Why Aren’t We Discussing Videogame Violence?

By Nathan Grayson on December 28th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

Everyone? We need to talk.

I didn’t feel right playing Far Cry 3 the day after the awful, disgusting, utterly tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. I didn’t at all.

I think that says something. I know that says something. But what? That’s the important question, and I’m disheartened to see that very few people are discussing it.

But I know why we’re not discussing it. That’s the easy part. It’s because that’s the sort of thing the enemy talks about. “Videogames cause violence,” they hoot and holler, pitchforks aloft atop their dusty dinosaur steeds. “The medium just belches out puerile filth that teaches our children how to kill. All games should be banned forever. Period end.”

The most recent last straw in a string of straws that have broken the camel’s back a million times over came when the US’ National Rifle Association primarily blamed violent media – games, Hollywood, etc (but especially Bulletstorm and 1989 beat-‘em-up Splatterhouse for some reason) – for the recent school shootings. To say that the NRA’s stance was rooted in horrifyingly willful ignorance is the understatement of the century, but the fact is, they said it. On a national stage. And the NRA has some pretty serious lobbying power to boot. So what happened next? The same thing that always happens: everyone got super pissed off.

The NRA has quite an affinity for fireworks, and boy did it ever get them. And honestly, it deserved them. It deserved to be publicly denounced by longtime supporters and verbally tarred and feathered for what was frankly a disgusting, opportunistic display in light of such a terrible tragedy. But suddenly, the attention was on them and how completely, incontrovertibly wrong they were. Because that’s what always happens: opponents of the gaming industry fly off the handle and end up in Cuckoo Land on the goddamn moon. Whether it was politicians denouncing Mortal Kombat back in the day, Jack Thompson a few years ago, or the NRA now, there’s rarely any logic or reason backing their claims. Just loud, knee-jerking agendas and spittle-soaked shouting. They may go on and on and on about how they despise games and all they stand for, but their favorite game of all time is clear as day: the blame game.

So naturally, we take up our tower shields and defend gaming’s honor. I mean, I know I do. I love this medium. It’s provided some of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life. Of course I’m going to speak up when it can’t speak for itself. Unfortunately, in this scenario, there’s rarely room for compromise. If gaming’s detractors say one thing, we say the opposite. Gaming causes violence? No. There is absolutely no problem with the fact that most big-budget games spill enough blood to make the Red Sea’s name literal. None whatsoever.

But can we just drop the fever-pitch finger-pointing and be honest with ourselves for a second? Forget the nutty politicians. Forget the “studies” that have been tailored to say whatever people want them to say. Just breathe, count to ten, and look inward. We take tremendous joy in virtual violence. We squeal with glee when life-giving liquid squirts out of men’s necks. Does that cause violence? Probably not. I don’t have any concrete reason to believe so, anyway. But it gives violence an active, constant role in our day-to-day lives. We can’t just ignore that. We shouldn’t ignore that. It’d be outright irresponsible to do so.

And really, that’s what this comes down to: responsibility – whether you’re a game-maker or a simply a player. Again, I don’t think gaming causes violence, but it would be impossible for frequent immersion in violent scenarios – fictional or not – to not have some kind of effect on us. We’re humans. We’re molded by our environment. Between games and movies and TV and commercials and billboards and everything else, Western (and especially American) culture treats violence like it’s perfectly normal. It’s just… there. All the time. For me personally, there’s still certainly a line between fiction and fact (I could hardly even move after I heard about the shootings in Newtown; I just sort of stared at a wall for a while), but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected people in other ways.

What I’m suggesting, then, is that it’s up to us to be aware. Examine yourself. Understand the effect – if any – that violence has had on you and those you care about. Don’t let your judgement be clouded by the fact that dumb people believe games to be the new rock ‘n’ roll comic book devil as heralded by literate people who – gasp – weren’t landed gentry. That’s not the point, and this certainly isn’t conceding defeat or anything like that. But gaming’s still a young medium. Heck, the modern world’s still young as, well, a thing that exists. It may move at a million miles per hour, but that’s no reason to avoid slowing down and taking the time to understand it.

This is something the industry stands to benefit hugely from, too. For one, big-budget gaming’s in a thematic gutter. Relentless manshooting gives even the best creators a pretty limited pallet to work with, so we just see the same strokes over and over again. Lo and behold, things finally get interesting when games examine themselves in a truly critical light (see: Spec Ops, etc) or do something new entirely. This is important. This is healthy. This is how an art form grows.

But also, knowing violence’s place in gaming and what it really does to us can help us turn these sudden outbursts against the industry from wars of words into semi-level-headed discussions. Yes, the tide of public perception is turning in gaming’s favor, but organizations like the NRA still have a lot of pull. And who knows? Maybe they’re too far gone. Maybe we can’t convince them of anything, and they’ll cut a swathe through portions of civilized society in some horrible, backward way. But it’d be utterly – and here’s that word again – irresponsible of us not to try. Reasoning with people (especially fundamentally unreasonable ones) doesn’t always work, but it’s incredibly depressing how often people opt to skip that step altogether.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. And that’s why I’m going to start at square one. Within the next couple of days, I’ll be publishing a followup piece to this one in which I’ll take a very close look at the places where games and violence have intersected with my life. From blissful, naive childhood all the way up to right now. Sure, the whole exercise will be inherently biased, but is there any other way to do it? And if I end up being completely full of shit, please – by all means – tell me. I want to start a discussion. Whether that means you end up contributing your own anecdotes, tearing mine to shreds, or doing something else entirely, that’s great! Regardless, I think it’s high-time we talk about this topic in an open, frank manner. So, right then. Pause your games of Far Cry 3. Let’s get to it.

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700 Comments »

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  1. Misnomer says:

    I hope Nathan deals with the fact that this discussion only ever seems to revolve around First Person games anymore. People like the commenters above me questioning why there are no peaceful games are only asking about first person. They will dismiss the platformers, puzzlers, sports games, board style games, even RTS violence easily because they are less popular. Even third person action games get an out because really it is only FPS games that make YOU feel like YOU are doing it apparently.

    I am not sure I have ever played a game that made me feel like it was “me” doing the shooting. I cannot sprint as fast a Usain Bolt with 5 weapons strapped to my back, I can’t even aim a large caliber weapon let alone reload one in nearly no time, and certainly I would have no idea how to drive a tank as soon as I sat in one. On the other hand, I can turn my head and move my arms separately, I can crouch at TWO or MORE different heights (crazy I know), and I can even feel a rock under my foot and adjust rather than flying through it, over it, or getting stuck on it.

    So why is it that if we are having a discussion about violence in games does a site full of people who know the limitations of the first person medium feel the need to only discuss first person perspective like people who just wandered into a room to find someone playing Halo on Xbox for the first time? Even the NRA is willing to discuss Mortal Kombat. Is RPS willing to include Hotline Miami in the discussion?

    Maybe RPS readers and writers need to go play some dance games on Wii or Kinect to remind themselves what else exists.

    • Frank says:

      Agreed.

      On the one hand, I don’t play most of the FPS’s that are taken to be the primary offenders here (only New Vegas in the last year, and I’d let it off the hook as a Western).

      On the other hand, the non-FPS games I do play can be awfully violent. I think Hotline Miami is making a statement about violence, and Shank/Mark of the Ninja are operating in some comic-book subgenre I’m not aware of. Jagged Alliance, FTL and other strategy games generally don’t treat killing lightly.

      I think the main problem (if there is any) is tasteless games. I suspect (having not played them) that Postal, Manhunt, Kane & Lynch and plenty of other FPSs have few redeeming qualities. In any case, I would start any discussion with a non-gamer on the subject by throwing these games under the bus (violently) to show my good will.

  2. MadJax says:

    What gets me about these discussions, is that they are only raised in the event of a tragic event, and usually by someone trying to defend their own agenda as Nathan pointed out.

