Feb 10

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

It seems odd that On Violence, a blog based on the discussion of war and violence, has managed to avoid a discussion of such an acclaimed piece of media as the videogame series God of War. As the resident On V gaming guru, it feel to me to address one of the bloodiest and well received games of 2010.

God of War stars Spartan warrior and Spike TV proclaimed bad-ass of the year Kratos. He’s an anti-hero with a single mind for vengeance that wages a war against the gods over three installments. A demigod stained with the ashes of his own family, he hacks and slashes his way through innumerable hordes of creatures, Greek gods, titans, classic heroes, and even innocents, to confront whatever entity he’s convinced has wronged him. (In the player’s first encounter with Kratos, he leaves the boat captain with whom he traveled to die without acknowledgement.) Initially, he seeks vengeance against Ares for making him a slave and killing machine. After killing his original master, Kratos spends the second and third installmentsattempting to destroy Zeus (and by extent the entirety of Olympus) for removing Kratos from his achieved role as the new God of War. But his blood lust is sated only by the next kill; the next battle. There’s no break, no relief, just the continuation of rage filled murder after murder.

The God of War series is extensively violent and bloody, probably excessively so, which warrants discussion here. Eric C recently addressed the question of who it is acceptable to kill in video game simulation and the God of War trilogy would seem to extend the question to how graphic those acts of violence can/should be. From repeated rapid button pressing to trigger the rapid slamming of a man’s skull against marble to gouging the eyes of Poseidon, the player enacts Kratos’ brutal wrath.

While I could discuss the extent of the exaggerated acts of violent and copious amounts of blood, they are not the aspects that I found more disturbing. Ultimately, the portrayal of violence is an artistic choice. My real protest stems with the series’ culmination with Kratos sacrificing himself to save mankind.

Kratos, a self-serving butcher with little regard for any life other than his own, ends his life in a peculiar attempt at redemption. At the end of this journey, with all his foes slain and his vengeance achieved, Kratos who has all but destroyed existence by slaughtering gods and titans, suddenly decides to sacrifice himself to help restore some semblance of order to the world. It makes no sense.

It’s bad writing for two reasons:

1. That sh*t just doesn’t happen! A man does not slaughter on the magnitude of thousands in a bid for retribution and then suddenly care about the rest of humanity. That’s not a logical progression. He’s been consumed by rage his entire life allowing him to kill without a second thought and suddenly his conscience tells him to save the earth. The action genre equivalent is something like Ripley from Aliens suddenly caring about the well being of the alien species after loosing a platoon of colonial marines and blowing up half a planet to stop their spread. Thematically, it doesn’t make sense.

2. It’s a cop-out. Kratos is a popular character in the gaming world because he’s such a bad-ass, so the game has to end with him doing something nice for humanity so the player can feel at peace with the fact that he spent three solid hours torturing and rending Greek Gods that are already beaten defenseless. Self sacrifice is not in the character’s nature. It’s an end of the ride fake out saying, “See, it’s okay to like the mass murderer because he’s leaving his money to cancer research.”

Eric C and I have a running debate about the importance of plot in video games. Eric C believes gameplay--or ludology--matters more than a coherent and enjoyable storyline. God of War III seems to champion his point of view. It’s vicious and visually stunning and easy yet enjoyable to play. There were plenty thoughtful and compelling plot options missed; an actual path to redemption, Kratos assuming the role of Zeus and needing to be overthrown himself, or a maybe even just a portrayal of the horrific consequences of all his actions. Any would have been better than the anti-hero awkwardly stabbing himself to let out the wisps of glowing blue hope lingering deep (really, really deep) within him to help humanity survive the chaos he wrought them.

Jan 27

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

I’m racing through the burnt refuse that appears to have been a Vietnamese village. Mid-stride, a single round strikes me near the groin. The shot came from the right. A sniper is crouched in the ashes of a single room hut. He’s inexperienced, because his second shot misses. I hear the whir as the high caliber round rushes past. I take aim and make the kill before two rounds from an AK-47 finish me off.

Luckily, I re-spawn fairly close.

The newest game in the Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops, boasted $650 million worldwide within its first five days. It managed to outperform its record setting predecessor Modern Warfare 2. Impressive, considering that Modern Warfare 2 broke the record of its predecessor; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. As a gaming enthusiast, I was compelled to throw my money on the pile too.

