On entertaining violence

Craig’s UFC post has opened up a philosophical can of worms. The discussion continued in real life at our Queensland Theological College weekend away with quite a few people seeing the debate in black and white terms based on their personal gut feel. The naysayers don’t see the debate as a matter of conscience, the blood sport apologists don’t see a Biblical problem with the sport, the debate is at an impasse.

For me the debate begs a broader question about violence in entertainment. How many of the anti-UFC types are anti-UFC because it is real and not fictional? That seems to me to be an odd and somewhat arbitrary distinction to make. If the problem is bloodlust then surely the problem arises for those who enjoy violent movies and video games. If I can watch UFC to appreciate the technical side of things (and I watched my first intriguing bout last week – I believe this is possible, like it is possible to enjoy League despite the violent collisions not because of them) and don’t glory in the violence does that appease the anti-bloodlust lobby? Some in the debate say that it is a question of ends and means. If the end is testing to see which martial art is superior, and which fighter is superior – I don’t see how this by necessity equates to the end being violence.

But the begged question remains – can you position yourself against ultimate fighting while also enjoying Fight Club? Can you be for all intents and purposes a pacifist while watching war movies for enjoyment? Can you tell people that their love for mixed martial arts is Biblically unjustifiable while shooting people in a computer game?

I don’t think so. I don’t feel any pangs of remorse about enjoying the Hitman game series – the object is to be a sneaky assassin killing victims with a wide range of weapons. I don’t feel like there’s a distinction between enjoying the violence of Judges (like the story of Ehud) and the violence of whatever David Baldacci novel I’m ploughing through… In this case it would be hypocritical of me to take a stance against those who enjoy a sport that I have not, in the past, enjoyed, simply on the basis of violence. And much of this debate smacks of hypocrisy. I did speak to one Godly brother on the weekend whose aversion to violence (as a conscious conscience based decision) now extends to the war movies he enjoyed in his youth. At that point the issue is surely a conscience thing rather than a Biblically mandated aversion. If you can not, in good conscience, enjoy the spectacle of any of these elements of culture then do no. It’s a pretty easy decision.

All line drawing in these issues – other than being dictated by conscience – seems to be pretty arbitrary (unless it’s clearly spelled out in the Bible). When it comes to computer games where do we draw the line. Is it ok to kill Nazis (Wolfenstein) but not to kill police (when you’re an assassin)? Why is it almost universally ok to chomp on a ghost in Pacman or stomp on a walking mushroom (a goomba) in Mario?

I always feel bad when I kill a civilian in a game (and hope that I always do), and it seems that there’s an ethical line when you kill someone not expecting it as part of their job (in a game that is) – which is why I think the fact that highly trained UFC competitors are involved in the sport of their own volition (as opposed to gladiators in Rome and anyone featured in “bumfights” an online sensation where people make homeless people fight for money).

Here’s a post I just read about how video game developers seek to dehumanise bad guys so that we don’t feel bad about popping them in the head with whatever weapon we have at our disposal. Their tactics include featuring zombies, vampires and nazis as universally recognised bad guys – and if in doubt – masking the antagonist so that you don’t confront their emotions. The writer’s conclusion is this:

I believe that developers have come to realize that, while violence is often a necessary part of the action in many games, most people feel put out at the prospect of ending other peoples’ lives, even digital ones. While there are plenty of games that don’t adhere to the general categories I mentioned, most do. It’s the action and excitement of a scenario that draws us in, death is usually just an unintentional byproduct, but even so some effort is made to separate the gamer from what would be the terrible consequences of their actions. Developers do this because we are, despite what so many political blowhards and half-wit news anchors would have us believe, sensitive to violence in the real world.

I don’t get why as Christians we’re so keen to point the finger at our brothers and sisters to suggest that their enjoyment of a sport is due to some sort of sinful appreciation of unabashed violence. We should give one another the benefit of the doubt on matters like this shouldn’t we? It doesn’t surprise me that the vast majority of people commenting in support of watching UFC have some technical training or appreciation of the sport that they enjoy. These people aren’t the type to get excited about the misapplication of violence outside the context of sport or the pursuit of justice. They just happen to like a sport that is open and honest about the fact that violence is part of the game.

3 thoughts on “On entertaining violence”

    1. In the actions themselves – yes. In the enjoyment of them – no.

      I'd say the distinction is predominantly made by those who object to the reality of the violence.

      If you want to affirm the distinction there's still a problem with violent stories based on true stories.

  1. "How many of the anti-UFC types are anti-UFC because it is real and not fictional? That seems to me to be an odd and somewhat arbitrary distinction to make."

    I don't think that's odd at all. I think people might have a problem against the 'real' violence because it is actually inflicting injury upon another person, unlike the 'fake' violence you see in movies or whatever else.

    I can understand and accept that people might enjoy the violent aspect of movies with the knowledge nobody is actually getting hurt, but in something like UFC (or boxing, as people have issues with that too), people are actually getting hurt/ are actually inflicting pain/injury.

    (For the record, I don't really care. I see it as people are going into it knowing what they're in for, so they're pretty much asking for whatever they get.)

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