    So why are there still no discussion as to why violence is acceptable in pretty much ALL forms within a game, but any hint of nudity or sexuality creates an uproar of biblical proportions? Particularly with our cousins in the US…

    If we look at the bigger picture for a second, you can see that violence in every media since the dawn of time has desensitized humanity to its effect to some degree, and while some may argue “Violence has been part of human culture since the beginning” I reply, “And yet apparently boning hasn’t…”

    • GepardenK says:

      In our culture nudity and sex is a private matter, violence is not

      As religions and taboos fades away sex becomes more accepted. It will still take a while for games though, simply because running around with a desert eagle makes for much better gameplay than boning your sweetheart

      Also, in the case of sex you really would rather experience the real thing. Not so with shooting suff

  3. Premium User Badge

    Foosnark says:

    Interesting and disturbing how many of these posts have bordered on violence, in a sense.

    I have always had a distaste for certain things in games, but it’s grown and expanded as I grow older and more hippie-like. I could never play Saints Row 2 because my character was an unredeemable shit who deserved life in prison. The poor controls didn’t help, but the story immediately made me hate the game.

    I used to love Borderlands, but I have lost my taste for burning midgets and having my character laugh when he headshots a bandit. And even Team Fortress 2 started to bother me more than it entertained me.

    Yet Guild Wars 2 I’m fine with. I can set things on fire and smash them with a giant hammer and cleave them with a sword and shoot them with a musket and still be at peace.

    It’s not violence alone that bothers me, it’s the manner in which it’s depicted and treated. It’s the attitude. A blatant disdain for living things, coinciding with the idea that killing is funny and/or cool.

    I uninstalled Borderlands 1 and 2, TF2, Unreal Tournament, even Worms Armageddon. My hard drive has free space, my conscience feels better, and I still have plenty of things to fill my gaming time.

  4. wodin says:

    Nathan yes games since kids played Army were about violence in away..to me you seem as hung up on it as those games are evil brigade. We know you don’t like ti you mention it enough. Videogames DON’T in anyway cause someone to kill someone.

    Just look at history..the further you go back the more violent we where and there where no games then..so you know..don’t worry about it.

  5. Kikas says:

    We are discussing videogame violence all the time. I mean think of it: Whenever a title comes out, you hear voices about “You can kill everyone important and the story will adjust!” “We made it so every severed body piece is a physical object and you can interact with them!” or finally: “Look in slow motion as this dude’s testicles EXPLODE”. We are not oblivious to violence, we are very much aware of it. We may be a little oblivious to it, but we talk about it.

    You limit yourself, Nate. You are moved by the shooting. Why a shooting? Why not some poor man gutted in the street with an old rusty knife. You have a man getting stabbed through your neck in the article title image, but your article is all about gun violence, shootings, american gun control and guns guns GUNS GUNS! There is far more violence in medieval games – take a look at Chivalry – you can even hear the wimpers of people you just stabbed with a big metal spike right through the heart. You can see the screen shaking with each hit, you can feel how organic the violence is. But there is no shooting, so it’s okay? Medieval games and fantasy games get a “get out of jail free” card because they are set in the past, where getting stabbed with a big metal spike was reality. So maybe, when you live in an area, where owning a gun is a possiblility, or a knife, or a sword, maybe violence is the possibility.

    Or maybe it’s the ease of a gun? Gun is really as close to holding a mouse as possible. Fits firmly in your hand, you can use it with one finger, and usually after you click it, you lose control. Maybe it’s that braindead ease of use that attracts people to guns. Yes it might be the similarity between a video game and real world, and you have to be aware of it. In my small country guns are not easy to obtain, you’ve gotta train for a year and go through a LOT of background check. And yes there are shootings. Yes there are gun related accidents. But most of that happens in gang wars, or at firing rages. Good god noone here has ever went to school with a gun and started shooting kids. I can’t even imagine how sick you have to even HAVE such a thought, even if you are mentally unstable.

    So my long argument boils down to this: We talk about violence. Shootings can be related to video games. But free gun access makes more harm than any video game ever has.
    And finally, yes, games are violent as hell.

    Ps. You thought that the slow motion testicle explosion bit was from Sniper: Elite 2, right? Wrong.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8A-GfmCcb4 Godspeed America.

  6. Uthred says:

    Why do people think they have the necessary knowledge to give a valid opinion on this simply because they play games? Real studies carried out by qualified developmental psychologists have shown that theres no link between real world violence and video game violence. We dont need another article about it, we certainly dont need hundreds of comments from internet armchair psychologists.

    The reason people get pissed off about this is because the pattern usually is “Well publicised atrocity” (leaving aside the hypocrisy of peoples faux outrage over violence while everyday thousands of children die all over the world and you play your computer full of components built by people working in near slave conditions) – outcry against current scapegoat e.g. violent games/movies/books – “luminarys” in the relevant media call for an “examination” of it – people who object because theres no valid research to back up these claims get labelled as knee jerk fanboys, repeat. You know what theres a lot of strong correlation between? Poverty and Violence, Domestic Problems and Violence. You know what theres no proven correlation between? Videogames and violence. Of course the latter is clearly better clickbait.

    There may be something new and relevant to say on the subject but its pretty unlikely to come from a games journalist or game player. Personally I’d prefer if RPS got back to writing entertaining articles about games rather that these tedious pseudo-intellecutal “examinations” of games culture that read like theyre written by a moody teenager.

  7. Finjy says:

    “I didn’t feel right playing Far Cry 3 the day after the awful, disgusting, utterly tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. I didn’t at all.”

    I felt fine playing videogames after the shooting. It was a terrible, pointless, tragic event that highlights how awful our world can be, but shit like it or equally pointless and terrible happens every day somewhere. Nobody seems to give a shit because they aren’t little white children in a familiar environment. I honestly have found my media’s and my fellow citizens’ hysterical reactions to the shooting kind of disgusting given that they seem to be perfectly fine funding illegal drone strikes on civilians overseas.

    I think this discussion is worth having, and every person should take a moment to see how they might improve. But I wish it didn’t take something so “close to home” to get us to examine ourselves like this.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      My sentiments exactly. What is so special about the Newtown shooting? Rich white people outside of New York died? Zoinks! No one is safe!

  8. wodin says:

    Nathan..Why are we discussing video game violence? Because it being a very controversial issue you knew it would bring back the crowd and get the site busy..also to fulfill your anti game violence mentality that comes across in many of your articles.

    No we really didn’t need to talk..you needed to talk about it..again…

  9. Nameless1 says:

    “Why Aren’t We Discussing Videogame Violence?”
    Probably because you were busy writing the usual rant about sexism in videogames.

    • Stupoider says:

      Why aren’t we discussing videogame violence AGAINST WOMEN?

  10. Stupoider says:

    Seeing this article on the front page conjured only one image in my mind.

    The Gawker effect.

  11. Jimbo says:

    Have you seen video game violence? Have you seen real violence? That’s why.

    “I didn’t feel right playing Far Cry 3 the day after the awful, disgusting, utterly tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. I didn’t at all.”

    Not to put to fine a point on this: I don’t believe you.

  12. horseflesh says:

    I’m actually going to elucidate this matter a mite. I’m not quite finished graduate school, but I’m in media studies, not media effects mind you; the younger sister social-scientific field whose sole purpose is to find the effects of media, and whose birth came about because of claims of violence in media caused violence, but we’re close, and I know her, and the truth is, Yes, video games cause violence.

    Sort of, this takes some explanation.

    First let me say that they both do and don’t cause violence, there are two ways in which video games (or any other medium really) make violence more likely. The first is that over time they can desensitize you to violence, that is to say, if you see enough violence on the screen, your emotional reaction to real world violence can be impaired, and actually commiting a violent act can come about more easily.