While standing in line, I overheard a number of things that disturbed me, but I wasn’t sure why until later. A number of people were talking about how realistic, how visceral this game was: the imagery, the feel of combat, the weapons, and the characters.

Call of Duty is a gaming industry icon. It’s not only the shooter that every other shooter looks to, borrows from, and sometimes wishes to be; it’s also a model for developers for storytelling and variable game play. It revered for its multi-player experience, its graphics, and its replay-ability.

However, one thing it shouldn’t be revered for is its realism.

For one thing, Call of Duty isn’t realistic. Off the top of my head, I could name a half dozen or more inconsistencies with reality. Most obviously, in real life, there are no re-spawns. Nor can Russia ever successfully invade and occupy the United States--the biggest but not the only plot impossibility. From what I know, ducking behind cover does not automatically heal you, not to mention the fact that two rounds is usually sufficient to put anyone out of commission as opposed to half a dozen or more.

Second, the designers didn’t intend the game to be realistic. When asked about Modern Warefare 2 and its realism, Infinity Ward’s Co-founder Vince Zampella told PlayStation Magazine that their goal isn’t to create a realistic combat experience. “We’re not making a sim[ulation], we’re making entertainment. We want it to look real like an action movie [looks real].”

Lastly, the problem isn’t with the Call of Duty: Black Ops, it is with society’s (false) perception of Call of Duty: Black Ops. Much like The Hurt Locker, people allow fiction to affect their perceptions of reality. We need to take these types of media with a grain of salt. Games or movies like this are entertainment, not reflections on what is or was. Unfortunately, they can give more impressionable people misconceptions about war, combat, and the military.

Like those people having the conversations while I was waiting in line to buy the game; they were brothers of eight and ten years old.

Dec 10

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.

Spoiler warning: This post contains minor spoilers for Pride of Baghdad.)

Zill, leader of his pride, lounges in his captivity in the hot Baghdad son, enclosed in a prison he no longer seems to mind, the Baghdad Zoo. A bird catches his attention, spouting nonsense. "The sky is falling," the stupid little creature cries. Zill dismisses the bird until two F-18 Falcons roar overhead, dropping ordinance into the city and accidentally destroying the walls and cages of the Baghdad Zoo.

Zill and his lion companions, for the first time, face terrifying freedom.

Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad is the story of four lions caught in the turmoil of the 2003 US Military invasion of Iraq, freed from captivity by a stray American bomb. Based on a true story and presented as a graphic novel, the creators tell an allegory that poignantly comments on the price and the effects of freedom thrust upon those who aren't ready for it. He seamlessly weaves a narrative about four inhabitants of the Baghdad zoo while simultaneously glimpsing the larger turmoil of the events of 2003.

Each lion acts as an allegorical representation of a particular segment of the Iraqi culture prior to American liberation, representing a different generation and reflects the spirit and events they have experienced. The elder Safa portrays a perspective of one who has lived under two types of oppression--lawlessness and captivity--while the slightly younger Zill contrasts this with memories of freedom and the male instinct for combat. Younger still is Noor, the adolescent lioness discontented with the walls that confine her and active in her pursuit of freedom. To complete the quartet is Ali, the innocent, a child representing the future of the pride.

Using these four distinct characters, we follow the lions as they gain freedom, roam the wreckage, attempt to avoid many dangers and interact with other natives to Baghdad. Without giving too much away, the interactions between the cast of four with other creatures loose in the streets of Baghdad is where really Pride of Baghdad shines. These creatures echo distinct characteristics of the culture of a city and a people who have lived under an oppressive regime and twice in recent history seen the effects war. The personalities and perspectives of these ancillary characters, combined with the pride they radiate, gives more gravity to the war in Iraq than even recent Oscar winning movies of the same subject.

Vaughn and Henrichon tell a complete story with vivid artistry. Smoldering ruins of the abandoned zoo and the city proper add weight to the events. Every location is distinct propelling the story forward. As is every character in spite only slight variation visually. The artist and writer manage to form a tale that is not only visually compelling, but compelling intellectually. 

There is more here than the story of lions presented with their freedom. It's a story about the people and the culture of Iraq and it's a story about the effects of war, oppression, and freedom. I will not spoil the summation at the novel's conclusion, but the words written are haunting and true. As a graphic novel and as a individual narrative, Pride of Baghdad is an excellent read.

