Violence in Video Games: The Morality of Choice

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?
           

            

34 Comments
35 Comments
Posted by BigLemon

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?
           

            

Posted by Video_Game_King

I'd say that it's because violence is in a lot of games, in some form, but that only delays the question. Why do most games have violence? I'd say because most early video game plots were good vs. evil, and you don't talk to evil. Plus there's the fact that it was easier to animate something being stabbed/shot than it was to add a bunch of dialogue options. Violence today is an evolved form of that.

Posted by BigLemon
@Video_Game_King: And when you play violent video games, are you condoning violence? Or are you at least condoning the production of violent entertainment?
Posted by Video_Game_King
@BigLemon: 
 
Does it matter? As long as I'm able to separate fantasy from reality, and know not to do this stuff, does it matter?
Posted by BigLemon
@Video_Game_King said:
" @BigLemon:   Does it matter? As long as I'm able to separate fantasy from reality, and know not to do this stuff, does it matter? "
Well it's a question you have to answer for yourself, I guess. This incident just provoked the thought, and I've been considering it for myself. I'm not sure what my answer is. I suspect there's more to it than being able to separate the reality and the fantasy.
Posted by ThePhantomnaut

I play em because they are fun. In a certain extent, I am condoning violence but not in a extreme to make me want to kill someone.

Posted by DystopiaX

I think it's a lineage thing. If you look at the older arcade/early console games, who they were appealing to, and what they could do basic violence was something that was easy to portray, and we kinda just grew from there. That being said, I think it's also because games, as an interactive medium, can't do things other media can't- you can't have a slow story, little action (violent or not), etc., because a gamer expects to constantly be engaged with the game he is playing (with notable exceptions like MGS where people are willing to sit through half hour cutscenes, but I have no clue why). And when you get a 19-34 year old male, he does not want to pretend to do mundane things. If you look at a lot of the material aimed at this subset of the population, it plays out a lot like a video game- action movies, for example, do basically the same thing video games do, but with more story. Again, games can't do this because gamers want to constantly be in the action, which means more shooting, less talking. Stuff like romances aren't really suitable, again because it would play out like a long ass dialog tree or a japanese dating sim, and we know how popular those are. Dramas or more slow paced films, to continue the analogy, also can't really be converted to game form for the same reasons.

Posted by mylifeforAiur

For the same reason we read violent books, or watch violent movies- because we enjoy it. Now, I'm not saying that everybody is the same (because we're not), but I can say that without any doubt that humanity has always been somewhat inclined to violence. Some might say that we're less violent than earlier generations, but I would disagree; we've just transferred violence into more suitable mediums (unlike, say, the gladiatorial battles of Rome or anything similar).  As to why we enjoy it: I have no idea. Maybe it's just some instinctual, primitive human-thing; like how certain animal are generally belligerent to other species of animals. It's more likely that I don't know what I'm talking about -_-

Posted by DryvBy

I wish there was more violence in video games. When is Postal 3 coming out, btw?

Posted by Kierkegaard
@BigLemon said:
"


  •  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?
           

            

"
First off, you're sister should know that the only reason you had to fight through that scene was that you didn't get the information you were looking for fast enough, or you drank from the cup that guy offered you. Most scenes of violence in Heavy Rain are either avoidable or contexually understandable.  
 
As to the questions 
 -We play violent games because the most publicized, successful games contain undue amounts of violence, at least those sold in the "mature" range. Like others have said, games have also always been competitive, from sporty ones like pong to acid-trip revenge fantasies like Pac-man. Only with the advent of strong writing AND strong voice talent, art direction, character animation, etc can we hope to tell stories that engage the masses (with approachable characters and beautiful worlds) and the intellectuals. If it weren't for the masses, games like Monkey Island, Flower, and a ton of indie darlings would be enough to elevate games as a whole. As it is, the best stories, sans violence, must have gameplay and visuals as good if not better than their violent counterparts. Weening people off of carnage and violence will be slow, but it is starting.  
 