    The other factor that can create violence is the elevated emotional state that comes about after one has, say, just killed a bunch of crazy drug-using tribal whack jobs who’ve kidnapped your friends on a screen. You’ve certainly seen emotional responses to particularly competitive games, where people will often say things that are especially overmuch in the circumstances. Things like that, things that get people into an emotionally elevated state. This heightened emotional state can cause people to do things based on their own emotional responses.

    -BUT-

    Violence in video games is what’s called a “Magic Bullet.” A magic bullet is a cause in a vacuum sort of, attributing violence solely to media is a fallacy because there are outside factors that are usually (almost certainly) more important. IF media played a role in creating the violence, it’s usually one item on a laundry list of causes, and usually, pretty far down the list.

    Don’t worry too much, it has more to do with your having a healthy attitude about violence than violence in the media.

    • Jimbo says:

      I’m glad a Media Studies student was on hand to clear this whole thing up for us. Case closed!

    • Premium User Badge

      PikaBot says:

      I genuinely pity your professor if your papers are written anything like this.

      • horseflesh says:

        I pity you your being an asshole. Going through life that way must be terrible.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Arren says:

    Uthred, when has RPS’ occasional forays into these topics precluded their writing any “entertaining articles about games”? What is it about reflection upon and discussion of this issue that makes it “pseudo-intellectual”, or justifies your “moody teenager” characterization?

    Opinions can be valid without academic credentials or expert knowledge, as long as they’re not being extrapolated to authoritative conclusions. Do you discuss your own opinions on game design, political matters, or what music you like without the relevant post-graduate education? If so, how do you square that with your dismissal of all non-credentialed discussion on the topic of games’ fetishization of violence? Is there some magical property of this topic that makes it categorically different from other topics that laypeople discuss? Do tell.

    Examination of hyper-violence in games is not necessarily “armchair psychology” unless pseudo-scientific conclusions are drawn from the examination: your framing it that way is a cheap tactic to disparage discussion. Who are you to determine what “we don’t need another article about”? Why not just skip it if you feel that way?

    (FWIW, your hyperbolic insults and dismissive framing aside, I don’t think your post was all that knee-jerk — your second paragraph regarding the hypocrisy of selective outrage was mostly cogent, and sadly I must admit applies in large part to my earlier post, among others.)

  14. Ryan Huggins says:

    Because a total of 3 people actually give a shit. :I Political people.

  15. Hoaxfish says:

    Probably the worst thing from the NRA over this was the phrase “Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns”. Given the “other issue” of the killings which was mental health, they’re effectively arguing that the mentally ill are “bad”, rather than “ill” and in need of help… that there is some unavoidable imperative driving people into these killings.

    At best, the NRA is playing tower defense games… an unavoidable wave of killers are coming, put as many “good guys” in their path as possible.

    During this uproar, a number of games have been accused of inciting the violences… Mass Effect, Dynasty Warriors, Starcraft 2. Arguably this is a trend away from the “hot-seat” targets of FPS shooters where you are directly looking down the barrel of a gun, and spreading it to anything that matches the idea of a video game.

    • Jenks says:

      If we can’t even call people who shoot up children at a school “bad guys,” then all is lost.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        As much as westerns don’t deal with cowboys always fighting indians (in fact, there’s a very strong presence of cowboys fighting cowboys). The NRA basically bring a black&white mentality, portraying people with a screw loose up there with the organized crime or James Bond villans, and “good” shooters as “Heroic” (though there is no way to immediately determine who is who before they’re given a gun).

        The way to discuss the issue is not to simplify the event, but to deal in the complexity, especially if you’re talking about preventing it (prevent people from even considering that same “resolution” to problems), rather than curing it (shoot the killer after they’ve killed everyone.. but before they shoot themselves as a lot of them do).

        “The Trenchcoat Mafia” sounds a lot cooler than “children with mental illness”.

        Where is the option to talk someone down that we see in hostage films? or the non-violence option from Fallout, Planescape, etc? Faced with a gun, a quick-draw at high noon is not always necessary, especially with an individual who is basically having a breakdown.

        For the NRA, the “bad guys” are the ones trying to take away their guns as well.

        • Jenks says:

          “The Trenchcoat Mafia” was children shooting other children. That isn’t what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. This was a man, possibly autistic by some reports, who decided to shoot up kids. Being autistic doesn’t somehow negate how fucking evil you are. Hint: a whole lot more evil than the mafia, who you seem to hold up as some sort of super villain club.

          • Hoaxfish says:

            I’m not holding the Mafia up as super villans, I’m holding them up as an example of planned structured “evil”. Drug selling, gang-killings, etc, as the work of intelligent people who fully understand what impact their efforts have on their society as opposed to someone who has “snapped” and decided their best course of action is to kill their relatives, unrelated children, and themselves. A case of wide-spread, ongoing, persistent abuse of society, including numerous deaths, including family members, motivated mostly by money and power is a different type of evil. Branding someone as “bad” because they feel socially isolated is pushing them further towards dangerous options, not supporting them to choose more sensible options.

            My issue about the “Trenchcoat Mafia” is that perception is as important as effect. “Good to be Bad”, “Bad to the Bone”, etc… it holds the simple ideology and glamour of rebellion. “Infamous” people simple follow “any publicity as good publicity”. The NRA by throwing out sound-bites is playing a stupid game that simply perpetuates the culture of “Rebels without a cause” killers as celebrity. Very few find “illness” as glamorous (even in this the wording is important, since there’s a whole line of “madness as genius” subversion).

          • Premium User Badge

            elderman says:

            And a small point: the killers at Columbine weren’t members of the “Trenchcoat Mafia” group of friends at the high-school.

        • Axess Denyd says:

          Where is the option to talk someone down that we see in hostage films? or the non-violence option from Fallout, Planescape, etc? Faced with a gun, a quick-draw at high noon is not always necessary, especially with an individual who is basically having a breakdown.

          That works in a hostage situation. It tends to work less well when someone walks into a building and begins shooting indiscriminately.

  16. smoke.tetsu says:

    Speaking for myself I have slaughtered thousands of video game characters in countless games and have watched hundreds and thousands of hours of violent movies and have listened to my fair share of violent music having grown up during a time when heavy metal was still popular & rap took off.

    Yet, real life violence is still not a thing for me. Something to be avoided. Perhaps it’s my upbringing, perhaps it’s the martial arts classes teaching me self discipline. But real life violence is still far more disturbing than anything I have seen on the screen. Movies and television programs have come the closest to replicating this on screen however I still feel they don’t have the long lasting effects that real life violence has. I would say most of us know that those polygonal models we destroyed aren’t real.

    I could see some people growing up believing that violence and other bad things only happen on the screen rather than real life. Especially since most violence or even sex seems to be only happen when they consume entertainment or watch the news which is like an echo chamber for everything negative in the world.

    They may not even have a concept of being violent outside of pressing a button in a game and watching the effect on the screen. There is a leap between pressing buttons and watching pixels fall over with some blood and premeditating and committing to actual murder with everything it entails. People do things in video games that they wouldn’t in a million years have the nerve or inclination to do in real life.

    Of course there are always people who get ideas from all kinds of things that most people would even consider to be innocuous. Look at Charles Manson citing the Beatles Song Helter Skelter as an inspiration to him. Do we blame the song for what he did? Of course some people did history is rife with that sort of thing.. was it really to blame? Point is he was predisposed to the actions he took due to many factors.

    That being said I always feel whenever something like a school shooting happens and we have yet another round of finger pointing and knee jerk defensiveness that it’s all rather tacky and glosses over the important thing. Examining what truly caused such a tragedy and being sensitive to the plight of the victim’s surviving family and things like that. The news is worst culprit in that situation giving most of the attention to the killer, talking about all the weapons they used in fine detail and things like that.

    I do have to admit having readily available sources of inspiration for sickos doesn’t help. But usually I find this sort of subject brings out lots of finger pointing and no reasonable solutions… and to be frank if a person has a mind to do something like shoot up a school or commit a serial killing spree video games are the least of their problems.