Oct 21

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

Rambo (2008) wasn’t terrible. Obviously the action was over the top. His machete maiming and decapitating returns with gusto as does the belt fed machine gunning. It is a Rambo film after all. Despite the over the top action and the limited dialogue, there is a real display of genocide and human rights violations. The situation and locale are real. And the acts of violence against a people called the Karen while dramatized and Hollywoodized, they are based on actual accounts are barbarism committed in Myanmar (what was once Burma).

John Rambo finds himself in Mae Sot, Thailand. As I watched the opening sequences of Rambo (2008) I was excited. I was there. While the locations didn't look familiar, the text that introduced the location struck a chord. Mae Sot, along with a number of other cities along the Myanmar border, is home to a Karen refugee camp. One that I was fortunate enough to see and assist in providing medical aide at while I was in Thailand. 

Karen are likely the decedents of Mongolian nomads that found their home in the mountain jungles of Burma. I met several of them, not in Myanmar, the country in which their home lies, but in the refugee camp in Mae Sot. It is one of many camps that exist in the surrounding countries that they have been displaced. For the most part, Karen are Southern Baptist by religion due to western missionaries. This fact, combined with their desire to live independent of the Myanmar government that makes the vast majority of its capitol on the illegal narcotics trade, have made them subjects of genocide. 

Mae Sot is the staging point, the place where we join an aged John Rambo hiding away from his past when his is interrupted by a Christian group seeking to cross into Burma. A dangerous endeavor considering travel into the country is restricted and those caught within are summarily executed. This is not exaggeration, I have met with a few medical professional, ex-military sympathizers, and Christian evangelicals who have been beyond the border and who take their lives into their hands each time they do. While I thought their act of throwing caution to the wind an act of heroism, they reminded me, the Karen risk their lives every day to simply remain in their homes.

I was able to talk with some of the Karen with the help of our interpreter. We heard stories. Nothing as blatant as the killing in the movie, but more sinister. Rambo portrays the Myanmar military forcing Karen prisoners to run through a field full of land mines and mortar fire reeking havoc on a Karen settlement. The reality is that Karen have become adept at patrolling their homes and leave their settlements upon sighting Burmese military patrols. The military will pass and the Karen return. As the Karen return they must walk upon solid stone because the paths are lined with landmines. Our interpreter noted that Karen children are taught to play only upon the stone. 

Soldiers as young as twelve showed me scars from bullets or shrapnel. Young women told of being beaten. They tell that they are thankful for the growing Burmese sentiment toward Karen women. Where once they may have been raped, now they are seen as less than human by soldiers and disgusting. One woman said it is better to be beaten than beaten and raped only to be left with child. 

Ours was a medical mission. In truth, my primary responsibility was simple to observe and carry equipment. Assist in dental procedures and practical demonstrations. Our response to the hidden war differed greatly from the protagonists of the movie. Rather than taking life, we were attempting teach the Karen how to prolong it through education about sanitary living and basic medical practices. 
 
I watched this movie Rambo with its over the top action and egocentric focus on White missionaries and mercenaries and grew sad. Partly because the cinematic display is likely based on stories from Karen survivors. More so because the situation is truer than fiction. It hit home for me after meeting the afflicted. But mostly I was saddened because, as ridiculous and this Rambo movie was and as much as it focused on these white characters and whether they lived or died, this uber-macho film has arguably done more to bring actual human rights violations to the attention of a apathetic public than any other attempts at information sharing.

If you would like to read more on that Karen, or find out how you can help, please check out the following links.
- This is a story on the specific plight of the Karens.
Jul 29

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

I recently re-listened to the song “Believe” by Yellowcard. A friend was with me, and she made an off-hand comment about how heroic firefighter are. The comment bothered me a little. Her sentiment, while a nice gesture to public servants, is ultimately belittling.

Something unfortunate happened after 9/11: the use of the word hero became synonymous with certain job professions. All firefighters are considered heroes. All soldiers are heroes. All police officers are heroes. And so on.

As an EMT, I have had the privilege of working closely with fire and police personnel. What they, and what we, do is often hard work. In most area, fire engines and vans respond to emergency medical calls. If it’s someone with emotional problems or an assault, we’ll see police there too. On a traffic collision, the highway patrol is called to make the area safe while we work and they stay long after we leave with the patient. Not to mention dispatchers, maintenance workers, security personnel, doctors, nurses, techs, etc. Working these jobs can mean exhausting days and sleepless nights. 

