By BigLemon 34 Comments
First off, I want to preface this post by telling you what this is not : this is not a blog about whether violent video games lead to violent personalities, or a rise in violent crime. Furthermore, this is not about whether violence should be a facet of our entertainment. This is about what we say about ourselves when we play violent video games, and what we condone when we make choices about our hobbies, our interests, and our actions.
I was playing Heavy Rain tonight (I have been going through my GOTY list), and I was playing the “Doc” chapter. For those of you not familiar with it, this particular portion of the game involves a young woman being drugged and strapped to an operating table where she will, presumably, be tortured by an evil doctor. I was playing along, and I got to the finale portion of the sequence, where our protagonist successful jams a rotating electric drill into the chest of her attacker, killing him.
It was at this moment that my sister decided to walk into the room, exclaiming in shock, “What the heck are you playing? I can't believe you're condoning such gratuitous violence!”
Now, I am not a violent person. However, I have been known to enjoy violent movies, books, television, and, of course, video games. This, I calmly explained to my sister, does not reflect my personality, or even that I condone violence in any way, shape, or form. It is for entertainment, and I can draw a distinct line between the realities of war, death, and violence, and the virtual realm of video games.
My sister (a psychology student) proceeds to tell me that I have been desensitized by my entertainment choices, and that I have no reaction to what I just bore witness to because I have surrounded myself by it for so long. Now, my sister does not partake in much violent behavior, let alone violent entertainment. Her extent of gaming is Wii Sports, and not much else. I try to explain to her that I don't play a game like Heavy Rain for the violent content at all, but rather I enjoy the story-telling, character development, and innovative game mechanics. She then throws this gem at me:
“If that's all you are looking for, then why can't you play a game that contains all those elements, but lacks the violence?”
And for a while, I was stumped. Why couldn't I play such a game? Do games like that exist? Now I won't verify the existence of such games, but I do enjoy media, whether it by film, book, or video game, that deal with mature themes. Their plots are often more interesting, and their characters are often more complex. Violence seems to be an arbitrary by-product of this. Not the overall focus.
To pose the question bluntly, why do we play violent video games?
I find that, personally, it is not because I enjoy the violence. I don't play games that deal exclusively in realistic violence (notice I said realistic, as opposed to cartoon, which I think we all can agree is absurd), and it is because I often find them one-dimensional. But a game like Heavy Rain is full of complex, mature themes, and violence just happens to be a means to that end. Heavy Rain is a murder-mystery that derives its greatness from its intricate plot, not its scenes of gore.
On the flip side, what are we saying about ourselves when we play violent video games? Are we endorsing violence? Not likely. But by purchasing that video game, we are encouraging the developer to make more like it. How conscientious are we as consumers? Do we passively absorb violence as “just a part of the experience”, or do we consider the message we send with such a purchase?
Now my sister, like much of the media, only focused on a small percentage of the actual game. She happened to walk in at a particularly violent portion of the experience, which does not accurately reflect the overall themes of the game. Perhaps if she had actually paused to consider all the different elements of the experience, she may have felt differently. Or perhaps not.
So, I'd like some feedback:
- Why do we play violent video games?
- Is violence just an accepted part of gaming, or can we have quality games that deal with mature characters and plots that don't also have violence?
- To what extent do our interests reflect our values?
- When we play violent video games, to what extent are we condoning violence?