Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Violent Video Games

No, not like that.

I was talking to someone the other day and I mentioned that I play first-person shooters. I mean, not in the most technical sense; a lot of them are actually third-person over-the-shoulder shooters, but "FPS" has become a well-understood genre. A genre that I really like, one that I get a thrill out of, one that is decidedly more exciting for me than real-time strategy or even than RPGs, although I enjoy those too. I like my twitchy trigger-finger reflexes and the satisfying feeling of a headshot (pardon the pun) well-executed.

My interlocutor, sensing common ground, started throwing out the names of several popular war simulation games, but I pretty quickly balked. I hadn't realized it before, but there's a pretty sharp divide in my mind between the sci-fi fluff of space-marine shooters and games based on actual, terrestrial war. I've always espoused the position that video games are fantasy, and that violent games are too quickly demonized when something horrific happens in the real world. But at the same time, there's a pronounced absence of war simulation games in the stacks of cases in my apartment, and even when they were bought for me as a kid, they sat by unplayed. The closest I ever came to a war simulator was an N64 game about plastic soldiers.

I'll be the first to admit that I glory in FPS carnage. I like spattering alien halls with alien blood in alien colors, and I'll shout battle cries upon shotgunning an opponent. But I think I've never picked up war simulators because something about that level of glee disturbs me when it's other human beings that I'm slaughtering. Aliens are easily othered, and I don't think I have a problem with that: they're designed to be mindless and unsympathetic, their evil only minimally complicated, perhaps for a dramatic and regrettable plot twist.

But I think something feels instinctively wrong about directing that killing thrill at other humans, especially since it already happens far too often for comfort in the real world. I'm not saying my moral sense is superior to anyone else's or anything, and I may just be retrofitting my new-found awareness of the kyriarchy to a pattern in my gaming tendencies that I'd never noticed before. I can honestly say it was never a conscious decision to steer away from realistic war games. But I think it just became one. For me, anyway.

Ultimately, I think it was this ad that did me in. I mean, yeah - those guns and explosions are awesome. But then I wondered who the targets were, and I felt a little icky.


EDIT: I've been thinking, and I realized that I did kill humans (albeit in a science fiction setting) in Star Wars games as a kid, specifically in Shadows of the Empire. I also had a brief fling with Splinter Cell on the Xbox, which, for those of you who aren't familiar, is a sneaky, black-ops type game, with decidedly human military opponents. Neither is a particularly realistic representation of war, but both did involve me having no issue killing other humans. So hmmmmm.

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