    • Pindie says:

      Actually people used to blame Rock and Roll for violence. Then comic books. Then movies. Then Dungeons and Dragons, satanism, Marylin Mason, you name it. Then video games.
      You can actually find some hilarious, yet well made, videos on youtube from the 80s trying to prove R&R or even Jazz music is satanspawn.

      The scapegoat is always some rare hobby. Once rare hobby becomes popular the blame is shifted to another thing and the blame game continues.

      One medium that is never in the loop is the news media, however, since they are the ones doing the blaming. They get to pick the guilty.
      Other reason is the old claim that reporting on real life events does not influence them.

      Ironically part of blame game is people who never shot a gun in their lives themselves voicing their opinions on gun users. I find it funny and sad at the same time NRA president is criticizing video games he does not play while a gaming journalist criticizes firearm culture he is equally clueless about.

      I do not expect this series of articles to go anywhere.

      As a side note this year has been really great if you want kid friendly video games. There were some core titles that had little to no graphic violence.

  17. GepardenK says:

    Hmm I don’t think this whole violence thing is a large problem actually. Playing games certainly changes us as people, like any hobby do. But seeing as most people view games as fictional situations and challenges rather than real life simulations I don’t think it affects us on such a deep level. If I become a angry person from playing, say, shooters then that is because I hate loosing, not because shooting pixels affects me on an emotional level.

    Sure, as a Norwegian playing Hitman after the 2011 massacre felt very very wrong and gross. But I think that is because of the overlap in overall themes and not because games feels like an emotional real situation. So my reasoning brain makes a connection and concludes that this is gross, then that conclusion gives me an emotional response. I could get the same response from listening to a song with the wrong lyrics at the wrong time.

    It may sound counter-intuitive but not being affected by various themes in games is something i consider to be a sign of good emotional health and a balanced mind. When I suddenly find myself responding to stuff like Hitman then I know I`m probably struggling with something

  18. DK says:

    We’ve had the critical eye on videogame violence. It’s called Spec Ops: The Line. It was a landmark game, which deserves to be enshrined forever, alongside Pathologic. And you didn’t even mention it in your 24 games of the year.
    And you gave the disgusting piece of meaningless filth FarCry 3 the #1 Game of the Year spot.

    You have only yourself to blame for the lack of perspective on videogame violence.

    Yes you, games media and games consumers.

    • f69 says:

      I do like Spec-Ops, I really do. But any time I hear, “OMG Spec-Ops showed me the light! I will never look at violent games same way again!”

      I just want to grab the person by the shoulders shake them and ask, “Wait you did not know? You did not know there are things about violence Call of Duty neglected to tell you? Really?”

      People act like it’s something no one except them, the only smart cookie, knows.

      PS. Not accusing you. Just something of my chest.

      • GepardenK says:

        Sepc-ops was an enjoyable game for sure, but why all this super love for it? To me the entire plot felt a bit arty and pompous. Yes, I agree it felt kinda fresh. But that was it really. Everybody who play games know that shooty-shoot`s and its sequels are stupidly over the top, you don’t get extra points for pointing it out in your story

      • mouton says:

        This is normal, hype is bad for all games, even the good ones. After being exposed to enough hype, people are doomed to dislike them.

        Anyway, I knew all those things, Spec Ops didn’t show me anything I didn’t know. But it was a beautiful picture of descent into insanity and war trauma. Haven’t seen any comparable depictions in the world of games, and only a few outside.

  19. GunnerMcCaffrey says:

    Good on you for posting this, Nathan. Predictably you’ve poked a lot of people’s insecurities, but this is an important discussion.

  20. YohnTheViking says:

    I actually did a lot of writing on this just over a year ago.

    http://www.noratings.net/2011/10/violent-perceptions-why-do-we-always-mishandle-the-debate/
    http://www.noratings.net/2011/11/violent-perceptions-doing-the-controversial-correctly/
    http://www.noratings.net/2011/11/violent-percetions-the-amorphous-mass-and-you/

    No I am not attempting to increase traffic to the site for any reason, in fact it’s so dead by now I am uncertain if it is worth attracting more traffic at all. Still, those articles are what I have to say on the subject, and I’ve always been a bit proud of posting those even though they’re not all well written.

  21. Radiant says:

    I’ve been playing Company of Heroes recently.
    I’m pretty sure I can now defend 3 bridges with a handful of sherman tanks and some command points I’ll use to upgrade my troops with.

    Also I’m STILL waiting for these kanji tattoo’ed on my chest when I was 17 to imbue me with special powers.
    These komodo dragons don’t hunt themselves and daddy needs a backpack.

  22. Yosharian says:

    What’s going on with you guys lately? First accusing FC3 of racism, and now we’re discussing violence in videogames? This is just dumb. There are good videogames and bad videogames. Everything else is just posturing for political/social gain.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Arren says:

    OK, not that anyone gives much of a shit (or should), but a final word on this.

    Despite my personal inclination to continue wondering about (and discussing) the widespread fetishization of hyper-violence in games, and despite the fact that violence being historically endemic to the human condition is irrelevant to whether discussion of same is worthwhile*, upon further reflection I have to concede that attaching this discussion to Newtown is both self-defeating and in bad taste. It distracts from the conversation by providing fodder for the clickbait cynic brigade, and predisposes the discussion to devolve into assignations of blame and misbegotten claims of causality.

    Gun violence in my country is not about games, in any way, and I regret conflating the two things to any extent, even if only by implication. The fact that games reflect the violent nature of society — something I find abhorrent in the extreme — clouded my judgment. Mea culpa.

    * Naturalistic fallacy, anyone?

  24. Premium User Badge

    Rise / Run says:

    Nathan, I totally agree — an ounce or two of self-criticism would be hugely helpful. Both for us, the consumers, and for those other folks, the developers. But it seems that the self-criticism is often lost in the development process (I’m looking at you, FC3). Just calling something ‘art’ or ‘critical’ doesn’t absolve it from being part of the problem.

    In short, I think the #1 thing that games have over, say film or books, is the possibility of being directly responsible for what happens to some other characters. But it takes very good writing and game design to actually help the player feel invested in those characters. imho, Bioshock failed with the little sisters, but Portal didn’t fail as much with the [far less violent] companion cube. For me PS:T’s crowning achievement was causing me to replay the end until I wouldn’t directly cause the final deaths/loss of souls of all of my companions.

    I guess my long-winded point is there needs to be some strong self-criticism at all levels of the development process, and that if studios want to make more ‘adult’ games (or at least have them a bit less vacuous) then the development needs to integrate that critical process throughout (beyond the critical process that’s clearly already going on: “does this make the game fun”).

  25. Jenks says:

    The people who point to video games as “the problem” are no less stupid than those who point at the NRA and legal gun ownership as “the problem.”

    That said, with permits to carry a handgun so painful to attain in many states in the US, I can’t believe these mass shootings don’t happen every day. There’s nothing stopping anyone from doing this, anywhere, at any time.

    • Pindie says:

      It’s also interesting to point out the mass shootings of innocent and random victims did not occur, to my knowledge, in the times when one could legally purchase a fully automatic firearm with no background checks.
      One has to ask: why was that not a thing back then?

      • Consumatopia says:

        I strongly suspect that any kind of automatic or semi-automatic weapon would be much more expensive (relative to wages) than a legal semi-automatic gun today.

    • Axess Denyd says:

      There’s nothing stopping anyone from doing this, anywhere, at any time.

      Human decency?

  26. rsanchez1 says:

    Well now I know to skip Nathan Grayson’s articles.

  27. Brise Bonbons says:

    Personally I think this discussion must address the message that many games send through their logic and rules: Only violence is fun and worthy of play.