However, these things are part of the job description; it's the job they signed up for. A firefighter, an EMT, or a police officer doing his job does not make him or her a hero. It earns him or her the amount which they are paid (granted EMT's and law enforcement personnel are drastically underpaid, but firefighters make excellent money). To be a hero, one must go above and beyond the call of duty. Go beyond what is expected of them. 

We’ve all heard the accounts of survivors of the twin towers. As men and women escaped down the staircases, firefighters ran up them, never to come back down. As Yellowcard says in the song, "Climbing higher through the fire/Time was running out/Never knowing you weren't going to be coming down alive" That is damn heroic. Those firefighters are no fools, they knew with jet fuel burning in those towers, their lives were in constant danger. Soldiers who travel to combat zones, travel along IED filled roadways, remain in spite of minor wounds, and go home with major ones. Those Soldiers are heroes.

Now contrast that with firefighters who work during fire season then go on unemployment for the rest of the year. Soldiers who never see combat tours. Police officers who don’t patrol the streets. Comparatively, these people are not heroes. Yes, they are good and perform necessary public services. But a uniform does not make a person a hero. An occupation does not make a hero. And calling men and women heroes that haven’t earned it belittles the contributions of those who fought, bled, risked their lives, and died to be called such.

(Longtime reader Will M. found this recent Op-ed post by William J. Astore on the same theme. Check it out.)

Jul 08

(Today's guest post is by Karaka Pend of Permissible Arms. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.

Also, for a continuation of Karaka Pend's guestpost, click here.)

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

"No remorse. No pity. It was as easy as stepping on a bug...We are different people now than we were then." --Bill Guarnere, "Band of Brothers" by Stephen Ambrose

For anyone familiar with Batman, the idea that vigilantism is an expression of vengeance is generally understood. The tasks Batman ascribes to himself--to clear the streets of Gotham City of criminals, to defend Gotham from those who would destroy it--come directly from his experience witnessing his parents killed by a violent mugging as a child. The rubric is simplistic: cause (murder) --> effect (the Batman comes to life).

In "Harry Brown," Michael Caine is Batman. His Gotham City is an Elephant and Castle housing estate in South London; his secret identity is his service in the Royal Marines as a veteran of North Ireland. But unlike Batman, "Harry Brown" and its titular character distill the crux of being a vigilante down to its stark and often ugly search for what he or she considers justice.

There are no heroes here.

Harry Brown, a pensioner whose wife lies terminally ill in a nearby hospital, avoids the underpass where the local gang have established their base. The underpass offers a quicker transit between Brown's home and his wife's hospital room, but also acts as a haven for young criminals who terrorize the locals, including a couple attempting to walk through the underpass. Brown attempts to ignore it, and them, in favor of concentrating on being with his wife as she nears her death.

Brown's only companions are the bartender at his local pub, Sid, and his fellow pensioner Leonard, with whom he drinks and plays chess. Brown's retreat from the world is evident: he exists in the flat that bears so many markers of his wife; in a chair by her bedside; in the pub with Leonard; and virtually in no other place. He is a man reduced.

He learns that his wife is dying, and the criminals prevent him from reaching her bedside in time to say goodbye by blocking the underpass; Brown weighs the possibility of getting through the underpass with his clear need to be near his wife, and ultimately he chooses to take the longer path. His anger is only mitigated by his grief, and for a brief moment it seems as though his grief will overtake him. That is, until Leonard, who has been a victim of the cruel pranks and provocations of the underpass gang, comes to Brown. Brown puts him off, suggesting Leonard should go to the police (who have dismissed Leonard's concerns). A moment before, when Len had asked Brown about his time in the Royal Marines, Brown says, "When I met my Cath, I knew that all that stuff had to be locked away. I made that decision all those years ago, and I stuck to it." It's clear he's unwilling to open whatever violence is in his past, out of habit, out of respect for his late wife.

The gang kills Len that night after he goes to the underpass with an old bayonet following enflamed feces shoved through his letterbox. Suddenly Brown is thoroughly unmoored--his wife is dead, his best mate is dead, and all that is left is an anger and helplessness without a clear focus. That is, until he is mugged at knifepoint by one of the members of the gang.

