Desensitization and You

Braxwolf of Gaming Conversations made a post about the Slenderman Case.

Ironically,  as I have announced, I’m working on a podcast, and this was one of the topics that I chose for our practice session that happened a couple of days ago.

I commented similarly on his post as I did on my podcast practice, that parenting seems to be lacking with the girls that committed the crime. How did their parents not know their interest in the Slenderman phenomenon, or not notice that they were carrying knives out of the house?

My comments were disassembled (as they seem to be whenever I get involved in something this controversial), but as Braxwolf would later point out, he wasn’t trying to analyze the case, moreso trying to analyze desensitization of our youth and society.

I remember these arguments when I was young. When Mortal Kombat was released and the ESRB was formed because Rock n Roll was no longer the only scapegoat for mass media to hound into submission. Gaming was a new medium, and it was carrying violent content that wasn’t fit for our eyes.

There is talk that 50 years ago people would have been horrified by what’s on TV and in these video games today. I can acknowledge that, but I also say that if you go back a bit further, atrocities were more common place, and desensitization seems to be even more common the further back you go.

Have you watched Game of Thrones lately? Sure, people will argue til they’re blue in the face that the show propagates violence, rape, and other things that aren’t socially acceptable. But do we not acknowledge the fact that it is true to the period? It is a work of fantasy yes, but is it not a clear picture of the way things were in the dark ages? When slavery, incest, rape, disease and war taught everyone to be tough and to do what it takes to survive? We’re still here. There was still good and evil back then as there is now.

Despite our best efforts to be civilized and better than our ancestors, the truth is that we are the same fleshy meat sacks that they were. Despite having more knowledge by the time we are teenagers than most adults did at that time, we are still fueled by the same primal instincts. There is no taming that portion of our heritage, and thus violence, lust and all of that “evil stuff” will remain prevalent.

However, is it not better to experience those things virtually as opposed to physically? Being able to do sadistic things in a video game or watch them on TV without causing anyone harm seems to be the better alternative.

What does desensitization mean?

Desensitization refers to the potential for reduced responsiveness to actual violence caused by exposure to violence in the media.

Many case studies have been done, and of the ones I researched, no link was found between simulated violence (be it played in a video game or watched on TV) and real-world violence. People tend to do things in a virtual reality differently than they do in actual reality. I believe that has to do with the fact that they are aware that their actions in a video game hold no consequence outside of losing the game.

With that said, do you still believe desensitization is the cause of children attempting to murder other children? Or is it perhaps the fact that parents sometimes don’t get involved with their children? Sure children will still do stupid things, but one would hope that attempted murder wouldn’t be one of them, particularly when a parent probably could have stopped this particular incident from happening in the first place. It seems to me that the issues are related. We’ve come a long way from the dark ages, yet violence still persists. Maybe it’s because some things simply cannot be controlled.

#desensitization #socialissues #violence

9 thoughts on “Desensitization and You

  1. I sometimes think this is mostly a case of skewed reporting, looking for “human interest” stories. How many people get stabbed or shot, sometimes by juveniles, that go unreported because there wasn’t a sensational angle to blame, I wonder?


    • Honestly, if there weren’t laws against it, more of these types of crimes would happen.

      Think of the wild west. There were more crimes like this I’m sure, even with laws, mainly due to lack of law enforcement.

      I just love how some new technology comes along and suddenly it’s to blame for violence. Negative. It’s ingrained in us. The world is violent. Look at nature.


  2. This is a great post. Excellent points. I’m sure humans have always been/will always be collectively violent and twisted. However, I still think that environment plays a major role in development of the individual (as do you, it seems – with your points about parenting) which can in most cases overcome any genetic predispositions that might be present. We are predisposed to do anything (including violence) to preserve ourselves, however our environment teaches us that violence affects others and is ultimately detrimental to our own survival due to our need to live socially and to depend on others and work cooperatively. We are born knowing the first (watch toddlers fight over a toy), but have to learn the second through observation and environment.

    I don’t watch GoT, actually. Watched the first season, and was intrigued by the characters and story. Ultimately, I felt that the level of violence, sex, and twistedness was being exaggerated to the point that it no longer enhanced the realism of the story, but instead was using it in order to gain viewers through the violence and sex itself. I believe I read that G. Martin got many of his ideas for the show from actual historical events, but they happened over centuries and across multiple countries, not all to the same family over the course of a couple years. We have to be careful not to assume that the level of … everything…that GoT portrays is really what it was like to live in those times. Could you imagine? Lol.


    • I think that because GoT is being told on a weekly basis (with months in between seasons), they might embellish a bit with the brutal bits to increase viewership, it’s a normal ploy in any form of media. However, from studying history and watching other shows based on (or semi-based on) history, it seems that those sorts of violence weren’t held in check as they are today.

      But like you said in the discussion over on your post, there’s probably a shitload of crimes that don’t get reported, or that are only reported locally to where they happen, and the majority of people don’t hear about them. The Internet has made us more connected so we hear of more news stories, but that doesn’t mean we hear about all of them. Violent crimes are being committed around the world as we speak.

      We do have to keep in mind though that GoT is a work of fiction, and obviously there aren’t White Walkers, Dragons, Giants, or any of the fantasy stuff thown into that show. It’s funny to me that no one scoffs at those elements, but they think the violence is unrealistic. Hmmm.


  3. Okay this is how I see the process working, which leads to the conclusion that media both does and doesn’t desensitise us to violence.

