There is no shortage of people and organizations prepared to pronounce the evils of movies and video games. I'm usually the voice of reason arguing why these naysayers are being paranoid and sensationalist. For once though, I'm the one concerned about the negative effect about entertainment media. I'm worried that they are doing far worse than desensitising us against violence, but rather against our own ambitions. While watching the excellent Lions for Lambs a couple of weeks ago it struck me how skilled hollywood has become at manipulating our feelings, easily leading us from a sense of terrible loss, to proud patriotism, to self-satisfying anger at injustices of all kinds. While this is great for story telling, I worry that it takes away the drive for us to fulfil the need for such emotional extremes in the real world.
What if by making easily available a quick fix of bold heroics in Saving Private Ryan, or activist achievement in Who Killed the Electric Car we are actually suppressing the need that would normally lead us to go out and really make a difference in our community by acting. Similar concerns were recently raised about Guitar Hero killing off real guitar heroes (though it was shown the game was actually increasing interest in making music). This may seem like a far fetched idea, until one considers how complacent we have become about everything. Sure, people will moan around the water cooler about the latest shocking revelation of refugee mistreatment on BBC's website, or government dawdling when it comes to climate change, but then they go home and turn on the TV, and all is forgotten in a blur of manufactured experiences.
The world's population now numbers in the billions, an order of magnitude greater than just a hundred years ago, yet do we have a proportionally greater number of heroes? There are certainly those that go out and make a difference, both in their communities and on the world stage, but they are far outnumbered by the zombified masses that would rather feed their need to 'make a difference' by watching someone do it on TV.
It also seems as if the dwindling number of heroes in the world are fighting an impossible army of villains who take advantage of this mass euthanasia of people's drive to make a difference. Corporate leaders and corrupt government officials are free to destroy the world as the people that should be rising up to challenge them rather watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica or lead a heroic raid in World of Warcraft.
I don't think it's any coincidence that as I have spent less time playing video games and watching TV I have become more and more aware and saddened by the state of our world, and also more driven to do something about it. And doing something feels good, it feels a lot better than watching someone else do something in HD widescreen. Perhaps if more people tried replacing some of their screen time with real activity time we could begin to solve some of the terrible problems our world is facing.