As an attacker thrusts a weapon in his face, his long-dormant training kicks in, and in one swift move Brown turns the knife on his attacker, stabbing him in the heart and leaving him to his death. Brown hurries home, mechanically stripping any evidence of his involvement from his clothes and body.

All these experiences, and Brown's symbolic divorce from the world through the deaths of those two people who seem to have defined him, combine to galvanize Brown to action, a path of revenge and violence.

This is a complicated movie, for all that the motivations are simple. Brown, portrayed brilliantly by Michael Caine, is a man whose past was marked by engagement with paramilitary forces during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. He set aside that capability when he married, and it would never had resurfaced had the deaths of his wife and friend not happened in such close proximity. Brown becomes a vigilante because it is clear to him that the police are ineffective in ending the threat of these gang members (and to a larger extent the drug traffickers he also kills). Hicock, one of the two detectives, says that if it is Brown doing these things, "then he's doing us a favor." The Inspector General doesn't believe Frampton when she suggests it the killer is Brown. Brown, thus, is in the perfect position to target and eradicate his enemy with little repercussion, which also contributes to his motives and choices.

There's a remarkable--and purposeful--dichotomy between Brown as a frail older man, a pensioner, and the seasoned Royal Marine that seems to reside inside of him. It raises some fascinating questions: is training ever forgettable? Can you ever forget the things you have done, the lives you have taken? Brown, for whom life has little charm without his wife and friend, is willing to trade his own for a piece of vengeance, and more than succeeds in his goal.

The film also forces the question: can violence only be matched with violence, one more powerful than the other? Brown manages to achieve what he does with an exacting series of actions, each one ending in death or injury to his enemy, where the police's attempt to charge on evidence fails. The riots initially push back at the intervening police force until the police bring in more officers and subdue the population of the estate.

"Harry Brown" doesn't indicate that Brown is correct for exacting violent revenge on the gang, apart from Frampton's concern; but neither does it suggest he is in the wrong. Brown's violence has a target that the police have difficulty reaching, and in one sense he does indeed "do them a favor." He provides an opportunity for intervention without revealing his involvement. He operates in the shadows, setting up a scenario that does, eventually, end in justice. And he walks away from it all without ever being named. Perhaps this is what the best vigilante achieves--and what Batman cannot have: justice without acknowledgement.

May 27

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

I've always enjoyed Star Trek in its many forms because Gene Roddenberry used a vision of a more peaceful and advanced future for mankind as a conduit to discuss current socio-political controversies. Whether it was civil rights or the Cold War or creating super soldiers we cannot control, he attempted to provoke our preconception as well as entertain.

One of my favorite quotes was: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one." It seemed a simplistic and honorable logic to live by.

Star Trek in its newest conception as a reboot seems a far departure from the original. The emphasis now on action and combat as opposed to the cleverly hidden mirroring of our own fears and social issues. I began to wonder how Star Trek as a concept has changed and how a concept like the aforementioned quote can so easily be adapted to fit our times.

I wondered about our needs; most prevalent among them, the simple need to continue to exist. I could begin to fit the needs of the many to different aspects. The need for security, per se. For example, we give our secret police power to restrict civil liberties or even take lives in the effort to keep us safe. It may sound like hyperbole to call the FBI, NSA, CIA, SS, etc. secret police, but in effect, are in point of fact, organizations that police our state while operating on principle of clearance levels and locked files and a need to know basis. Is this not an example of the needs of the few being outweighed by the needs of the many?

I apply the concept to torture and interrogation because it is logically the ultimate test of the absolutism of the axiom. Causing immense pain, basically destroying a human being in the service of a collective. Having a silent protector willing to bloody his hand and his soul by torturing a potential threat theoretically keeps me from harms way. Two men are sacrificed to protect tens, or hundreds, or more. Statistically, this is a net gain.

Now I say two men because two people are sacrificed in the name our sound sleep. We take the life of not just of the suspect but the interrogator as well. We've done something by asking this man or woman to inflict unbearable amounts of pain on a fellow human being, no matter what acts that the suspect has committed or plans to commit. We've allowed them to dehumanize themselves.

