The depravity game

The depravity game March 19, 2010

A French TV show has replicated a 1960s experiment that demonstrates just how sinful we really are:

Eighty people who thought they were participating in the shooting of a pilot for a French reality series were willing to deliver potentially lethal electric shocks to a contestant who had incorrectly answered knowledge questions, according to the documentary, “The Game of Death,” airing on French TV on Wednesday night.

“Zone Xtreme” seemed to have a pretty standard game-show format, complete with wildly enthusiastic studio audience, a glam well-known TV weatherwoman hostess, gaudy lighting, etc., said the French press reports.

In truth, the would-be reality series participants were part of an experiment that was turned into the documentary.

In “Zone Xtreme,” the faux contestants who gave all the wrong answers were actually actors. Each “contestant” was strapped into an electric chair. The 80 wannabe famesters were each asked to punish the contestant, when a wrong answer was given, by administering up to 460 volts of electricity. The majority of them ignored the contestant’s screams and obeyed the orders of the weather-chick hostess to ratchet up the jolt. They also obeyed the chant of “Punishment!” from the studio audience — which did not know the game show was a fake — until the contestant fell silent and appeared to have died. Only 16 contestants walked away, according to press reports.

The idea for the show came from the work of psychologist Stanley Milgram, who conducted the experiment at Yale University in the 1960s. Milgram found that most people, if pushed by an authority figure, would administer ostensibly dangerous electric shocks to another person.

via Lisa de Moraes – Reality show contestants willing to kill in French experiment – washingtonpost.com.


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  • Winston Smith

    Remember, it’s not torture if we do it. Or national security is at stake. Or something.

  • Winston Smith

    Remember, it’s not torture if we do it. Or national security is at stake. Or something.

  • Dan Kempin

    I don’t know. While theology and experience leads me to believe the underlying premise of depravity, I think the proof is really in the experiment itself. As for the contestants, while I do not deny the “disturbing” factor, I think there is an implicit contract that a television show is not “real.” There is an understanding among participants that a television show intends to generate sensation in order to get ratings. I doubt any of them truly believed that they would be allowed to murder someone as part of a game show.

  • Dan Kempin

    I don’t know. While theology and experience leads me to believe the underlying premise of depravity, I think the proof is really in the experiment itself. As for the contestants, while I do not deny the “disturbing” factor, I think there is an implicit contract that a television show is not “real.” There is an understanding among participants that a television show intends to generate sensation in order to get ratings. I doubt any of them truly believed that they would be allowed to murder someone as part of a game show.

  • Catherine

    I remember studying Milgram’s experiment in my psychology classes. We watched part of the video footage of the researcher prompting the subject to press the button, and later telling him that it wasn’t real. It was fascinating to see that part of human nature. The man in the video was obviously ambivalent and not entirely willing to shock the man in the other room (screaming in supposed pain), but once prompted, he did it anyway.

    I don’t know about the French show and if it was “real” or not, but people will, if pushed by an authority figure, hurt someone else if they can’t see them. It’s fascinating and horrifying all at once.

  • Catherine

    I remember studying Milgram’s experiment in my psychology classes. We watched part of the video footage of the researcher prompting the subject to press the button, and later telling him that it wasn’t real. It was fascinating to see that part of human nature. The man in the video was obviously ambivalent and not entirely willing to shock the man in the other room (screaming in supposed pain), but once prompted, he did it anyway.

    I don’t know about the French show and if it was “real” or not, but people will, if pushed by an authority figure, hurt someone else if they can’t see them. It’s fascinating and horrifying all at once.

  • Catherine

    Furthermore, the game show reminds me of the Terry Gilliam movie Time Bandits, where the young boy’s parents are watching some truly horrifying game shows where you die if you lose.

  • Catherine

    Furthermore, the game show reminds me of the Terry Gilliam movie Time Bandits, where the young boy’s parents are watching some truly horrifying game shows where you die if you lose.

  • Kara

    This proves that we aren’t far off from (or a supposedly more advanced society than) the barbaric times of the Roman Coliseums.

  • Kara

    This proves that we aren’t far off from (or a supposedly more advanced society than) the barbaric times of the Roman Coliseums.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Very interesting. I wonder what angle the documentary is going to take on this.