    Now, obviously this does not include the massive body of entirely nonviolent games: the Sim Cities, Sims, Farmvilles, and sweet-hearted puzzle (platformers). These games, which don’t really involve violence at all, are often ignored in these discussion because somehow (as another commenter mentioned) we only think about first person (and occasionally fighting) games when the subject of violence comes up.

    My point is that in almost every game which does choose to represent violent conflict, it is enshrined as the primary gameplay activity. It is usually the only behavior truly modeled and simulated by the game; there might be a skill tree or crafting or branching dialog, but as gameplay those are rudimentary; choose-your-path activities, shopping lists, or perhaps a bar to fill up on your way to being a renegade or paragon. There might be mini-games like hacking, but they are often shallow diversions.

    I think this is most obvious in RPGs: Here is a game type which in theory should model the broadest range of human activity, given its origins. We should be persuading, bartering, charming, sneaking, searching, identifying ancient artifacts and unknown monsters, and engaging in strange religious rituals to appease our gods. Combat could be extremely dangerous or something to be avoided entirely (looking at a game like P&P Call of Cthulhu).

    Yet almost every mainstream RPG treats fighting as the “real gameplay”, only interrupted by clicking through a one-way web of dialog choices. We are presented with a one-dimensional representation of a world, where violence is the only source of agency and interaction, yet has almost no consequences for the “story” which the game is ostensibly about.

    I do not think there is any issue with gore or killing in games as a subject matter. But as long as violence is considered the only activity which can be “fun” to play – and by extension, we keep seeing games composed of 5-10 straight hours of non-stop killing padded by brief non-interactive cut scenes – games will continue to offer an incredibly warped view of the worlds they place us in.

    • NathanH says:

      Well, the first person who manages to come up with deep and detailed RPG mechanics for non-combat situations that a computer can handle without making everything seem abstract or bizarre will make an absolute killing. Until then, we’ll just have to stick with combat as the deep and detailed personal interaction that we can make into a game.

      It’s why you see far more variety in strategy and simulation games than in games based around individuals playing out their actions.

  28. int says:

    I’ve had it with all the violence on the radio. The Shadow is too violent.

  29. Premium User Badge

    PikaBot says:

    A discussion of the culture which produces video games and why it privileges violent discourse seems like something that could in fact be rather interesting and useful. Unfortunately, the angle Grayson seems to be taking here is rather tired and frankly something I’ve long wished would go away.

  30. Morte66 says:

    Because I just don’t give a damn.

  31. D3xter says:

    No we don’t, what we need to do is stop taking everything so fucking seriously and enjoy playing games. First with the cries about “sexism” because you don’t like how a video game character has been (often visually) designed, more recently “racism” because you have to shoot virtual people that aren’t all white and now it’s the “violence”, what’s next… let’s protect virtual animals?

    GTFO and leave my videogames alone with YOUR agendas, we’ve fought hard enough against various holier-than-thou type politicians that are of the opinion that they can dictate to people what they can and cannot like, I don’t need game-bloggers to do the same. I’m here because I want to read about the games and not for social commetary on what you think is “appropriate” for anyone to enjoy.

    The game that the NRA was apparently most worried about was “Kindergarden Killer”, a flash game from 10 years ago made solely for this kind of provocation: http://i.imgbox.com/acgIJJWn.jpg
    And I quote: “And here’s one, it’s called Kindergarden Killers. It’s been Online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it, and all of yours couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it?”

    I’m as tired of “Modern Military Shooters” as can be and appreciate what Spec Ops: The Line tried to do and most of the recent games I’ve played have rather been Indie games, but I wouldn’t dream trying to look down on people and point fingers because they enjoy killing virtual representations of stuff, especially since they constantly manage to sell-through 10+ Million copies every year and seem rather popular at that.

    • Premium User Badge

      PikaBot says:

      It’s not an agenda to be aware and point out that video games are – painfully frequently – informed by the racism and sexism which pervades our culture.

      • D3xter says:

        I’d rather people stop pissing their pants about every little thing a virtual representation of a human being does on a computer screen in someone’s entertainment if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, similar to how people seem to be able to accept that others are allowed to smoke or drink without having to explain themselves to anyone.

        If people are playing a game about the Crusades and they need to eliminate the infidels, that won’t make them identify with the Crusaders. When they kill a lot of NPCs in games like GTA or Hotline Miami, it doesn’t mean that players endorse mass murder. If they’re playing a few rounds of Counter Strike with or against their friends and their objective happens to be planting a bomb, that doesn’t make them terrorists.
        If they’re playing as an alien race hellbent on destroying humanity or an evil diabolic mastermind willing to torture humans by building large dungeons for them to die in them it won’t make them that either. And if they see a sexually appealing character in a video game it won’t corrupt their weak mind forever.

        Stop being so damn smugly condescending about what people do to entertain themselves, especially if the given products aren’t even meant for children, but are only rated and available for adults. If you don’t like certain genres, plots or aspects in certain video games then that’s fine and you’re like everyone else. Don’t play them and consume something else you actually enjoy. It doesn’t give you the right to tell somebody else what they’re allowed to enjoy though.

        And if you care so damn much about then stop complaining about video games, go out and try to do something about improving in actual society.

        • Premium User Badge

          PikaBot says:

          Games are neither created nor played in a vacuum. Nobody’s saying that games are a ~corrupting influence~. What people are saying is that the games industry is full of really disgusting sexism and racism, and maybe we shouldn’t do that.

          This is not as radical a message as you appear to think it is.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      “GTFO and leave my videogames alone with YOUR agendas”

      I laughed out loud when I read this (if only there was some kind of abbreviation I could use to make that easier to type). Aside from an unsubscribed reader telling a writer to GTFout of his own website this summarises exactly the kind of immaturity that the author is criticising. Note that the author is not criticising violence in games but peoples inability to approach it as a subject for discussion. Look Dex, you might have come across the phrase “everyone has an agenda”, and it’s absolutely true; you have a very clear agenda that games should not be treated as a cultural medium, for reasons that I can only guess at given that there is a grand consensus in media and cultural studies that all media reflect and affect cultural attitudes (and the actions of individuals associated with these). Now I don’t agree with you that games are just games and have no social import, but what I really don’t agree with is this attitude of yours that you are without agenda and everyone who has different ideas to you is led by agenda. This is what annoys me most because it is an attemt to silence a discussion, whereas your making an argument for games having no social import (although to my mind totally ignorant) would be at least engaging in a discussion. As it happens you’ve become one of the many commenters on here taking the time to log in and type a response to say that we shouldn’t talk about violence in games, not that you think that there is no cultural link between games media and violence (or sexism etc.) but that it shouldn’t be discussed. Well mate I think you’ll find the 444+ people discussing this article is evidence that people want to discuss this so kindly tell me who you are to tell people what they should and shouldn’t discuss?

      Instead of crying “stop talking about this!” give us your argument as to why you think games are not a medium with cultural import, why is it that you think they exist totally separately from social attitudes. I would be particularly interested to hear this because it goes against every current understanding of the media since John Crowe Ransome’s ‘the new criticism’ was roundly trashed.

      • D3xter says:

        I couldn’t give less of a toss if you call it an “art form” or anything else. Call it whatever you want. For that matter some, if not a lot of the games that don’t fit into the “art” definition very well and are purely gameplay and repetition can often be the most fun.
        And people are usually playing games because they enjoy them, not to validate someone’s definition of what they believe to be “art”. I’ve never even heard anyone say, “I’m going to play this game, because it’s so artsy”. And for instance football/soccer is a rather beloved sport, I’m sure the ones playing it on a daily basis could give less of a damn if anyone thinks what they’re doing is “body art” or not.

        If anything this discussion if people think games are “art” or not seems to be very railroading into what folks think games should be (or be allowed to be) about and constrains what designers can apparently do with their games.

