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September 2007

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bells_drabbles in societyofsoap

For my fellow corrupted youth

Title: A Homage To Violent Video Games
Subject: Video Games
Category: Editorial
Summary: This is my way of playing Devil's Advocate; why video games are in fact not the cause of school violence, and why including graphic violence in video games can, in some cases, make a game that much better because of it.
Warnings: None.

Since their conception, violent video games have been blamed for the problems of the kids who play them. However, violent games alone do not inspire violent acts, and the violence often actually enhances the quality of the games rather than deters from it.

When used efficiently, violence can be used to fulfill a specific purpose. For example, shooters usually follow a single man fighting against an onslaught of either dangerous monsters or other armed men. By immersing the player into the game, they feel tension, even fear, specifically from the danger of being killed.

Stealth games instill in the player a fear of being spotted by the enemy; unlike typical shooters, killing enemies isn't the objective, as the primary goal is to remain undetected. However, as with typical shooters, the player still feels tension from the danger of being killed.

In horror games, violence and gore is often part of the setting, and is usually used to disturb, horrify, or shock players.

Though all three genres involve violence, they are highly unlikely to inspire violent acts simply because they are all survival games at their core; in most shooter, stealth, and horror games, the player is greatly outnumbered by their enemies and is very much vulnerable to attack, sometimes flat-out weak. Thus, players are automatically put onto the defensive, and defensive situations by nature do not encourage the player to go into crazed, trigger-happy frenzies.

On the other hand, there are the games in which you are encouraged to go into violent rampages. Action games, for instance, feature overpowered protagonists with overpowered weapons, where the goal is simply to kill and look cool while doing it.

Then there's the infamous Grand Theft Auto series, which is essentially about becoming a crime boss and generally creating havoc.

Because of the graphic violence, critics most often look to action games, especially GTA, for proof that video games are corrupting the world's youth. However, GTA and the vast majority of action games in general do not reside in the realm of reality and in no way encourage real-life violence. In GTA, you can bring down two helicopters, steal a tank, kill countless people, then get out of jail just by paying a few thousand bucks. San Andreas may be a real location, but the game is obviously not based on the real world. People who don't realize this and seriously attempt to emulate the game's events are not in touch with reality in the first place, and this lapse is certainly not the fault of the game itself.

When a game about a neglected and socially repressed teenager stealing his father's gun, killing his parents, and shooting up his school is brought over to America, then yeah, it's a cause for concern. But a game that's so ridiculous that you can go to a nearby mall and find a katana in the backroom of a Starbucks isn't something to lose sleep over.

In the end, the question that most non-gamers ask themselves is, why include violence in video games in the first place? After all, there are plenty of great sports games, platformers, and RPGs that have little to no graphic violence present. So why not get rid of all violent games? Or at the very least, tone down the games that are violent?

The situation with video games is comparable to films. Like video games, there are plenty of movies filled with stupid, senseless violence--movies society could very well do without. But at the same time we'd be deprived of films such as The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings, and Silence of the Lambs, where the violence is very much a part of the work itself, and part of what makes those movies so memorable. And video games are much of the same. Where would Devil May Cry be without its over-the-top, Matrix-style action? Or Medal of Honor without the violent, but realistic warfare?

And by toning down the violence in such games, something in the work would inevitably be lost. Case in point, when I first started playing Resident Evil 4, I remember feeling sick from how brutal some of the cutscenes were, but I've grown to appreciate them in a strange sort of way. Sure, it's not entirely necessary, but seeing a headless body slowly walking towards me gives a much-welcomed dose of horror in a game so action-oriented in gameplay.

So if you ever find yourself cringing over the gory scenes in the latest Mature-rated game, give it a chance before you write it off completely. It could very well end up as one of your favorites in spite of or even in part because of that cringe-worthy gore.


While I agree with you,* I don't know if I would have argued it this way. The whole issue of "violence in video games" is, I think, an extremely important one, first of all because it's about determining the power of a very new kind of "art" (I use the quotations because I want to leave that word a little vague) and second of all because it's a debate about the present historical state of the world. But there's a lot of difficulty in arguing for violent video games, rather than just against a rejection or regulation of them (which is easy: it's unnecessary, it violates first amendment rights, etc.). I applaud you for doing this, but I don't think you completely pull it off... mostly because the question itself hasn't become entirely clear. You say: "...By toning down the violence in such games, something in the work would inevitably be lost." I don't disagree, but what exactly is this "something"?

You don't answer directly, but inferring it from the rest of the article the "something" lost is probably along the lines of "expressive power" or, more widely, "entertainment value." Everyone today knows, with what I consider an almost suspiciously commonplace answer, that the point of a video game is to entertain the player. The never-ending arguments between graphics whores and vintage losers never comes down to anything other than this question of entertainment... and all without anyone ever bothering to ask questions about what "entertainment" means, why entertainment in this sense has come to mean so much in the present day, and above all why this (the nature of games) seems so blindingly obvious that we don't even think to ask about it. Why, exactly, is entertainment such a crucial thing for us? Even asking this seems a little silly, as if I was asking about why horses have four legs. Nevertheless, how we answer may say a lot about who we are.

It's absurd to think that removing violent video games will somehow save us from the situation we now stand in with relation to violence itself (and I find this a very interesting situation indeed, not to mention unique). But it may be worth asking if violent video games and, say, school shootings both stem from a similar place. What is violence? In particular, our very modern kind of violence? We don't really even understand the question, so we just go and track down obvious causes... like video games. But that isn't the same question.

When playing a video game, we never really directly notice the 1/8 inch layer of glass that exists between us and the monster-killing, although that glass is always respected. The same glass, in a sense, is there between the Predator pilot and the SUV he blows up, and between the terrorist and CNN's reporting of his latest exploits. Eventually one might wonder if this glass (and obviously I'm not just talking about a kind of material here) is at work elsewhere, and if its power might be growing greater still while we bicker about something as secondary as video games.

* Although a couple of points I would quibble with. "The situation with video games is comparable to films." True to a certain point, and true in regards to your point, but the people in the movie theater are never the ones pulling the trigger to shoot some monster in the head.
Concerning what that "something" might be, it probably is entertainment value, though I prefer to think of it as expressive power. There is a sort of "artistry" to the attention and amount of detail put into the violence or violent gameplay of some games, and though anything involving graphic violence will probably always be seen as barbaric, I still think it definitely deserves some level of appreciation.

I wouldn't exactly say that video games specifically are crucial, though they are "important" in that they provide an experience that just can't be duplicated in movies, novels, or other forms of entertainment, violent situations very much being a part of that experience. And I guess it's just a shame that others insist on regulating games that are, in my view, not inherently dangerous.

In the cases in which people who commits violent acts also play violent games, I'm inclined to believe that people with aggressive natures are drawn to violent games, rather than the games being the cause of their behavior. I suppose the way a person approaches a violent game changes the effect the game has on that person. I'm assuming most people approach any game just wanting to have fun with it. But if a person primarily uses violent games as an outlet for their anger, well, that's a very different situation with a very different intent.

The conventional definition of violence seems to be whenever one person inflicts any sort of physical injury upon another person, though I think the specific type of violence most people are afraid of is violence with malicious intent. So if someone approaches a violent game with malicious intent, then perhaps it could have dangerous effects.

As for my personal opinion as to why entertainment in general is important, I think of entertainment as anything a person finds enjoyable, whether it be a television show or even the company of a friend. Entertainment is food for the spirit, as corny as that sounds, and when a person is deprived of such things, then all that's left is drudgery.