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The True Cost of Simulated Realities

thoughts & comment — 26 Feb 2011

IF YOU WATCH A VIOLENT MOVIE or play a violent computer game, you will have entered a simulated reality that most certainly will have an impact on your internal states. Watch or play enough of them, and you will be permanently changed for the worse. This is because the psychology of human beings and animals will generally reflect the environment in which they are immersed. The younger the person, the more prone they are to be affected by simulated realities.

Today we have millions of children and young adults, worldwide, spending a large percentage of their waking hours simulating murder using computer games. In other words, they are psychologically practicing killing and general brutality. Of course not all those who play such games will play them out in real life, but a significant percentage will.

The problem with modern society is that the split between mind and reality is so great — thank you Descartes — that we just do realize what, as a society, we are storing up for ourselves as we condone the use of desensitizing simulated realities. And that of course includes film and television.

Film-wise, what was considered shocking even for adults just a couple of generations ago, is now routinely seen by children. There have even been studies that have shown that the average child has witnessed over a hundred thousand acts of violence before finishing elementary school! [Source]

And along with that aggression and violence that children (and adults) are learning through our media is fear, competitiveness, narcissism and dissatisfaction (consumerism).

What are the hallmarks of modern society today? Fear, aggression, violence winner-takes-all ruthlessness, narcissism and dissatisfaction. It is right there in black and white, and yet we do absolutely nothing about it because the corporate world that ultimately influences and controls government knows that fear, aggression, violence, competitiveness, narcissism and dissatisfaction actually make people easier to manipulate and control because it breaks the cohesive bonds that are necessary for people to act collectively. (A revolution may be sparked by an individual, but it takes a united people to carry them out.)

But just suppose that we did start to acknowledge the affect of simulated realities on the health of society. Just as the cost of alcohol should reflect the damage it does to society, perhaps those who manufacture and market simulated realities should pay the cost of the damage (if any) that those realities will do to society? In other words, should not violent video games, television programs and movies be taxed so that the damage they will inevitably do is covered by those who profit from them? And in the same way, we could have grants given to those who make video games, TV programs and movies that promote healing and wholeness?

Of course, assessing the cost of violent media is difficult, but that should not stop us from at least trying. The alternative is just too awful… a society of sociopaths that is broken and fragmented. Is that what we want?

So perhaps the ratings we give to video games, films and TV programs should not be information guides, but should carry financial burdens and incentives. This way, we steer society in a healthy direction, rather than allowing the producers of our entertainment — the large corporations and media controllers — to stand at society's helm, leading us down to the path of mayhem and destruction.

But there is a proviso here: some might say that a negative film gives voice to our collective psychological shadow and so might actually have a long-term positive effect on society. But playing out the shadow can certainly be done less destructively by making it more symbolic. This way it satisfies that deep psychological need to acknowledge the shadow without bring that darkness directly into society. Native societies have managed to do this effectively without destroying themselves in the process. Surely we have the imagination to do that?

What is certain is that we must start to acknowledge the true cost of the simulated realities in which we immerse ourselves and our children.

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