Forty-one minutes and thirty-five seconds into the film, there’s a very short panning shot of a city that I think Frank Kermode would deem absolutely vital for a discussion about this film’s social commentary. Beneath all the fancy advertising and PR work, Slayers is a public demonstration of violent- and very real- combat between living human beings. Convicts or not, the deaths witnessed by viewers of every installment are real, and the concept of such a brutal spectacle should by itself only hold the attention of particularly imbalanced or unstable individuals. I think we can agree that normal, functional and social human beings do not find the deaths of our own kind to be entertaining, and yet Slayers has enough attention to warrant the image at 41:35.
Three entire skyscrapers have been decorated with the words “KABLE’S LAST STAND”. With the addition of one simple rule, that these death row inmates could win their freedom with 30 victories in the game, we have a narrative. It isn’t just mindless killing, it’s a struggle for survival. That mechanic ensures that Kable’s audience is going to witness an ending to his story, one way or another, and they’re absolutely enthralled with the idea. Enough to drastically modify their cityscape just to remind everyone to tune in, because “tonight is the night!” They’ll look past all the blood and guts and violence just to see how the story ends, and that’s a very important thing to note.
You can get a sense of scale for the importance of this narrative to the target audience simply by looking to what that narrative distracts them from. It’s enough to distract them from the deeply-rooted moral concern over the killing of our fellow man (For anyone who doesn’t firmly believe that such an aversion exists, I’d urge you to read Dave Grossman’s theories on what he calls the “universal human phobia”).
For Kermode I think it would be obvious and unsurprising that it would have such an effect on this wide an audience. Not only does it afford the opportunity to witness the visceral and very real ending that we’re universally denied ourselves, but it presents it as an experience. Until the results are on-screen, no one knows whether Kable is going to live and earn his freedom, or if he’ll die in the attempt. Whether or not you find it realistic that a sizeable chunk of the population would be willing to watch such a show, it can’t be denied that the concept itself nestles perfectly within the confines of what Kermode postulates to be our desires for endings.
The genius of this statement about human nature is that we, as the viewers, became yet another demonstration of it. As disturbing as the content of the film was, no one in the class excused themselves or otherwise left the room during the screening. We were all so engrossed in seeing how Kable’s story would end, we overlooked our moral opposition to the images on screen and stayed for the duration. I’d argue that on a fundamental level, that’s precisely the same phenomenon that allows Slayers to not only exist, but to thrive within the fictional world of Gamer.