Why Aren’t We Discussing Videogame Violence?

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.


  1. Deathmaster says:

    Discussing video game violence?

    What is this? 2002?
    Who are you? Jack Thompson?

    • bill says:

      Grow up and read the article before you post.

      • Deathmaster says:

        Such lingering violence…

        • Bookagame says:

          I didn’t knew Jack Thompson before you mentioned it … And I’m not going to erect a statue in his honor, oh no :). I made a critical article about violence in video games on my blog too – before the Newtown shooting :

          link to booksandgames.net

          In this article I’ve underlined more “choice”, whereas Nathan really stood first for searching how violence can influence us. Each person has a different reaction to violence in video games. He is right. To avoid a fact, we must first identify it. I suggest you guys follow his next articles , it can be interesting :).

      • dee says:

        preeetty sure he’s being ironic

        • hbarsquared says:

          preeetty sure he’s trying to be ironic


        • bill says:

          Pretty sure he’s not.

          He might be trying to be, but I can’t see how that would work..

        • Makariel says:

          preeetty sure he’s trying to be funny (and failing, judging by a lot of replies), but this is not ironic.

        • Universal Quitter says:

          Given that this immediately devolved into arguments about word definitions and Jack Thompson references, I can’t help but wonder what that says about humanity and violence in general.

    • abremms says:

      yes, heaven forbid we take a mature and introspective look at the personal and cultural impact of our hobby. It would be simply awful if some gamers became a bit more self aware, or if the industry got more creative than constantly heading down the “grab guns, shoot mans” path time and time again.

      games don’t cause violence, but the article has a lot of good points. Mostly that the knee jerk defensiveness displayed in the above comment is not productive.

      • Deathmaster says:

        Can we at least agree we, gamers, get tired of this discussion?

        This time conveniently placed a day after Christmas, hypocritically wishing for world peace and making games all about happy, fluffy and the color pink. I just think it’s a wee bit short sighted to complain about violence in any kind of medium.

        Humans are violent by nature, and they somehow seem to enjoy it. If they didn’t Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger would effectively be names we would never have heard of. Violence in the written word isn’t as appealing of course, but gratuitous violence soothes the need of that we would (most likely) never be capable of. The more graphic, the more gore — the more we are satisfied in that very need.

        It’s basic human nature. On the on side we have the fact that killing is forbidden, which makes doing it legally all the more exciting. I’d like to compare that to the girl your mother told you never to go out with, which will make you only want her more. Basic human nature to desire what we can’t have.
        On the other side we have a long history of violence I don’t need to remind anyone of, but as far as history can be traced back — it’s all been war and… violence.

        I don’t really see what there is to discuss. Human nature can’t be changed, nor can the people who benefit from these desires.

        • reggiep says:

          Humans are violent by nature, and they somehow seem to enjoy it. If they didn’t Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger would effectively be names we would never have heard of. Violence in the written word isn’t as appealing of course, but gratuitous violence soothes the need of that we would (most likely) never be capable of. The more graphic, the more gore — the more we are satisfied in that very need.

          Citation needed. You can’t make a statement like “humans are violent by nature” without backing it up with some serious biological evidence. Certainly we are all capable of violence, and certainly the majority of American culture is obsessed with violence, but this “it’s in our nature” nonsense is a statement that gets thrown around a lot without actually examining its merit. It’s a cop out, and you are showing a serious lack of critical though processes.

          It’s basic human nature. On the on side we have the fact that killing is forbidden, which makes doing it legally all the more exciting. I’d like to compare that to the girl your mother told you never to go out with, which will make you only want her more. Basic human nature to desire what we can’t have.
          On the other side we have a long history of violence I don’t need to remind anyone of, but as far as history can be traced back — it’s all been war and… violence.

          I point you to the binobo chimpanzee. A regular chimp is violent. The males band together, take their females by force and conquer other “tribes” by killing. Binobos on the other hand are peaceful — having been isolated from their more violent brethren a long time ago and allowed to evolve in a peaceful environment. They enjoy sex and care for one another. Human beings share traits with both of these creatures. We are just as capable of being violent are we are caring. It all depends on environment.