-Violence need not be eliminated. An industry is built off of many strong genres, and many directly require violence. But, having romantic, humorous, life affirming, pacifying, satisfying genres enter into this menagerie would be welcome and wonderful. Forays have been made, and it seems as though developers are tiring of the same schtick. Something like Stacking looks great.  
 
-If someone mostly engages with violent and disturbing imagery, that means they enjoy the rush, or the feeling, to some capacity. I tend to think we pursue what we like, not what we detest. This enjoyment may be sick in very few sick people, but for most it is the joy of seeing good guys beat the odds of violent bad guys, or, in games, doing it yourself. Violence is most often a means to an end, be it a castle in the Mushroom Kingdom or the death of a corrupt Pope. You're values are your personal determination of what is ethical and unsavory. This judgment should be reflected in your actions---how you treat people, how you live in the world--but need not be reflected in the media you consume, for enjoyment and learning comes in various, sometimes sordid, forms.  
 
-When we buy violent games purely for their gore ratio, we are sending a bad message. I don't think something like Bulletstorm deserves much attention at all, but se la vie. When we buy any game based purely on popularity, we show ourselves to be easily bought lemmings. But, buying a violent game because you like the series or are interested in the gameplay or story or whatever condones nothing. Condoning is basically saying "I'm A-OK with violence!". Playing a violent game cannot be so summarized. Killing someone, thumb-upping war or murder, ignoring international strife--those are condoning violence.  
Posted by BraveToaster

Obviously for entertainment purposes. This doesn't mean we're bad people or "desensitized". 

Posted by Example1013
@Axxol said:
" Obviously for entertainment purposes. This doesn't mean we're bad people or "desensitized".  "
No, it absolutely does mean you're all desensitized. You were probably pretty shocked the very very first time you saw someone get his head cut off, whether in a movie, TV show, or video game. 
 
Desensitization isn't a bad thing. It's a useful adaptation. Back 300 years ago, children needed to be desensitized to the killing of animals, because those animals were necessary for food, and there were no cow death factories to hide the butchering, especially since those kids had to learn how to do it for when they got older. Today, people are shocked at what happens to their meat when they find out because they were never exposed to it.
 
And more importantly, think about the Nazi death camps. If the prisoners hadn't become desensitized to the genocide going on around them daily, how could they have ever survived and, more importantly, remained sane? 
 
The real problem is that many people take desensitization as an automatic insult, especially gamers. 
 
At the same time, it sounds like the way your sister phrased it was a bit inflammatory and derogatory. There's a difference (at least for me) between real-life and video game violence. I still feel repulsed by graphic live-action images, and I feel this way even moreso towards images of that stuff really happening. 
 
I think that, to some extent, researchers on the issue may be skipping the fact that many who consume violent video games also consume violent and gory movies (a la SAW), and that the desensitization to these realistic, graphic images presented in live action as done on real humans is what may be actually troublesome. 
 
That said, I really am going deep into opinion on the matter, as I've never personally looked through the studies done relating real-life violence to video game violence, so while I may conjecture about it, I will make no claims to the accuracy of my statement.
Posted by BraveToaster
@example1013 said:
" @Axxol said:
" Obviously for entertainment purposes. This doesn't mean we're bad people or "desensitized".  "
No, it absolutely does mean you're all desensitized. You were probably pretty shocked the very very first time you saw someone get his head cut off, whether in a movie, TV show, or video game.  Desensitization isn't a bad thing. It's a useful adaptation. Back 300 years ago, children needed to be desensitized to the killing of animals, because those animals were necessary for food, and there were no cow death factories to hide the butchering, especially since those kids had to learn how to do it for when they got older. Today, people are shocked at what happens to their meat when they find out because they were never exposed to it. And more importantly, think about the Nazi death camps. If the prisoners hadn't become desensitized to the genocide going on around them daily, how could they have ever survived and, more importantly, remained sane?  The real problem is that many people take desensitization as an automatic insult, especially gamers.  At the same time, it sounds like the way your sister phrased it was a bit inflammatory and derogatory. There's a difference (at least for me) between real-life and video game violence. I still feel repulsed by graphic live-action images, and I feel this way even moreso towards images of that stuff really happening.  I think that, to some extent, researchers on the issue may be skipping the fact that many who consume violent video games also consume violent and gory movies (a la SAW), and that the desensitization to these realistic, graphic images presented in live action as done on real humans is what may be actually troublesome.  That said, I really am going deep into opinion on the matter, as I've never personally looked through the studies done relating real-life violence to video game violence, so while I may conjecture about it, I will make no claims to the accuracy of my statement. "
Comparing what happened 300 years ago to video games doesn't help your argument. Just because someone plays violent video games doesn't mean that they would be desensitized to those same violent acts in the real world. 
Posted by l4wd0g
@BigLemon said:
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?