        I find it hilarious though that there are so many holier-than-thou types that hold themselves in the light of the great arbiters of taste trying to dictate to other people what they should and shouldn’t be allowed to play because it’s “in bad taste”.
        If studios want to make games like Manhunt or Postal 2, and if adults like them and buy them: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=93000640 and there ain’t any laws forbidding them to be made, there is nothing wrong with that.

        And if you think you are (or should be) in the position of telling other people what they are allowed to play then **** you.
        I really don’t know any better way to put it, you and people like you aren’t the ones that get to decide what everyone finds entertaining.

        What exactly is your end-goal in this “discussion” anyway? Nobody would want to start a “serious discussion” without trying to change something.
        To find a way to ban violent (or otherwise “inappropriate”) games and disallow other adults to play what they like and put down their money for? Or to gradually phase games to be designed to fit in some insane concept of what should be considered an “art form”?
        And let’s not forget that even “art” can often be made to specifically offend or provoke and cause emotions, there’s countless examples of exactly that in history.

        Or to censor them all like Germany is already doing (and possibly some other countries like Australia) and force them to get rid of the “offending” parts along an entire catalogue of what that can entail so there’s entire Websites dedicated to finding out what has been cut/changed: http://www.schnittberichte.com/svds.php?Page=Schnittberichte&Kat=SB2&Kat2=Games to the point that games like Soldier of Fortune 2 had to play in an alternate “robot” universe where humans don’t exist, NPCs don’t bleed but leak oil, since shooting virtual representations of machines is apparently more okay than shooting imaginary humans.
        Where adults with credit cards aren’t allowed to buy games on Steam with helpful messages like “We are sorry. This game isn’t available in your Region.” and people have to go through countless hoops both On- and Offline (like ordering from other countries or using VPNs) if they want the “real” version of the game cause they’re being patronized at every turn. Some games not even being allowed to advertise or in any other way being shown off or tested publicly because they’ve been put on an “Index” of media liable to corrupt the young and they can only be sold under the counter.
        Do you know how fucking arrogant that sounds? How does that make you different from personas like Jack Thompson and his cohorts?

        And even IF there was some sort of influence on single persons from the millions that use the medium worldwide, let’s just say that from every million playing video games someone ends up shooting someone else as a direct causality somehow. You are still allowed to drink/smoke/drive and even take some drugs (I believe some US states just recently legalized weed, since they believe people should be able to choose themselves and Portugal has long sice in 2001 legalized most drugs to a certain point) among other things. Even though each of those things has a much higher and provable death toll, society as a whole accepted the risks for allowing everyone those personal liberties (well there was that entire prohibition thing, but I’m sure folks would rather forget about that). And let’s not start talking about the fetish of a lot of people in the US regarding their liberty to owning firearms that have the potential to actually kill people, opposed to video games or movies that don’t.

        What do you want to forbid, restrict or „have a discussion about“ most likely resulting in that next? Movies? Music? TV? The mention of any kind of violent actions people could imagine in front of their mind’s eye in books and drawings?

        • Eddy9000 says:

          Dexter, I never once referred to games as an ‘art form’ so I’m not sure where that little rant came from; what games unequivocally are is a form of media in the same manner as books and film, and can therefore be examined within the same body of theory.

          I’m also not talking about banning or censoring games for their content, I didn’t mention it once. This seems to be something you can’t get your head around, discussing the content of games does not mean imposing legal restrictions on what games makers can or can’t produce. What it does mean is opening up a conversation or discourse between people who play games about what they are comfortable playing and what issues they have with the hobby they are involved in. Nobody is saying what people can or can’t play, they are saying what they are comfortable playing and what they think developers should produce, which is very much the right of a consumer to do. This is a democratic process, people talking, discussing, reaching consensus, respecting each others difference; the irony is that although you present yourself as anti censorship you are the one acting tyrannically, telling people what they should and shouldn’t discuss.

          The only person who wants to restrict people here is you Dexter, by closing down discussion, acting aggressively towards anyone whose opinion differs from your own and saying that these issues should not be talked about.

          • D3xter says:

            Did we read the same article? The one starting with “We need to talk.” (which in that way comes up most often when someone is either about to break up with you or they see something as a “problem” they want to “change”) and then goes on to link someone going on a killing spree with “video game violence” and to top it off mentions the NRA and adorns it all between pictures of these so-called violent games, appealing to everyones feelings and then continuing to go on about this apparent issue while saying “well, that’s not really what I said, you see I’m a friend!”
            And then this piece of text inbetween, brilliant: “I could hardly even move after I heard about the shootings in Newtown; I just sort of stared at a wall for a while”

            And that, after this kind of shit took place everywhere yet again? http://www.ibtimes.com/mass-effect-facebook-page-under-attack-fox-news-cnn-blame-connecticut-school-shooting-violent-vide-0
            Very few people were discussing it, really?

            This isn’t a “guys, there’s been too many military shooters lately, would be nice if there were less” kind of article where you can discuss the intricacies of gun-porn with your buddies, but more of an emotionally charged appeal stating that “we have a problem, something needs to change!” like RPS seems to manage so often, and obviously there’s only one perspective on the matter illuminated and one conclusion the beloved reader can come to, RPS’s own newest agenda-driven one.

            And as I said above in length I couldn’t give a toss if gaming is considered an artform or “culturally important” as you put it or not, as long as it is fun.

            If you’re not talking about “banning or censoring” games then I frankly don’t know what this “discussion” of yours is about, since that is a resolution and what it directly leads to in most cases.
            Germany has been having those kind of censorship problems for the better part of two decades (although they wouldn’t call them “problems” here) when it comes to games and Australia just recently managed to get their “18+ rating” after a long and arduous fight: http://www.vg247.com/2012/06/18/r18-classification-bill-green-lit-by-australian-parliament/
            Frankly this is what it leads to and what the kind of people trying to burn gaming at the stake every other day want, and this isn’t helping at all.

          • Premium User Badge

            elderman says:

            “If you’re not talking about “banning or censoring” games then I frankly don’t know what this “discussion” of yours is about”

            There at least I think you’re right on the mark. You and a lot of other people ranting in this thread totally misunderstood Nathan’s article.

            He spends the first half of the article writing from exactly the perspective you’re coming from: gaming isn’t at fault, gaming isn’t harmful, people like the NRA are dumb to suggest it is, they’re exploiting a tragedy (which they did, callously), they’re “completely, incontrovertibly wrong”.

            Then he writes “can we just drop the fever-pitch finger-pointing and be honest with ourselves for a second?” (And really, could we please?) He continues. “Just breathe, count to ten, and look inward.” He’s inviting us to introspection.

            He’s writing as a gamer and he’s asking an open-ended question. Many a computer game “gives violence an active, constant role in our day-to-day lives.” How does that affect you? Or does it not at all?

            The thing about real questions, especially personal questions, is that they don’t just have one answer. This doesn’t lead down the road to game censorship even if anyone posting on this blog has the power to influence censorship laws where they live. I find usually the answer to a sincerely asked question surprises me.

            Maybe Nathan’s question isn’t an interesting one to you. Fair enough. And you want to say so. No problem. But surely, surely, there’s nothing wrong with asking the question. Because introspection is a good way to understand games. Not the only way, but it’s one good way among others. And aren’t we coming to this site to know more about games?

            Personally, I don’t play a lot of violent games, but I think the games I have played have desensitised me. And that’s a good thing, because I’m a bit oversensitive. Gaming has given me a venue to practice thinking faster, acting bravely, and it’s readied me to learn by throwing myself in and failing the first couple of times.

  32. Kitsuninc says:

    Hmm. Violence in games feels very mechanical to me. If it isn’t related to the story, killing a man in a game is just accomplishing a task, fundamentally identical to taking a piece in a game of chess, for instance. Even when it is the killing of a character with importance to the plot, to me, that death feels identical to the death of a character in a film. It’s something that happens, not something I have any part of, not unless I had a choice. If I did have a choice, it was probably either smart enough game to really make me think of it as a moral dilemma, or it was just a binary moral choice which I had to go along with because I already decided I was being good/evil.

