A Look at Hyperviolence in Media

Garrett Hartman



“Rip and Tear until it is done” is the opening line of 2016’s reboot of classic ‘90s first-person-shooter “DOOM”. The line is followed by a first-person cutscene of the player character, the Doomslayer, grabbing the head of a demonified scientist and slamming it into the sarcophagus the slayer was sealed in, the head instantly exploding like an overripe tomato. 


“DOOM” 2016 is a great example of what could be regrded as an increasing trend in hyperviolence used in media.


The use of violence in media has differing rhetorical purposes based on the context; however, generally speaking, gore and violence are rarely used to evoke positive emotions. 


In horror and war films — two of the gorier genres — violence has the rhetorical purpose of fear and anxiety, or depicting the base brutality human nature can reach. There are some exceptions, such as comedic horror films, but even these films often don’t depict murder and death scenes themselves as comical. 


“DOOM,” however, contrasts in this way as one of the primary mechanics of the game called the “glory kill,” where players are rewarded for closing the distance with their opponents and performing brutal melee kills.



These animations are cathartic and visceral and vary from ripping demons' jaws off, to ripping off arms and beating their former owners with them. In “DOOM,” the mutilation of living things is supposed to be fun and satisfying, and it is. 


This is what defines the increasing trend of hyperviolent media -- these depictions of violence are supposed to be enjoyed. They are designed to evoke so-called “positive” emotions.


Videogames are not the only medium that have taken this tact. Films have been doing this to an increasing degree as well. A director most notorious for his use of gore is Quentin Tarintino, whose films serve as a perfect example of this use of violence. 


While Tarantino’s films take their stories seriously, they have an amount of wit and levity. Their spectacles of violence are, depending on the film, almost comical, and frequently play into power fantasy, a common aspect of violent videogames. 


One might even suggest many of Tarantino’s later films are historical revenge power fantasies, where audiences revel in seeing the brutalization of some of the world’s greatest monsters, like the Nazis in “Inglourious Basterds,” American slaveholders in “Django Unchained” and the Manson Murderers in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”



Summing these up as simply power fantasy films is reductive, since the characters, plot and dialogue are executed so well. The component of historical “revenge” is an interesting theme in these films, even if not necessarily intended by Tarantino.


I would argue that the conclusion of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is the best example of this revenge element, as the film's conclusion shows the brutal killing of the perpetrators of the Manson murders. Here the murderers are shown as aloof and almost comically stupid as they are murdered by Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth, as he is tripping on LSD. 


With the whole film largely being a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, the violent conclusion seems like it is setting something right in its depiction of the past.


But how do you keep depictions of violence comical and fun? 


The common tool used is archetypes. Antagonists and humanoid things are a lot easier to watch die if they are made more generic, and less human. Some of the most common enemy archetypes have thus been demons, Nazis, and zombies.



These generic antagonists are especially common in games as they have easily one of the highest body counts of all media. I’d be damned to try and count how many generic soldiers I shoot in any single “Call of Duty” campaign.


Countless videogames, films, and television series utilize this shorthand. Think of almost any piece of media set in World War II; the countless zombie films, games, and TV shows. Demons are admittedly less utilized outside of games; however, trade them in for generic “aliens” in Hollywood and you have a pretty close match.


We are then allowed to be happy to kill these “enemies,” and see them die in horrific ways because they are morally bankrupt. Demons are a manifestation of evil; the simple nature of their existence is amoral.


Zombies may have once been human but no longer are, they are merely corpses barely puppeteered around by whatever inexplicable virus can control the function of rotting muscles.


Nazis are the most identifiable because they ostensibly are human, but their ties to the brutal horrors of World War II make them almost symbolically equivalent to a demon, as they are morally corrupt and despicable. 



Their lack of humanity is what helps create a disconnect that makes their violent, gory deaths not only seem like a good thing but pleasurable to watch.


This is something a number of videogames have examined. “Hotline Miami” and “Spec Ops: The Line” are violent games that include a commentary on media violence in their story.


Both games play off the idea that the player commits atrocities based on “filling in the blanks” of what they need to do to progress through the game. 


“Spec Ops: The Line,” for example, has a scene in which players are forced to use white phosphorus on enemies to progress. Enemies you later discover were holding civilians captive who were all killed in the attack. You are shown a gruesome image of a mother holding a child, their skin melted off by the chemical.


Both games have intentionally unsatisfying conclusions that ask the player whether or not they were really the “good guy” or if they just assumed so because of the context they were presented.



“Hotline Miami” directly interrogates the player in brief interludes between levels. The game stops just short of breaking the fourth wall, having characters ask your mute player character; “Do you like hurting other people?”


Media violence has been a topic of widespread debate for a long time especially in the context of games, with the original “DOOM” back in 1993, to the “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty” franchises.


Whether criticizing or embracing violence, this type of media asks a lot of philosophical questions about morality and violence. Is it wrong to find joy in seeing human heads explode, even if they’re zombies?


Author Bio:

Garrett Hartman is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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