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2008: A year to dismember

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Media functions as a barometer for society’s collective unconscious, much as myth and folktales did in pre-electronic times. Mythology from every culture the world over contains references to dismemberment, indicating that it’s a primal fear shared by all humanity.  And with good reason: few things are as revolting to the mind as the thought of one’s corporal body, or worse, eternal soul, being rent asunder. It’s more horrifying than mere death, carrying an added dimension of psychological terror rooted in the disintegration of the self. Dismemberment is the ultimate fear, and therefore the ultimate punishment for transgression against the laws of gods or men. See Dante’s Divine Comedy, Goethe’s Faust, Shakespeare, or any number of stories in Greek, Roman, Chinese, Mayan, or Aztec mythology for examples.


Above: An image from Dante’s Purgatorio, depicting a severed head

Over the centuries, much has been written by philosophers and psychologists about dismemberment as a symbol for the fragmentation of identity.  Dismemberment has also come to represent subconscious fears of family disunity, disempowerment, and out-of-control situations. If we look at the period of time over which this year’s games were developed, say 2004-2008, we see a nation and a world divided by war and controversy. Ohio election results. The Downing Street Memo. Madrid bombings. London bombings. Valerie Plame. Scooter Libby. Katrina. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Extraordinary rendition. Warrantless wiretapping. Jack Abramoff. Tom DeLay. Larry Craig. An Inconvenient Truth. Sub-prime mortages. The AIG executive retreat. Economic collapse. How’s that for a fragmented society? Add to this mix the heartbreaking death toll in Iraq and the sight of our brave soldiers coming home missing arms and legs, and it’s easy to feel like the world is being ripped limb from limb.


Above: A nation divided

It’s no wonder that we’d turn enthusiastically to videogames for escapism during such a period of disunity and chaos. And it’s no wonder that disunity and chaos are the primary psychological indicators for dreams about dismemberment. What we really want is to be whole again. Another reading of the situation could be that in these games, we are the ones doing the dismembering. As such, they represent a sort of revenge fantasy, a wrathful destruction of those who would wrong us. Again, this speaks to the feeling of powerlessness and disharmony brought on by the events of the last few years. Coincidentally (or not), dismemberment is the punishment for the sin of Wrath in Dante’s Inferno. Either way, the sudden prominence of dismemberment gameplay would seem to be a manifestation of our deep-seated anxieties about the state of the world.


Above: Real-life trauma reimagined in game form - click here to see the reality (WARNING!!! GRAPHIC REAL IMAGE OF WAR WOUNDS FOLLOWS)

Distractions like videogames can help keep us from dwelling on negatives, but either directly or indirectly, our preoccupations and fears will manifest themselves in the content we consume. Like mythology and psychology, media presents a roadmap of the subconscious for those who know how to read it. Our psychic hobgoblins are trotted out on screen, set loose by cunning media sophisticates who’ve tapped into the psychic energy that terrorizes, arouses, or otherwise titillates the groupmind. Media constantly strives to out-sensationalize itself, so maybe from now on every game will feature ritualistic dismemberment. Or maybe 2009 will be the year taboos against sex in the mass media finally evaporate for good. When that happens we can discuss how Obama’s message of Hope and Unity represents America’s (not-so-) secret desire to knock boots.

Dec 31, 2008


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51 comments

  • yodafan92 - January 21, 2009 3:43 a.m.

    FEAR wuz as far as i would care 2 go as far as gore... i don't see whats so fun about mutilation, especially if thats what the whole game is all about
  • majormoses117 - January 6, 2009 4:06 a.m.

    to MitsuharuSan Fuck you. It isn't just japanese people. I have only played 2 games where japanese people are the enemy. Medal of Honor Rising Sun and CoD WaW. You wanna know how many games I have played where japanese people aren't even involved? Plenty. So go cry yourself to sleep you fucking fag.
  • gaming_goon - January 3, 2009 11:03 p.m.

    awsome article i have a code for the gold lancer in gears of war 2 [limited edition] but when i try to download it says it is not valid. but i downloaded the free map pack and i was like wtf! why is the gold lancer code not working does anyone know what i should do?
  • thejadefalcon - January 3, 2009 12:10 p.m.