    The only games I have which don’t involve killing involve avoiding being killed, except for a select few 100% story-games and visual novels. I think, however, this is because violence is the fundamental basis of competition. Look at sports, they virtually all involve either simulating violence (Wrestling, boxing etc. more historic examples: jousting, sparring) or something very abstract like ‘get ball into goal’. In videogames there is little reason to create a game with such an abstract goal, because there is no reason we can’t just use violence. There are some games that have abstract goals, like Super Hexagon, for instance, but even that game really represents avoiding being killed really. There just aren’t many ideas which don’t involve violence in some way, I guess.

  33. Blackcompany says:

    Someone mentioned zero sum games. Here we are treating the topic as just that. Either or. Violence in games either contributes to the real counterpart or it does not. Zero sum.

    Even the most casual students of psychology know there exist many personality types. What if the manner in which we disassociate ourselves from violent acts in games teaches those with a certain susceptible personality type to do the same with real violence? Is this not worth considering?

    Just because ut does not affect everyone does not mean it effects no one.

    • Kitsuninc says:

      Yeah, your average person, who probably has a strong or at least reasonable grasp of ethics, isn’t going to be influenced into killing others by anything they know as fictional.

      The area where it matters is the impact fictional violence has upon people who are mentally unstable, and probably socio/psychopathic already. I can’t say I have any real knowledge on the subject, not having done much research, but I think it’s entirely possible someone could be influenced to kill someone by a video game. I also think it’s just as possible for someone to be influenced not to, though, so I think the question is, is the net effect positive or negative?

      It’s probably very small, either way, if you ask me, but I feel it’s important to realize that the question isn’t how games influence your average person. They probably don’t, in dangerous ways, and so people seem to dismiss discussion too easily.

      • Eddy9000 says:

        Just a quick point that a societies ethics are influenced by cultural attitudes, which in turn are influenced by the media. There can be no separation between media representations and the ethics that a person may or may not have a grasp on.

    • Very Real Talker says:

      I’m sorry, but maybe virgo in cancer could have something to do about mass murderers going into a shooting spree. Too bad the possibility is so remote that it’s not worth considering at all- if you are sane at least

  34. Very Real Talker says:

    this is exceptionally emotional and useless. I am the first to accept the notion that videogames might be hurtful, not because they violent, but because they can be extremely addictive and that’s especially dangerous for kids and teenagers. I don’t certainly believe that blasting polygons has anything to do with school shootings.

    Also there is something preposterous about the idea of video games aficionado “discussing” violence in videogames, as if both were important things- they aren’t- and personally I want to just have fun with my games, I think there are enough “higher art forms” already and if videogames are going to evolve into something higher, it will happen, and not because videogame journalists and internet forum users “discuss” violence in games. You just want to ruin the fun for millions of people because you need to be validated by your own damn hobby. Yeah, let’s take the fun out of the vidya just to inflate our egos as “videogames aficionados” What’s next, discussing sex in pornography (pornography will never evolve as an art form if it keep focusing so much on sex!) or the use of a soccer ball in soccer (soccer could be so much more if it had a better plot and less games focused on the ball!)

    I mean, come on.

  35. Phantoon says:

    Nathan is on the wrong path, but there’s so many comments, no one will read this. So I’m gonna spit in the ocean and say the real solution here is a better mental health care system, because crazy people gonna crazy. And the real problem is the media, going into every single gory detail they possibly can. Kids getting PTSD from events they weren’t involved in was a real thing with 9/11- there’s been plenty of studies on it.

    But again, no one will read this, so it does not matter. I think I’ll go get breakfast now.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      I read it! And you are right! Wheeeeeeee!

      Unfortunately I think discussing the terrible state of mental healthcare in the USA is beyond the scope of RPS. Basically we’re stuck talking about “what games and the industry should do (in the context of this horrible but statistically insignificant fringe event)”, which is a resounding “nothing” because this event is about a single person with deep issues who didn’t get the care they needed, and has nothing to do with games or the media (except the news programs that publicize these events).

      This leaves us with the question “what can gamers and the industry do to help the victims?” We could all start a charity fund. As gamers we could demand that the industry take violence more seriously and pay attention to the consequences of it; how it effects the victims and their families. These are all worthy things.

      Thinking about whether violence in games impacts me? I’m skeptical, but curious to see the next article. Perhaps Nathan will surprise me. As of now I’m not seeing how this approach will be very useful, though.

  36. TouchMyBox says:

    Thank you for doing this Nathan. It saddens me whenever someone suggests that perhaps videogame violence isn’t the best-super-awesome-thing-in-the-world and then the game enthusiast community collectively shoots down all arguments without any real meaningful discussion or reflection. Sure, I enjoy the odd ultra-violent game from time to time and find myself laughing maniacally while playing Hotline Miami, but I can’t help but feel like overindulgence in more viscerally violent games might possibly have a negative impact on those who don’t introduce any variety in their favourite hobby.

    Meanwhile, it seems like we’re all just waiting for time to pass to the point where everyone on the planet grew up while videogames were a thing until we can put down our pitchforks with the mentality of “They’re trying to take MY games!” and have some meaningful discussion on a large scale.

  37. oneeyedziggy says:

    The most affected I’ve been by video game violence lately was with Far Cry 3 as well, not because you’re gunning down dozens or hundreds of people, we’re always assured the hominids we kill are nazis, drug lords, aliens, or some other death-deserving group. I was put off because in Far Cry 3 you’re gunning down dozens or hundreds of animals, and for some reason, most animals they chose to include are endangered. Most designers won’t put killable cats or dogs into games, let alone tapirs, leopards, tigers, moas (already went extinct IRL about a hundred years ago by the way), and so on. Yes, it’s a video game, and I’ve argued countless times myself against video games causing violence, but now I find myself worrying about them reducing sensitivity to the trouble some of these real species are in.

  38. Bios Element says:

    Every legitimate study to date shows games have no impact on violence and it’s disappointing to see RPS brush that aside.

  39. eclipse mattaru says:

    I know this is a very serious issue and what have you, but I can’t help but laughing at the fantastic combo of Bulletstorm and Splatterhouse. I mean, what the hell is that about? o_O It’s like they took two random names from some article about the history of videogames (and one that was either ridiculously comprehensive or just plain lazy, too) and called it a day.

    Anyway, what’s this “Far Cry 3″ you talk about? I didn’t even know they kept making games after Dark Souls. I certainly don’t need them to do it anymore.

  40. goettel says:

    There’s no more reason to link gaming violence to people committing violence than linking it to other common activities like driving, drinking coffee or watching sports. I’m sorry Nathan, but this piece is a knee-jerk reaction – yes, it is: just because you’re an avid gamer witnessing the news of IRL violence doesn’t causally link (violent) gaming with violence.

    I’m pretty sure there were people making the link of them bullying kids when they were little with hearing the same news, wondering if their behaviour contributes to the sort of mindset that leads to mass killings, and I’m pretty sure too that that is at the very least a more likely causal link, even if that too would be born out of an emotional response.

    Yes, we should look inward and try to understand what motivates murderers, since we’re all potential murderers (Tajfel, Turner et al). But an emotional response is not a good basis for generalized statements which play in the hands of the ignorant.

    • Premium User Badge

      elderman says:

      “…just because you’re an avid gamer witnessing the news of IRL violence doesn’t causally link (violent) gaming with violence.”

      And Nathan isn’t saying that. His post is about violence in games, not violence in society. (Well, mostly.)

      To quote:
      “We take tremendous joy in virtual violence. … Does that cause violence? Probably not.”
      and
      “I don’t think gaming causes violence”.

      Read the piece again.

  41. HooblaDGN says:

    I’m a long-time reader who has dabbled in Solium in the forums with a few people, but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to create an account for commenting purposes.