I put it this way: is a person humane if he or she beats a rabid dog to death for biting a child? No, it is in fact inhumane. This is an objective truth. However, it must be noted that this is my position based on the fact that the hypothetical child is not mine. Undoubtedly I would be far more outraged and apt to violence other than humanely putting the dog down if I had an emotional investment in who the dog attacked as my objectivity is compromised. Regardless, that act of beating a dog to death is inhumane objectively, and if I attempt it, it dehumanizes me.

This is of course only an analogy, an oversimplification to pose a moral question. It fails to encompass the scale of terrorism and war and human rights. A rabid dog is unlikely to kill and maim dozens or have information about the location of other rabid animals intending to harm to countless civilians. Nor is a dog a human being.

With regards to the quote that began me thinking, I want to conclude by placing a context on the quote above and hold this idea of "the needs of the many" to this context.

The character who states this, Spock, gives his life in order to save the lives of others. He gives it freely and without hesitation believing that his death results in the greater good. He did not, and I believe this is key, ask or command another to die. He forfeited his own life, not another's. If he were to do this, to order the death of subordinate the same principle begins to lose moral ground. Logically, it has the same effect; one dying in the place of many, but now Spock must take responsibility for a life. He must take responsibility for sending a man to his death.

Now for the loop-hole. As a society, I would say we should not condone torture to protect us. But what if we didn't? What if we punished and abhorred it? If we did this and individuals still took it upon themselves to dirty their hands without our consent or our thanks and even faced criminal punishment in an effort to protect the peace; would they then be justified? Would that be the needs of the many out-weighing the needs of the few?

Apr 29

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

Since I was twelve, I've trained in sparring. In Tae Kwon Do, two men face one another on a square mat and attempt to strike one another to draw points. Two points are awarded for a strike to the head and one point is awarded for a strike to the torso. For the less experienced; the lower degree belts, this meant that quite a bit of your round was spent rapidly shooting out roundhouse kicks to the opponent’s flank with your favored leg while the opponent fired back the same. As the degree of experience progresses and the belt level becomes more elite, the flailing and constant motion give way to tactical strikes, an increase in blocking, and lateral movement. While it may be apparent that two competitors are "fighting," they are in fact not.

During my third sparring competition, I defeated one opponent (just barely) and prepared to spar a second opponent of comparable skill level and weight. Prior to the match we shook hands and bowed. When the referee said fight, we began. My focus was on quickly striking the other guy's side with sliding round houses (which were fairly new to me at the time) and then quickly retreating. Some connected drawing points, but most missed or were blocked. Midway through the match, I threw the same type of kick but this time, decided not to retreat. I attempted a back kick right to his stomach. As I connected with his torso, his kick landed square on my face breaking my nose.

The referee stopped the match. My nose dripped blood and began to swell. As with any sport, in Tae Kwon Do there are risks of injury due to the contact involved. We wore pads to prevent skeletal or soft tissue damage. Striking of the face and groin is prohibited. But mistakes happen. Strong kicks lead to falls which lead to the occasional broken bone. Quick spins and a moving target lead to unintentional contact to the groin or face. I gave and received my share, a fact visibly evident as my face showcases a broken nose that never set correctly. 

Sparring is not fighting. I've fought people since I the first grade. There are similarities of course. There may be spectators, just as there are if you spar. And usually in a fight, there is a great deal of flailing by someone inexperienced. Still, there is no ref, which means there are no rules, which means it's not a competition. When you fight, someone your mindset is different. You're not considering points and strategy, you're considering how (and how much) you want to hurt this other person. 

Fighting is chaotic. Real fighting isn’t like movies or television. A fighter never just throws a straight punch to be easily blocked resulting in a counter punch. An angry and aggressive person, regardless of gender and age is unpredictable. They can do anything from bullrush you to throw heavy objects to wielding improvised weapons. This results in a response fueled most likely by instinct rather than training.

In college, I stood up to a guy hassling a female friend of mine. Outside after he called her a "whore" I attempted to defend her honor while pleasantly buzzed. I remember twisting on the ground with a guy pressing his head hard into my stomach while simultaneously swing both arms toward my ribs. I tucked in and jammed my elbows down on his collar bone to force him off. I left the conflicted bruised and with a torn collared shirt. 

Sparring is competition. Fighting is chaos. While sparring resembles a chess match of moves with counters, strategy and skill, a fight is propelled by anger and a lack of logic where two combatants clash with unpredictable and detrimental results.