 
1)  Well, it depends on your definition of violent doesn't? I mean every story needs some sort of conflict to be it's catalyst.  Look at Mario I'm sure I've killed farm more enemies in that game than Call Of Duty. Just because something isn't humanoid doesn't mean it's anyless violent, we just view the violence differently. 
 
2) What makes a game mature? You still need some sort of conflict for the story, which if you're aiming for a mature audience will likely be violent (stealing, killing, rape, torture, revenge etc)
 
3) It will vary from  person to person.
 
4) No. Well kind of. If you have a predisposition to violence you are certainly fanning the flame, but no more so than watching Power Rangers. 
 
I sugest you read Grand Theft Childhood. It's really interesting and I highly recommend it.
Posted by Example1013
@Axxol: I didn't say you're desensitized to violence in the real world. I said you're desensitized to violence in video games. 
 
It might have seen that way based on my first line, but I wrote that before I wrote the rest of the post, so it was a holdover from what I was originally writing. 
 
However, realistic-looking violence (like in live action movies) desensitizes you to realistic-looking violence. People who enjoy Saw watch super-gory movies like that and show no repulsion, or actually any "normal" response, when compared to people who don't watch that type of movie. 
 
And as video games become more photo-realistic, the desensitization line is starting to blur, probably. Think about it. People were uncomfortable punching the doctor in the face in Black Ops. Many were. And then there's the infamous MW2 level. After you've done that sort of thing, can you really say that it's just as powerful every time you do it again?
Posted by TheDudeOfGaming
@BigLemon: you love your sister, im sure she is a very smart and successful psychology student, the thing games,movies etc. is that there is a fine, and very defined line between reality and fiction...ffs dude, i played Manhunt when i was 10... MANHUNT!...fml :D
Posted by PerryVandell

I'd say because it's something that we as a society aren't legally allowed to do in real life. Violence is thrilling. I'm not going to walk out of my house and slug a reporter in the face because she looked at me the wrong way. But in both Mass Effect games, you can do just that, with absolutely no consequences. Man those games are great...

Edited by Shaymarx

Why do we play violent games? Maybe for the same reasons that we partake in all violent entertainment.  The answer could be that we do because were are capable of creating this entertainment. 
 Why does someone write violence in to  story?  Probably the same reason that somebody would create a superhero.  At some point most people witness violence.  Has does a baby feel when told no by his or her parents?  Could this be a trigger?  Children can seemingly be violent for no reason, sometimes a violent act can be committed just because they learning new motor functions, responding to visceral reactions.  Case in point during prayer on tuesday, a lovely one year old by the name of Anna scratched her foster mothers eyes, she yelped so Anna responded by laughing and trying to do it again.  I probably did not help matters as I found myself chuckling at the entire situation. 
 
Now Anna may grow up to be perfectly happy, with no traumas in her life.  But one day she may this decide to write a story with a character that is super human, able to to scrape a building down to its foundations just by rubbing their hands across them.  Could this idea of come from her experiences as a baby? Why not? 
  
There are many people that claim to hate violence as entertainment, but support the idea of capital punishment.  Any one who supports such punishment are angry and probably feel justified in being so.  My point is that if we partake in screen violence than it is less likely due exposure of earlier screen violence than a familiarity of an experience we have lived through.

