thing that used to be frustrating about 'The A-Team' was that however many thousands of rounds were fired, nobody got shredded. Obviously this was a conscious decision by the programme makers so that it could be shown during prime time to all ages, thereby substantially increasing its audience. But that did mean that a little something was missing. It would have been just that bit more satisfying if the savage dictator terrorising the little backwater village got turned into a human teabag in a hail of M16 fire. Instead, the worst that happened to him was to be decked by B.A. before being chased away with his tail between his legs. It just didn't quite satisfy the blood-lust, did it?
And what about motorsport? It's hard to believe anyone watches Formula 1 to be impressed at the driver's skill or the way the aerodynamic design of the latest cars enables them to obtain such incredible corner speed. No. What we're all waiting for is the crashes. We want to see a few drivers push it too hard and pile into the tyre wall or each other in a spectacular shower of unbelievably expensive alloy and carbon fibre parts. But because we know it's real with real lives at stake we also don't want anyone to get hurt or worse.
When we watch the MotoGP, we're rubbing our hands together in anticipation when it's a wet race because we know that anything can go wrong and there's a strong likelihood that it will. In a wet race you're practically guaranteed to see even the most talented riders low-siding into the kitty litter before attempting to rejoin the race with bits of fairing and half a rear brake lever missing.
But when it does go wrong and the worst happens we feel awful because we at some level experience a true sense of loss. The tragic and untimely demise of people like Ayrton Senna or Marco Simoncelli brings home the reality of what can happen when it all goes very wrong. As long as we experience this sadness we can be assured that our moral compass is still pointing in the right direction, and it's still OK to enjoy the bloody mayhem of a film or video game.

In summary, we all love a bit of death and destruction as long as nobody actually gets hurt.

The A-Team: probably the worst shots in the world....