For many internet users, real-life gore content has reached default levels of inclusion under the ‘horror entertainment’ genre, along with scary films and the rest of the fictional butchery available out there. The only difference is that seeing someone getting stabbed dozens of times in a horror film is manageable for most adults—because we know this is not reality—but doing the same knowing fully that the footage took place in the real world has a whole different meaning.
As taboo as harbouring an interest in gore content remains, video-sharing platforms specialised in shocking images and videos like BestGore and TheYNC have been thriving for years now—decades almost. So what is it about gore content that gets so many people hooked, you ask? Well, today’s your lucky day because one gore enthusiast agreed to speak to Screen Shot and tell us exactly what they like so much about it, along with what it makes them feel.
First of all, it is important for you to understand that the stigma surrounding authentic gore content is very real. As I searched for potential interviewees, it took me more than a month before finding one willing to speak up about their peculiar interest. Along the way, a few people agreed to speak to me, only to change their mind at the last minute, probably worried about the consequences this piece would have on their ‘reputation’.
But one user agreed to share the ins and outs of what being a real-life gore content enthusiast entails; TangerineTragedies on Reddit, who I will name TT for the purpose of this article. What usually pops into most people’s mind when thinking about those who enjoy watching shock videos or images, is the question ‘Why did you start watching it in the first place?’.
Understandably, initiating your kid to websites such as BestGore is not on a parent’s to-do list when it comes to their children’s education. On the contrary, most parents tend to put age restrictions on those platforms, along with porn websites and specific TV channels.
For TT, it all started when their brother showed them “a picture of a guy who was in a motorcycle accident on rotten.com when I was about 14.” While the simple thought of what this could have looked like has me shaking in my boots, for some reason, TT got some form of enjoyment from it: “He looked like somebody dropped a handful of teeth into an uncooked meatloaf and I was incredibly intrigued.”
Now, I know what you must be thinking. What’s wrong with people? Well, actually, there’s a scientific explanation behind why so many people enjoy scary movies and horror entertainment—which could arguably also include authentic gore content. As Psychology Today writer and chartered psychologist focusing in the field of behavioural addictions Mark D. Griffiths explains in an article, quoting Doctor Glenn Walters, “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism.”
But what about real-life gore content specifically? Although TT explained that these images have a strong impact on them, “I get enjoyment from my curiosity being temporarily resolved, but I do not enjoy the images themselves. I generally cringe with disgust and feel empathy for victims but it’s hard to explain exactly what I feel. I usually have the ‘that’s enough’ moment after about an hour and I may not go back to it for months afterwards, even years. But I always go back,” many researchers have linked low empathy with gore enthusiasts.
According to a research published by Doctor Deirdre Johnston in the 1995 issue of Human Communication Research, looking into motivations for viewing graphic horror, “gore watchers typically had low empathy, high sensation seeking, and [among males only] a strong identification with the killer.” Thrill watchers, for example, were found to have both high empathy and sensation seeking, and identified themselves more with the victims than the killers.
Whether you personally enjoy shock sites and slasher films or not, there is something about those that speak directly and instinctively to the human ‘animal’. But brain scan research conducted in 2010 by Thomas Straube at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena showed that scary movies don’t actually activate fear responses in the amygdala (which is the core of the neural system for processing fearful and threatening stimuli) at all.
Instead, it was other parts of the brain that were firing: the visual cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information, the insular cortex—self-awareness, the thalamus, the relay switch between brain hemispheres and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain associated with planning, attention and problem-solving.
Simply put, this showed that humans aren’t typically scared by this type of content (at least not in their brain) but more interested in it for a plethora of other reasons. Taking this into consideration, it can be assumed that gore enthusiasts enjoy it for different reasons—while some might feel a boost in adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine, which can make the experience somewhat enjoyable, others can “have a harder time screening out unwanted stimuli in their environment,” as professor Glenn Sparks told Psych Central.
As TT proved to me, gore enthusiasts watch shocking images and videos for many different reasons and purposes. For TT, “I like GoreGrish and I tend to gravitate towards still photos of murders. Or suicides. But videos are not for me, I cringe too hard at the action, I’d rather just see the aftermath.”
When asked about whether they ever tried to reach out to other members of the gore community, TT added, “I’ve never actually talked to anybody on a gore site, the comments are usually ‘still fuckable’ or some other stupid bullshit that I can’t relate to. I think I like gore because I can’t imagine feeling so ‘insert emotion’ that I would hurt someone, so I find it fascinating.”
And like TT mentioned previously, it’s that fascinating element to gore content that always makes them come back to it. Just like we may easily get glued to the endless scrolling through videos of puppies doing cute things, others are pulled towards images depicting stabbings, empaling and horrifying accidents. Even though the types of stimulation received watching those two types of content are different for most of us, a ‘nervous system arousal’ still takes place.
Our heart beats faster, our blood pressure increases, our pupils dilate—both acts are thrilling in opposite ways. Though almost everyone can handle puppy love just fine, it’s easier to get overwhelmed by the type of stimulation that gore content comes with.
When speaking to TT, I couldn’t help but ask them whether they ever fantasized about doing some of the awful things that they had so far only seen through gore images—don’t ask why, but I guess I was half-dreaming of interviewing a Luka Magnotta 2.0. Open-minded as I liked to think of myself, I also expected gore enthusiasts to all be psychopathic killers. But TT isn’t one of them, “I would never fantasize about doing that. I’m glad those sites are out there but I like to look at gore from a more academic perspective,” they told me.
And if you think of it, we’re not so far off from TT and other gore enthusiasts: an accident always draws spectators who were initially on their way to do other things. Why do you think that is?