    You forgot all the Lego games. They all fall apart when killed. Children shall mimic this and the end of the world will be nigh!
  • Cernunnos - January 3, 2009 6:05 a.m.

    i believe adding the real pic was the right decision. seing real brutality is the most effective to turn people away from it. why is it always perfectly fine to shoot nazis? yes, holocaust was an atrocity, but get the fuck over it. if its ok to discrimate agaist one belief-system it should be ok to discriminate against all. the world's double-standard is appaling. not all that fought for the nazi side were even part of the belief-system, they were just terrified, victims of war like everyone else. and the bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki werent at all a necessity for ending the war; it had already ended. i think however it was a necessity in form of showing the world how destructive nuclear weapons are, and that they arent worth the price they cost. i also think that albert einstein was dead-on when he said: "i do not know with which weapons world war 3 will be fought, but i am sure world war 4 will be fought with sticks and stones." he also mentioned something about if he had known what his research would lead to, he'd have become a locksmith. lol
  • HotSht95 - January 3, 2009 4:53 a.m.

    left 4 dead rocks left 4 dead rocks left 4 dead rocks left 4 dead rocks left 4 dead rocks left 4 dead rocks left 4 dead rocks
  • eggo13 - January 2, 2009 9:35 p.m.

    all the good games are gory Mortal Kombat v.s DC should have been bloodier though
  • Major_Wuss - January 2, 2009 5:41 a.m.

    It kind of pisses me off that some non-gamers and politicians are on a crusade (JACK THOMPSON) to get rid of these kinds of games, just because they think the people who play these are going to do things like this in real life. Violence, is unfortunately, a part of life, like it being in the news or even experienced firsthand. When you look past the violence in a game, the stuff you see is great, like a story, and characters who are like real people, and not mindless killers.
  • camo510 - January 2, 2009 5:34 a.m.

    M rated are M rated for a reason. if u dont like it dont buy the game. and people who think that us playing games will make us do it in real life should lay offand go live their perfect little, well behaved lives
  • CptCHARLES - January 2, 2009 2:02 a.m.

    @MitsuharuSan, The American's limbs can also be taken/torn off, not just the Japanese. So can the Russians, and Germans. And in response to your comment "I'm sick of games portraying the Japanese as enemies": Name one game other than Waw that the Japanese are enemies. But then again, it's not like the Japanese tried to TAKE OVER THE WORLD! Oh wait, they did. I'm sorry but the Japanese have not been targeted racially in any video game I've heard of, and if they were than that is wrong but in WaW they weren't. However, that said I am 100% sympathetic to the amount of ignorance that the majority of Americans show and also the amount of "USA FTW" I think that racism is wrong and feel for your family that has suffered when those things were happening. Nothing personal but you were playing it that WaW is racist, if I came off rude or racist I didn't mean it and apologize. No hard feelings.
  • jar-head - January 1, 2009 5:46 p.m.

    War. Nothing compared to what might happen if things keep going the way they are...
  • Jimmyjammy - January 1, 2009 2:11 p.m.

    Also, First on page 2!!!
  • Jimmyjammy - January 1, 2009 2:10 p.m.

    Just reading the words 'Would you kindly?' gives me shivers. Bioshock was a fucking good game.
  • WeirdJamFace - January 1, 2009 12:25 p.m.

    would you kindly? (i lol'ed at that reference......LOL!!!)
  • Whogivsachit - January 1, 2009 4:53 a.m.

    I played all of them except Dead space. All gory as hell(: But what about GTA 4 those cars are killers.
  • MitsuharuSan - January 1, 2009 4:50 a.m.

    Sorry, I meant "that THIS was nothing...", not "his".
  • MitsuharuSan - January 1, 2009 4:48 a.m.

    Yeah, God bless America because the japanese and the rest of the world are not people, right? I'm saying that because I'm sick of games portraying the japanese as enemies and having japanese soldiers without limbs while the american are just dead, nothing much besides that. I still cry to this very day when I see and hear about the goddamn bombs back in '45 and I have family that was present in Japan back then to say the terrible thing it was. And I'm even more sick of hearing that his was nothing compared to "ZOMGZ PURL HARBER" and things like that. Don't get me wrong, I love USA, but there are things that I just can't stand anymore.
  • trexasaurusman - January 1, 2009 4:44 a.m.

    that pic of the american soldier is gruesome, made me layoff of playing fallout 3 for about a month, although i've got started again, god bless america.
  • Amnesiac - January 1, 2009 2:49 a.m.

    I wasn't expecting this to be so thoughtful when I clicked the headline. Well done. And agree w/ bambo0o-stick, no matter how desensitized to videogame violence I become, real life violence still gets to me.
  • heartskuppy - January 1, 2009 2:05 a.m.

    deep.. and enlightening. i love it when gamesradar does these kinds of articles.

Showing 1-20 of 51 comments

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