Edited by Bombs_Away
@BigLemon: 
 
We're human beings. We're violent by nature. Ask your sister this; when the shit hits the fan and the world is over run by evil mutants and zombies, who are you gonna stick with? The guy who's had hundreds of hours of experience with this exact situation, or the female psychology student who'd probably want to get to know the evil bastards who are trying to kill us all?
 
I know who I'd choose! Too much violence in video games...Hah! It's all just secret government training for the impending Apocalypse.
 
Fact.
 
p.s. Tell your sister to do a real degree.
Posted by SeriouslyNow

Oh look, another psychology student who doesn't understand what she's learning and uses it to as an extremely poor basis from which to moralise at gamers.
 
My mother was a trained clinical and practicing therapeutic psychologist and she never pulled that crap with me.  Tell your sister to step down from her pulpit please.

Posted by BigLemon
@SeriouslyNow said:
" Oh look, another psychology student who doesn't understand what she's learning and uses it to as an extremely poor basis from which to moralise at gamers.  My mother was a trained clinical and practicing therapeutic psychologist and she never pulled that crap with me.  Tell your sister to step down from her pulpit please. "
I did ask her, at one point, if the soapbox upon which she stood was comfortable. 
 
@example1013 said:
" @Axxol: I didn't say you're desensitized to violence in the real world. I said you're desensitized to violence in video games.  It might have seen that way based on my first line, but I wrote that before I wrote the rest of the post, so it was a holdover from what I was originally writing.  However, realistic-looking violence (like in live action movies) desensitizes you to realistic-looking violence. People who enjoy Saw watch super-gory movies like that and show no repulsion, or actually any "normal" response, when compared to people who don't watch that type of movie.  And as video games become more photo-realistic, the desensitization line is starting to blur, probably. Think about it. People were uncomfortable punching the doctor in the face in Black Ops. Many were. And then there's the infamous MW2 level. After you've done that sort of thing, can you really say that it's just as powerful every time you do it again? "
Exactly. I don't think there is any way around the fact that subjecting yourself to violence repeatedly will desensitize you to it. That is just how our brains have evolved. It's like any other defense mechanism our brains employ to protect us from psychological distress. 
 
@Shaymarx said:
" Why do we play violent games? Maybe for the same reasons that we partake in all violent entertainment.  The answer could be that we do because were are capable of creating this entertainment. 
Now just because we CAN do something, does that mean that we SHOULD do something? This is, in my opinion, a very dangerous mindset. 
 
@mylifeforAiur said:
" For the same reason we read violent books, or watch violent movies- because we enjoy it. "
So what is it that you are enjoying, exactly? Do you enjoy violently murdering people, or is that a by-product of the other parts of the game that you are really enjoying?
Posted by TwoLines

Violence is a part of life bro.
A game designed to allow you to choose your actions has to have violence. And sex. And possibly drugs and rock and roll.
 
RPGs need to emulate real life, so they have to emulate all those elements too.
If you want to playa violence-free game, play tetris, or another game without any form of narrative.
 
I'll say this though, games are still pretty limited, and sometimes the only option you have, is to kill something (Gandhi eat your heart out).
Or, in games like God of War (which you should show to your sister) violence is your only goal.
But it sells. Animal instincts and all that.
 
But again, I'd like to see video games go in the direction of choice rather than: "yo dude kill all those fools in front of you!"
Such a waste of narrative potential and player interaction.

Posted by swamplord666

tbh would she rather you played violent videogames in a corner with only you affected or that you went out to beat the shit out of that guy you don't like? 
I'm going to go with nature. throughout history, people (mainly men) partook in violent activities, whether it was the afternoon hanging session, playground  fighting, shooting your way through your problems in the wild west,  hunting, etc. It's in our nature to be excited at violence and it's quite cool that we were able to develop a non violent form of violent entertainment. 
Also i do think it's the easiest forms of games to make. think of the TRUELY non violent games out there and how much thought must have gone into them. it's easy to think up a gears of war type game, not that easy to think up flower.

Posted by nintendoeats

I think it is a game design thing. You often want a situation in which you have an intelligent force opposing you, and you need to feel that there is weight to your actions. Further, since we can never act out this violence in real life, it fills a nice little fantasy gap in our minds. that's why I don't get sports games: you could go play football IRL, but you can't go wack some Nazis.