    1) Most of us in western society are born into a family environment where we are taught very early that violence is unacceptable. As we go out into the world as children that message is usually reinforced by other adults. So we have the ingrained avoidance of violence as a common tool or behaviour.

    2) By the time we start consuming media, that attitude is firmly entrenched, so even though we might see media that glorify violence or make it acceptable, if we take that to heart and follow that lead we get brought up short by adults again, i.e. “I don’t care what they do in [show of choice], you don’t behave like that to other people!”

    3) Because we have that environmental/social prohibition – yes, backed up by law but not originating from it, which is where I think you are wrong in the degree to which law dissuades violence – as we get older we have that dissonance when we see violence in media. We recognise that it is something that is not real, that is wouldn’t be acceptable in the real world which we take part in. So I don’t think we become desensitised to it in that respect.

    However, some people do not have that background.

    1a) Some people are born into an incredibly violent environment, where it is constant, a way of life, and they accept it as a normal part of life. Where aggression is rewarded, and even valued. Those people are desensitised to it, because it is all around them. Those people might tend to mostly, or only consume media that reinforces that world, where violence is glorified. So in that sense, media helps to keep them desensitised.

    2a) Even if you are brought up as in (1), if you start consuming violent media early and often, to the point where it becomes more of an influence than your social environment, and/or if you aren’t constantly corrected by adults as in (2), then I can see your worldview tending towards violence being acceptable or normal. Children can become obsessive about certain shows/movies and if they are not brought out of that obsession often enough then I would definitely say that the media would desensitise them. The canny ones can even hide that obsession if they’re careful. It doesn’t even have to be a specific show, it could be a whole genre or subgenre.

    It’s very odd when you think about it that so much effort goes into educating children that violence is not okay as we raise them, yet so much of our media features, promotes, even glorifies it. We tell them, “this is wrong”, but then they see us enjoying these incredibly violent shows or movies.


    • That’s because violence is an inherent part of the world and our being. Survival of the fittest and instinct drive violence. That’s where parent and laws have reinforced that it’s not ok, because we have tried to become better than those who came before us, or to be more civilized than currently violent people.

      You’re right, without that backing people tend to be more violent. And our media promotes and glorifies violence because it is entertaining.

      Think about Gladiator (the movie, but also based on the real life occurrences within the Colosseum), people used to watch people fight animals and each other for sport/fun). Football and other contact sports are derivative of this. People crave violence, but we acknowledge that killing each other seems like a bad idea these days.

      Like my final line said, some things simply cannot be controlled.


      • To say that Violence and survivalism is part of our dna or “drive is actually a fallacy. There are many documented cases around the world of cultures that run completely counter to this, that are inclusive and completely non violent… non violent to the extent of accepting violence upon themselves without recourse.

        I won’t argue that there is a certain amount of genetics to it, maybe a predisposition but it is the environment that activates such things and perpetuates this “drive”. the environment is what shapes our understanding of reality and the place violence has within it.

        and about those case studies… most are actually conclusive on that simulated violence can cause more aggresive responses. Bandura was a big one studying this originally. It, of course depends on the person. Those with the predisposition or environmental learning are obviously more influenced by such things. It also reinforces such things.

        As for desensitization, I think that is a big part. An adult (well most) can differentiate between reality and fiction. A child’s ability to differentiate isn’t as strong though.

        SO in a sense this unfortunate act is a product of both the child’s developmental state and the desensitization of violence.


      • Yeah you’re making some mad assumptions now, huge gut reactions I sense 🙂 Why do you think there are these “primal”, immutable features to human society? We are what our environment is. If that environment is violent, so are we. If it is not, then we are not. J3w3l is right: your argument is a fallacy 🙂

        Its really odd that this came up in the comments, because I wanted to type something else. However, ive been working on an essay about this very thing (about violence being natural) for a while. Its probably time I published it. So thanks for pushing me out of the door 😀

        What I wanted to ask about your statement that violence in media is there to some how portray authenticity (ergo, GoT is being true to the medieval period, etc). I explained what I thought about that in this article (, skip down under the Escapism heading so that I don’t have to type it here. i basically argue that historical authenticity is abused as a reason our media should be portrayed the way it is, ignoring entirely the fantasy nature of it. I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

        I also still think its harsh you accuse parents with no basis other than your gut. Kids keep secrets. If a kid doesnt want you to know, they will keep it from you. I’m not saying their parents were or were not watching them. Im saying you have no idea whatsoever. It would be a more interesting conversation about kids keeping secrets or a relationship between crimes and bad parenting. At least that’s something to actually discuss and let the potential emerge from.


  4. I don’t see where I made any assumptions. My piece simply made some statements. It was all rather general based on how I perceive things. This is, after all, my blog. And I am, after all, entitled to my opinions.

    I’m not a violent person. But I know I have been in violent situations and have had the desire to be violent when threatened or even under a perceived threat (where one maybe wasn’t even there) that sounds like instinct to me, not a fallacy.

    GoT clearly has many elements of fantasy which has been pointed out already, so I don’t really see your point there.

    I don’t see where I made accusations of bad parenting in this article. I used words that would show that it’s a possibility, not a fact. Still, given the facts, there’s limited conclusions to be drawn from that case. Just because you are a parent doesn’t mean I’m attacking you. I wasn’t even attacking them. How does changing the conversation ever so slightly have any bearing on this post? It seems that there was plenty of commentary, without you needing to break this down into something that it’s not.


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