          I don’t really see what there is to discuss. Human nature can’t be changed, nor can the people who benefit from these desires.

          Statements like that are the epitome of ignorance. You think you know everything, and yet know nothing. And you refuse to learn more, when clearly there is much for you to learn.

          • Damien Stark says:

            In response to your “Citation needed” comment that it’s American culture, not humanity, which is violent :
            link to en.wikipedia.org

            I believe if you were to chart the “percentage of human population killed in armed conflict” each year, you’d see that line trending lower and lower over the past 300 years, despite the introduction of “American culture”, civilian-owned handguns, violent movies, violent video games.

            That’s not to say things can’t be improved further, or that there are no problems anymore, but it is not ridiculous to re-phrase “Humans are violent by nature” as “Human existence has been fraught with violence from its beginning, well before video game or even America were around”

      • Bonedwarf says:

        What truly irks me in all the earnest hand wringing and nonsense since Newtown is one thing is never addressed.

        The rest of the planet manages to play video games and watch violent movies without killing each other. However that is always ignored by the media. Rather than examining the culture of violence in the US and the obsession with guns, it’s just far easier to blame pushing buttons on a controller.

        Hell CNN blamed Starcraft!

        • abremms says:

          oh, absolutely. The biggest notable difference between the US and every other nation with the same entertainment is that the US has the 2nd Amendment and the NRA which has made a crusade out making sure anyone can have any gun for any reason. But that couldn’t possibly be the problem, right? Gun violence being much, much more common in a part of the world where guns are remarkably easy to obtain?

          It’s just so much easier to blame video games than actualy deal with the gun problem here in America. We’re not so great at tackling difficult problems over here any more.

          • lurkalisk says:

            Hey! We need those guns to maintain a sufficient militia in case them Canadians invade.

          • Michael Anson says:

            Actually, guns are a tool. A violent tool, to be certain, but a tool nonetheless. The purpose of the Second Amendment isn’t to protect hunters, or to prevent invasion. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to enable the people to violently overthrow the United States Federal Government, should such a measure become necessary.

            The problem in America isn’t the proliferation of guns, but the ease by which those who are sick or troubled can legally obtain firearms. And again, the reason this is a problem is not because they are getting firearms, but because they are not being helped. Even a lack of firearms will not stop someone who has gone over the edge from killing people. After all, improvised explosives are the primary weapon of terrorist cells, and usually are crafted using legally obtained common household materials.

          • abremms says:

            @Micheal Anson On the same day as Sandy Hook, a fellow in China snapped and stabbed 22 people, none of them died. readily available guns don’t cause madmen to go on killing sprees, but they sure do up the bodycount. Also, since Oklahoma City, explosives and their ingredients have been tightly controlled. Try buying a large amount of fertilizer without being a farmer and see if the FBI doesn’t show up asking questions.

            I have a really hard time considering the violent overthrow of the federal government valid reason to accept the level of gun violence we have in the US. Besides, tell people that if they ever decide they need to exercise that option and take down the government that they will be up against the United States Armed Forces and all the terrible power embodied there in, and “potential violent overthrow” supporters shut up awfully quick. They support the troops, after all.

          • MajorManiac says:

            @Michael Anson:

            I know people could look at this as just semantics. But I personally take great objection to the phrase – “A gun is a tool”.

            Guns are weapons.

          • jrodman says:

            Oh look, all the empty talking points.

          • enobayram says:

            Atom bombs are tools! I demand my right to own one. (Yes this is how ridiculous you look)

          • CppThis says:

            Actually I’d say the most striking difference is that the US isn’t culturally homogeneous as is the case for basically every other country on the planet. A lot of US cities like Chicago have very strict gun laws and there’s still loads of shootings, stabbings, and other mayhem. Much of it is related to gangs and/or racial tensions, though it’s not often discussed openly since it’s not PC and makes a lot of well-connected politicians look like the armchair dictators that they are. This is a country where “screw you and the police, it’s all about me” is the law of the land.