Posted by BigLemon
@TwoLines said:
" Violence is a part of life bro. A game designed to allow you to choose your actions has to have violence. And sex. And possibly drugs and rock and roll.   RPGs need to emulate real life, so they have to emulate all those elements too. If you want to playa violence-free game, play tetris, or another game without any form of narrative.  I'll say this though, games are still pretty limited, and sometimes the only option you have, is to kill something (Gandhi eat your heart out).Or, in games like God of War (which you should show to your sister) violence is your only goal. But it sells. Animal instincts and all that.  But again, I'd like to see video games go in the direction of choice rather than: "yo dude kill all those fools in front of you!" Such a waste of narrative potential and player interaction. "
I agree with the points you make, and I feel that this is an oft-missed point of contention. I think a lot of people would rather disregard the more unpleasant faculties of realtiy, such as drugs, sex, violence, etc.But it's a much more satisfying experience to resolve those entities and seeing past the triteness and seeing the mature themes for more than just "shock and awe"
 
and yes, I also would like to see games go in a more complex direction apart from "bang bang shoot 'em up."
Posted by Shaymarx
@big lemon, Just to clarify my point, I was suggesting that play at fictional violence because we are capable of creating fictional violence. How many children have played cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians? These game are founded on a violent pretext, yet most children play a variation of them. The point I was trying to make is that playing violent games or seeing onscreen violent images is rarely the cause of the problem. Merely it is an expression of violence witnessed at a previous point in time.
Posted by Example1013
@BigLemon: Honestly? I think that violence is deeply rooted everywhere in our culture. I believe (not the opinion here) that we are, in fact, largely Tabula Rasa. Not completely, but in large part. The difference between my opinion and Locke's, though, is that I know that we are socialized every single minute of every day as kids, and thus no matter what we learn during the few hours we're in school, we'll ultimately be subject to much larger, more powerful influences outside, which is why simply teaching people in class isn't sufficient for creating the "ideal" person. 
 
Mostly I feel this applies to our beliefs and our favored activities. I can't in good conscience say it applies to everything based on my own experience, but these are, I think, largely true. 
 
Violence is a huge cultural influence. If you don't believe me, look at the highest-grossing movies of 2010:  
 
1. Toy Story 3.  
3. Harry Potter.  
7. Iron Man 2.  
10. Clash of the Titans.  
 
Look at 2009.  
 
1. Avatar.  
2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen 
3. Harry Potter 
7. Star Trek 
 
How about 2008? 
 
1. The Dark Knight 
2. Iron Man 
3. Indiana Jones 
4. Hancock 
6. Kung Fu Panda (a kids' movie, too) 
 
And those are just the action movies that focus largely on violence. Almost all, if not all, of the top-grossing movies have some violence in them, and it's usually integral, if not a large part. 
 
Violence has been huge in human history in general. Some leading researchers (anthropologists, probably) looking into why we're the only species in our genus (and family, maybe?) are now throwing around the idea that humans actually extinctified the rest of the other species'. Given what we know of humans, I definitely wouldn't call this unreasonable or implausable, considering what we're willing to do to our own species. 
 
 
But just one last note on the desensitization thing: whenever you call a gamer desensitized, he immediately sticks his fingers in his ears and talks over you, like a little kid. I've found this a lot. Hell, I felt that way when I was first called it. For the record, none of my posts ever even hinted as to whether I was saying desensitization was a bad thing or not, and in fact, I explicitly mentioned how it's not a bad thing, yet people still managed to misinterpret what I said. 
 
So to answer your questions, I'm not going to answer them. I'm just serving up a nice hot plate of food for thought.
Posted by JTB123

In my opinion, violence is just another aspect in the way gameplay is enhanced. Just the same as cutting edge graphics do. It's just something that can make certain games more fun.

