What this uber-violent 'Friday the 13th' gameplay footage says about the culture we live in
The Kickstarter-funded Friday the 13th: The Game is a dream come true for mega-fans of the prolific slasher franchise, and gameplay footage out of E3 over the weekend will make those folks eager to try out the multiplayer title for themselves when it hits stores in October. As a longtime horror fan, I understand that compulsion; I would be lying if I said watching the nearly five-minute clip didn’t make me want to pick up a controller and have a go myself. Except that I won't, because I recognize a larger truth about this kind of "entertainment": It is morally reprehensible.
I’ve been thinking about the horrific mass shooting in Orlando all day long, and no doubt that's a factor in my intensely negative reaction to the footage (released several hours after the tragedy unfolded), which shows an off-screen player taking on the role of serial murderer Jason Voorhees as he stalks and kills a group of young victims through an isolated campground:
But the truth is, I’ve already written about my mixed feelings on slasher movies here before, so this line of thinking isn’t anything new for me. My misgivings have been brought into starker relief in light of the Orlando massacre, 49 people lost their lives and countless others suffered horrible, lifelong physical and emotional trauma at the hands of a hateful man bearing an AR-15 assault rifle.
Those inclined to argue with me will say that Jason Voorhees doesn’t use guns like the Orlando shooter did, which is true enough (you can read more about the scourge of first-person shooters here). But he does use knives and machetes and sometimes just his bare hands (citing just one example) to smash a young woman’s head into a wall over and over until she’s dead -- all under the direction of whoever happens to be in control of the gamepad. Is that something we should feel okay about just because Jason uses something other than firearms to brutally murder people? What does it say about our culture when we can so confidently make that kind of distinction?
More to the point: doesn’t the entertainment industry owe it to its customers to engage in a real conversation about the effects of exploitative violent imagery on the minds of those who consume it, particularly given the huge amount of social science research that demonstrates statistically-significant links between real-life aggression and on-screen violence? And especially in light of the near-constant acts of mass violence that plague our country?
No doubt, the larger conversation in the wake of this tragedy will center around gun violence, and banning assault weapons specifically manufactured to make it easier to kill larger numbers of people more quickly should absolutely be priority number one. But addressing the foundations of that violence is an important goal as well -- and while I’m not naive enough to believe that on-screen violence is the sole or even most significant factor in shocking acts like the one we saw perpetrated in Orlando on Sunday morning, the science suggests that in some cases, it could well be a part of the equation. At the very least, it’s symptomatic of a disturbing, widespread cultural disconnect that allows us to comfortably condemn mass acts of violence on the one hand while championing exploitative fictional displays of it on the other; I know this because I recognize it in myself. And as someone who covers entertainment for a living, I simply refuse to feed that disconnect...especially on a day like today.