Some 80% of participants in the “Game of Death”, believing they were part of a reality TV show, willingly subjected a (fake) victim to electric shocks. Why were they willing to obey instructions from a TV presenter?
Four fifths of the “candidates” in the “Game of Death” documentary to be aired on French TV Wednesday night were willing to go “all the way” in exposing their imaginary victim to the final massive shock of 450 volts.
The documentary on the fake game show, which seeks to probe the depths of media and human manipulation, has sparked a media storm across France.
Aside from the media attention, the documentary poses many questions, some chilling: are humans generally more willing to follow morally dubious instructions - even from a TV presenter - than they would like to think? Did the “contestants” continue to inflict pain purely because of the glitz and pressure of being in a TV studio?
Participants interviewed in the documentary appear to support the hypothesis.
In the grip of ‘the machine’
“I felt that I was being carried forward not so much by the instructions, but more by the context,” says one anonymous participant in the documentary. “The cameras, the atmosphere, being on stage, the subject and the place… It’s one big package and it affects your personality. The machine definitely has a tight grip.”
The producers of “Game of Death” recruited 24 volunteers who were told that they were going to shoot a pilot for a new show called “La Zone Xtrême”, or “The Xtreme Zone”.
With no financial incentive on the table, the point of the game was to ask one “candidate” – played, in reality, by an actor – a series of questions. If he gave a wrong answer, the punishment would be an electric shock, with the voltage increasing by increments from 80 to 460 volts with each incorrect response.
‘Not my problem, eh?’
In the book about the documentary, “L’Expérience Extreme” (The Extreme Experiment), written by producer Christophe Nick and co-authored with journalist Michel Eltchaninoff, a participant identified as Patrick, a Metro driver, said he was happy to simply follow orders – because it was a TV show.
The instinct to obey, said Patrick, overrode all feelings for the man he believed was receiving the shocks and was in genuine pain.
“If you pilot an aeroplane or a train, you don’t ask yourself questions, you apply procedure, even if you know it isn’t necessarily the best option, because that’s how it should be done,” he said.
“I was told ‘you must do this’ and I thought to myself, these guys know what they’re doing. I did think that guy was roasting in there. But that was not my problem, eh?”
Nazi war crimes
The basis of the documentary was an experiment conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s.
The series of social psychology experiments investigated peoples’ willingness to inflict pain on fellow human beings if they believed they were following orders from a “legitimate” authority, in this case a scientist.
Carried out three months after the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichman in Jerusalem, the Milgram experiment was designed to examine why the millions of accomplices of Nazi atrocities persisted in following orders, even when they violated their deepest moral beliefs.
‘Why did they obey?’
Following up on this theme, the “Game of Death” producers included the granddaughter of Jews who were deported by the Nazis.
A 46-year-old air hostess identified as Sophie said her experience on the show (she inflicted the maximum shock in the experiment) had made her better understand what her grandparents had gone through.
“They wore the yellow stars from 1941,” she relates in “L’Expérience Extreme”. “And all my life I have wondered why they did it. Why did they obey this order? Why did they allow themselves to be taken away? Why did they get into the cattle trucks to disappear in the Holocaust? I obeyed the instructions [in the show], and I feel I understand their experience a little better."
Date created : 2010-03-17