I read an interesting blog post the other day about online abuse and trolling. It was somebody from the game industry bemoaning the fact that whenever the slightest element of game play was changed (e.g. a weapon’s response time), the developers would be deluged with heartless, cruel, extreme, threatening abuse. They couldn’t block it, because the email titles would often be innocuous. They couldn’t ignore it, because once a threat to your children’s lives has been read, it sort of sticks in your mind. Blocking the sender only confirmed that the message had been read and received. The blog’s author was saying that games developers were leaving the industry, rather than deal with the constant stream of abuse via email, twitter, etc.
The essence of the complaint was that their users were heartless, insensitive, cold, cruel, lacking any empathy, insouciant about the consequences of their actions and prepared to use extremes of violence.
And so they were.
Now, what kind of games do most game developers actually produce? In the main, they encourage players, in a virtual world that they immerse themselves in totally, to kill without thinking, to destroy, to experience extremes of violence and to never give it a second thought. These gamers work with a programme, often for hours and hours, that systematically trains them to be heartless, insensitive, cold, cruel, lacking an empathy, insouciant about the consequences of their actions and prepared to use extremes of violence, in the course of game play.
Can you spot the pattern here?
As artists, the effect of your work has to be considered. What reaction will your work cause? Is it a reaction you would like in the real world we all inhabit? Do you want the people that listen to your song to kill themselves? Do you want viewers of your movie to set buildings alight and engage in violence? Do you want to confuse them and make them feel stupid, or do you want to help them see something they previously overlooked?
It doesn’t hurt to stop and think, when producing an artwork and ask yourself these questions:
- Who am I trying to reach?
- What change do I want to bring about in them?
There is no doubt that your work will cause a change in the person that experiences it, even if that change is to feel total indifference (perhaps that was not the intended effect, but it’s a common reaction to art). If you want to speak to young people, do you want them to become less caring, or more so? Do you want them to feel happiness and joy, or are you trying to get them to abandon all hope? Do you want them to be bathed in beauty, or witness the ugly side of life? What kind of world are you trying to create and influence, through your art?
If you don’t think about whom you are reaching and what change you will cause in them, you can do a lot of harm through sheer negligence. Perhaps you don’t think your art is for anyone in particular and that your art isn’t supposed to cause any change to anybody. That’s just fooling yourself. Every person that encounters your art will be affected by it somehow. It’s unavoidable. Deliberately leaving the results to chance doesn’t seem all that humane, to me.
Hollywood has known about the power of art to influence for years and has, frankly, behaved quite disgracefully, propagandising us all to accept the status quo, to glorify war, death, destruction and violence and to believe the myth that major, life threatening injuries heal perfectly and with no long term effects, by the next scene. Bereaved families don’t exist, in this art form. We’re all taught to be triumphalist, twisted bigots. But Hollywood doesn’t feel a responsibility. It’s making money. To hell with the world they actually create, in real life, through their art.
Similarly, there wouldn’t be advertising at all if it didn’t, at some level, influence behaviour. Are these the behaviours the advertisers really want? Do they even care? It seems to me that most advertising only cares about reaping profits and doesn’t interest itself in what kind of a world is constructed, once the viewers behave as required. They don’t consider the big picture.
If you want to reach ordinary people and awaken them, through your art, then be mindful of that, as an artist. Also, beware of the unintended consequences. Taking on the task of creating a positive change in the world through your art is a worthy and noble thing to do. I applaud you.
Leaving the influence of your art on people entirely to chance is, in my view, contemptible. You might be inadvertently causing a world to be created that is completely different to the one you want.
If, on the other hand, your artistic mission is to deliberately spread misery, to destroy, to harm, to get people to act sociopathically, to lie to them, to cheat them and to convince everybody that there is no hope, my advice to you would be to give up art entirely. We have enough of that in the world already.