Posted by BrainSpecialist
@BigLemon: I'm writing my thesis on this. I explored the idea, it's not that people prefer violent video games, but that they prefer the feeling of power. As a species, we are attracted to it.
Posted by Kieran_ES

Violence is a massive part of the human experience, it has been a basis for reflection in art for thousands of years. Art explores violence because it's fascinating to some part of us, it's primal and most importantly in this industry, it is an easy and aesthetically exciting way to implement the win/fail dynamic that video-games rely on so much. Far Cry 2, Limbo, Heavy Rain, Edmund, and others like them in recent years have shown a more mature, deeper look at violence and it's a trend that I hope continues.

Posted by Ignor

Gadzooks, video games turn people into sociopaths!
 
Postal 2 is an interesting game. You can be as violent as you like, but you can complete the game by simply choosing to avoid conflict.

Posted by OppressiveStink
@BigLemon: 
I think the problem is most people don't fully understand the structure of a story. 
 
You see, every piece of dramatic entertainment media ever has a common structure. Introduction - Rising action - Climax - Falling action - Resolution.
 
Video games need to fill three of the structure pieces with engaging content, something to connotate progress between those pieces.  Traditionally, one could build this with meaningful events and character interaction (as in some movies) building up to one significant climax.  This doesn't always make for good gameplay, so it doesn't translate well.  Imagine Gears of War if it only had one act of violence in it, where the rest is Dialogue options and failed diplomacy attempts at crazy alien creatures.  Worse yet, imagine Quick Time events or minigames that completely ruin the immersion.
 
Going a step further, one might ask why the theme of "Violence" is so common in video games.  One poster compared last year's highest grossing movies and showed a trend of violence.  Looking even deeper, Shakespeare used a gratuitious amount of violence in some of his plays as well.  Why is this?  Because the struggle between life and death is something that will always be primal within the human mind. 
 
We've been struggling for life our entire time as a species, against nature and mostly, against ourselves.  It's no surprise that we find this easy to enjoy and identify with.
Posted by deadra831

I am a doctoral student in psychology and am completing my dissertation on the question of why individuals choose violent video games....I have enjoyed reading the links posted to this and hope to incorporate some of this information in my paper (with your permission of course). With luck, I will be able to repost on this with a more informed answer than what I believe to be the case now....

Posted by Whamola

First of all, anyone who says fantasy violence desensitizes people towards real violence is grossly misinformed.

Take an actual fist fight for example (one where both parties are very willing to fight). It's a horrible affair. You're actively trying to hurt someone until they submit to you, and even if you win, you still feel sick to your stomach. No amount of Punch Out or Fight Night will prepare you. You're desensitized to aspects of video games that otherwise would have made your heart race or elicited some emotion, not violence itself. Imagine if you were in an actual massacre like the one in the "No Russian" level of Modern Warfare 2. I don't care who you are, if you survived it would take a very long time and most likely, massive amounts of therapy for you to return to your normal life.

As to why people play violent video games, it's an easy question to answer. There's no one reason. Some people like the thrill of danger without any of the risk involved, some like the sense of catharsis, some don't process what's being portrayed and simply see games as tests of skill, others like to release pent up aggression, and a very small percentage like inflicting violence on others. Basically it involves some method of stimulation.

As I get older, I'm getting more and more sensitive about overly violent video games. I've always thought video games and movies like Manhunt and Saw were completely pointless and unnecessary, but even now, when I play too much Call of Duty Multi-player, I become depressed and need to stop because I start to think that I'm making light of war, which is a sickening thing which should never be glorified.

I'd also like to say that we're very lucky to live in a time where real violence isn't a common place thing, Violent behavior (believe it or not) is at and all-time low in America, and we can get our food without being forced to kill it ourselves, and with the option of killing the animal as humanely as possible, or not at all.

Finally, how far along is your sister in school? She seems very "first year" to me considering how quick she is to over-analyze. Also I'm not sure she understands everything she's saying. By playing a violent video game and witnessing violent acts, you're not necessarily condoning violence. By her logic, if you watch footage from 9/11, you're condoning terrorism.

Posted by Morrow

I think the human mind enjoys everything that distracts him from his everyday-life-routine. That includes violence.

I also think the human mind enjoys things he can somehow identify with. That includes violence.