    As some sort of Christian fellow-thing-person, I am largely called to non-violence. The Old Testament has several calls to direct violence against the enemies of Israel, but then I read the Old Testament as partly a story of how theocracy fails because people suck pretty bad, so I don’t buy referencing the Old Testament’s violence as a valid argument for violence today.

    Games have almost always encouraged me to be violent, and usually lethally so. Even something as simple as World of Warcraft is constantly asking me to kill animals and people of various types if I want to progress at a decent rate as a character. My character cannot grow at a regular rate by talking to other people, or by knocking them unconscious, or by making them items or food or healing sicknesses.

    At best, I can sneak around targets or just heal people who are doing the killing for me, and even then that’s only when I’m playing the characters capable of doing those. I believe that you can gain some experience from crafting now, but it’s no replacement for full-blown killing quests. I am, if I want to play as some sort of non-lethalist (I would not quite call myself a pacifist) in WoW, severely handicapped for it.

    The big MMO is, of course, just one example. I don’t need to list them all for you, you already know.

    The game that allows you a path forward without physical violence is a rare treat, and I do wish that there were more of them. I understand that violence in video games is not real violence and that such violence can perhaps be therapeutic for some. But, as somebody who looks around him and sees a world engulfed in the horrors of war and exploitation, and as somebody for whom it is already difficult to be a non-lethalist quasi-pacifist, I do wish that there were more games that treated non-violence as a valid option in storytelling and conflict. Perhaps that is not entirely realistic, but then we’re talking about video games here. Most of the time I don’t play video games to be reminded of the sadness and tragedy of our world.

    Of course, creating a game where you always or frequently have non-lethal options to progress is harder work for developers, I’d imagine. But I think that it might be worth it. We are influenced by our media even as we influence it, and I think that it would be a good message to portray that, while violence is one path, there are other paths as well, even if perhaps they don’t end up in the same place.

    So I hope that, as games develop and evolve as an art form, we find that we’re more often treated to games that allow alternative paths to violence. Until then, insane pen and paper games of sneakiness and negotiation will tide me over.

  42. Vandell says:

    I take glee in gameplay mechanics. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is tuned to a razor edge, and competing against your enemy is both fun and exhilarating. When I shoot a dude and they splat, I’m not pump-fisting and fawning over the gore, I’m thinking, “Fuck yeah, I’m getting more skilled at this game and my reactions are finely tuned at this moment.” And come on, when you’re playing a round of Search & Destroy, and you’re the last guy left vs. 2-3 other people, you feel your adrenaline pumping because everyone is counting on you.

    It’s just.. fun, regardless of the context that it’s nameless, faceless dudes shooting each other. I suppose one thing I can admit to is that the nomenclature used by game developers and gamers is rather untoward. “Killstreak”, “Kill:Death Ratio”, and et cetera. But what else could they use?

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      Well, look at Shootmania, which is basically virtual reality lasertag. It has all the skill of a competitive FPS with none of the ragdolls and blood sprays. “Realistic” ultraviolence as in Far Cry 3 or COD is the conservative choice (in a business sense): It is known to sell, easy to relate to, with little risk involved. But the smallest bit of lateral thinking will show you other options, as demonstrated by Shootmania.

      That said, ragdolls are inherently hilarious, so I will always love them.

  43. Vaco says:

    Art is a reflection of the culture not the other way around. According to the CIA only about an eighth of killers play violent video games, most read books.

    • Stupoider says:

      Yes, and Nobel prize winners play even fewer games and read even more books, were you trying to make a point?

  44. jorygriffis says:

    I remember when I was in a kindergarten art class and, however the assignment was structured, I was told to draw a scene that was something close to my heart, important to me. With crayon on printer paper I quickly drew my childhood home and stick-figures of my family.

    I was a quick little artist, so there was a lot of time to spare before the class ended. I turned the paper over and got on with drawing something else: carefully I detailed the hills and valleys of Phobos, and the rectilinear outlines of UAC outposts. In this barren environment I placed myself, lone Marine against the forces of Hell, which I drew in great number: there were Chaingunners, columns of fire erupting from their weapons; Imps, figures of nothing but horns and teeth; Zombiemen, crude shotguns poised at the ready; there may even have been a Mancubus or two.

    Only as I turned the drawing in did I consider that maybe that image of carnage wasn’t what my teacher wanted to see. Excuse me for assigning this much gravitas to my own thoughts as a child, but as I turned the paper over I distinctly remember wondering which side would be taken as my real response to the assignment.

  45. derbefrier says:

    Evil is born from the human heart. Not a video game, not a rock song, not a movie. The only person responsible for this tragedy is the man who pulled the trigger.

    for an interesting take on this whole ordeal listen to Penn Jillette on the Opie and Anthony Show. (skip to about 2:10:0) He explains how I feel about it better than I ever could.

    edit: found another good one though Penn doesnt get a chance to say much over the media talking heads http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYnnNrzCjkc

  46. zeekthegeek says:

    Nathan I’m gonna stop you right there, before you get to the follow-up article: the entire basis for this is full of shit. No matter how much thought you put into it, by responding to the NRA and their inability to own their own shit, you are dignifying their claims.

    You know what I did the moment I heard about Sandy Hook? Kind of just shrugged and turned off the TV to escape the media exploitation train. You’re falling for it hook line and sinker.

    So to answer your question, we’re not discussing violence because it’s a non-issue overhyped by the same media that harassed grieving families after children were murdered.

    • Stupoider says:

      I’m pretty sure Nathan didn’t fall for anything. He knew what he was doing when he made this article, and I think less of RPS because of it.

      • dftaylor says:

        I felt the shooting context was ham-fisted, but the sentiment seemed pure. It got him thinking about why the games industry takes such pleasure in virtual representations of killing – the oft-named “murder simulators” that sell so well.

        How does that make you think less of the site? It makes me think more of it for publishing something which isn’t parroting the same two lines – that either gaming causes violence or, golly no it does not – HOW DARE YOU!?

        It’s asking why games are near all violent in their content. Where’s the diversity of tone and genre?

        The shooting and whether games played a part are not really anything to do with the central theme of the piece.

        It is a valid question, I think. Why are so many people so angry at discussing it?

  47. RegisteredUser says:

    We aren’t discussing it, because we’re all too busy being anti-male mudslings in the “videogames are sexist” debate already.

    Me, I think you either can seperate virtual simulation and reality, or you can’t. Once you begin censoring fantasy or trying to impress norms that aren’t from the fantasy itself onto the fantasy, you’re basically doing it wrong. Trying to measure up a fantasy to a societal norm such as not punching one another in the face or raping away at folks randomly, is simply doingitwrong, which is why its nice to see yet another doingitwrong festival taking place that is killing the commenting system. :p

    As for the shootings, they have everything to do with doing society wrong, and nothing with videogames.
    When you create an environment where everyone is afraid of the next guy and/or where you can only define yourself as someone(cool, functioning, to be respected etc whatever aimed for other quality) by seperating out others and shitting on them(hello american highschool, banking system, media, politics, etc), then there is fairly little surprise that hate and fear instead of acceptance and love is the predominant paradigm.

    Again: That has sod all to do with gaming and a whole lot with how you live in a society, run a society, push 24/7 talk-media in a society and treat one another in it.

  48. Premium User Badge

    ffordesoon says:

    Interesting point worth examining.

  49. teamcharlie says:

    And this is why video games should focus less on violence, more on boobies (of normal-person proportions). What are the conservative groups going to say when they want to tell us that video games are brainwashing us, and what are we going to say?

    Conservative groups: “Video games are making young women more promiscuous! Instead of being freaked out at the idea of sleeping with somebody they aren’t eventually planning on marrying, they’re embracing the idea!”

    Gamers: “Fuck yes! I hope games are doing that! Hell, we should make more things that do that!”

    See? We can all get along if we try.