    For those who are aware of the depth of the fallen depravity of man, this is certainly small potatoes, compared to what man is capable of and in fact complicit in presently.

    Though, A good little wake-up call, perhaps? Maybe its too bad this documentary will likely only air in French.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Very interesting. I wonder what angle the documentary is going to take on this.

    For those who are aware of the depth of the fallen depravity of man, this is certainly small potatoes, compared to what man is capable of and in fact complicit in presently.

    Though, A good little wake-up call, perhaps? Maybe its too bad this documentary will likely only air in French.

  • J

    Like Winston @1 says.

  • J

    Like Winston @1 says.

  • I’m more inclined to agree with Dan K. @2 about this. At first blush, I was disgusted (but not shocked) at the idea of this experiment, believing it actually WAS a game show; that thought made me sick. But after learning more details, I have questions about the validity of such an experiment. If one wants a true test of human nature, it seems to me that one doesn’t choose contestants for a fake game show from a populace that is as savvy about “reality” TV as the Western world. And then, what about the “famesters”, as they’ve been called? We can’t read their minds to know what they knew or perceived as real or fake; but we can make assumptions that they were, as Dan suggests, in on the joke, so to speak.

    All this being said, it is completely plausible that one day, given our present trajectory as the human race, this type of game show will not just BE but will be popular! What is that saying: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive. . .”? In high school, I read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”. I thought it was fascinating and horrifying fiction; today, much of it is alarmingly true! God save us!

  • I’m more inclined to agree with Dan K. @2 about this. At first blush, I was disgusted (but not shocked) at the idea of this experiment, believing it actually WAS a game show; that thought made me sick. But after learning more details, I have questions about the validity of such an experiment. If one wants a true test of human nature, it seems to me that one doesn’t choose contestants for a fake game show from a populace that is as savvy about “reality” TV as the Western world. And then, what about the “famesters”, as they’ve been called? We can’t read their minds to know what they knew or perceived as real or fake; but we can make assumptions that they were, as Dan suggests, in on the joke, so to speak.

    All this being said, it is completely plausible that one day, given our present trajectory as the human race, this type of game show will not just BE but will be popular! What is that saying: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive. . .”? In high school, I read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”. I thought it was fascinating and horrifying fiction; today, much of it is alarmingly true! God save us!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Are the documentarians running the “game” or only giving commentary on the experiment?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Are the documentarians running the “game” or only giving commentary on the experiment?

  • fws

    Confession time:

    I read the holy gospels and think “wow. I never would have denied Jesus like peter and all the rest did. I never would have betrayed my Lord with a kiss. and I never would have cried ‘crucify him’. How COULD someone living with Jesus every day be so blind and stupid?!”

    I am in deep denial.

    I do exactly what they did every single time I sin. And I know alot more than they did. This says “no. excuse. ” I do worse than they did every time I show my neighbor less respect and kindness and helpfulness than I pride myself in thinking that I would show my Lord.

    Of course things are far, far worse than that.

    I just mentioned sins of omission. Sins of commission would need their own blog. Private confession can take a good while sometimes….

    My actions speak for themselves. It is not good news.

    Every time I read something like this, I see myself in the mirror. It terrifies me. Only Jesus and the promise of the new birth give me any hope or joy in seeing this.

  • fws

    Confession time:

    I read the holy gospels and think “wow. I never would have denied Jesus like peter and all the rest did. I never would have betrayed my Lord with a kiss. and I never would have cried ‘crucify him’. How COULD someone living with Jesus every day be so blind and stupid?!”

    I am in deep denial.

    I do exactly what they did every single time I sin. And I know alot more than they did. This says “no. excuse. ” I do worse than they did every time I show my neighbor less respect and kindness and helpfulness than I pride myself in thinking that I would show my Lord.

    Of course things are far, far worse than that.

    I just mentioned sins of omission. Sins of commission would need their own blog. Private confession can take a good while sometimes….

    My actions speak for themselves. It is not good news.

    Every time I read something like this, I see myself in the mirror. It terrifies me. Only Jesus and the promise of the new birth give me any hope or joy in seeing this.