          • Ragnar says:

            Ok, let’s have a discussion. Guns are weapons, and so are knives. My family, relatives, and friends have managed to use both for decades without killing anyone.

            I don’t think making guns illegal is the answer because
            1) I don’t think we should be legislating based on the lowest common denominator – that’s how we get car headrests that push your head forward when you try to sit straight because they’re designed for “gangstas” that treat their seat like a recliner.
            2) We certainly shouldn’t be legislating based on the actions of the mentally ill
            3) The war on drugs (and Cuban cigars, and prohibition before that) has shown that if you make something illegal, people will turn to illegal means to obtain it. I’d rather we reduce the market for illegal firearms than increase it.

            I think we need to take a scientific, unbiased look at what it is that makes these people do what they do, in hopes of being able to identify and help them before such tragedies occur.

          • x1501 says:

            By implying that it’s psychopaths and not psychopaths with easy access to deadly weapons that is the problem, you’re being ridiculous. Case in point: there were actually two psychopaths on who attacked elementary schools on December 14. An American psychopath who killed 20 kids in a shooting, and a mentally ill Chinese psycho who managed to wound 22 school children in a frenzied knife attack. All 20 American kids are dead, and the wounded Chinese kids are all alive, simply because the Chinese psychopath didn’t have easy access to much deadlier firearms. Any more questions?

            The war on drugs? What does that have to do with anything? If you want to discuss weapon bans, discuss weapon bans. After suffering mass shootings in the 1980s and 1990s, Great Britain and Australia both implemented stringent gun laws and compulsory gun buybacks to prevent further tragedies from happening. Today, the number of gun homicides in both countries is simply negligible compared to that of the U.S.: 39 fatal firearm injuries in England and Wales and 49 in entire Australia during 2008-2009, as opposed to almost 24,000 such deaths in the States.

            As for “guns are weapons and so are knives”, well, so are grenade launchers, flamethrowers, and nuclear bombs. Since you and your family have managed to use guns for decades without killing anyone, let’s just legalize every available type of weaponry out there.

          • xellfish says:

            I don’t know what “every other country” you talk of specifically, but you’d be surprised how culturally diverse Europe actually is. The mistake you and a lot of people seem to make is to assume that it goes straight from being black to being criminal. But there is a very important step in between, that doesn’t have any direct correlation with ethnicity. Rather, it’s people who specifically not belong to this ethnicity who cause it to happen.

            I’m talking about poverty. Your country does a pathetic job taking care of its people, and it drives them increasingly into poverty and criminality. And instead of helping people, like almost every other country does, you turn a blind eye and let the problem fester.

            And then you go to church every Sunday and high five each other what good Christians you supposedly are.

          • Rukumouru says:

            Pretty much every adult Swiss man has an assault rifle at home and I don’t see them massacring each other on a daily basis.

            It’s not about guns. It’s about education.

            And some screening to keep guns way from nutcases won’t harm anyone.

        • bill says:

          School shootings in the US aren’t really the issue. At least not for many people outside the USA.

        • stupid_mcgee says:

          I’ll be glad when all of this blows over and we can go back to blaming Black Sabbath for teenage suicide.

          If you play their albums backwards, it makes a bunch of weird gibberish noises that might be interpreted as some kind of actual words condoning and/or encouraging suicide. And perhaps condoning the over-consumption of Bagel Bites as well. That heavy, metallic music is dangerous stuff.

          Fun fact: 3,000 to 5,000 more people commit suicide with firearms each year in the USA than are murdered using firearms.

          Fun fact: Gun ownership in America is on a decline. Back in the 90’s, ~50% of household had a gun. Now, only ~33% have a firearm in the household.

          Fun fact: Gun violence, and violence in general, has been on a steady decline over the past 3 decades.

          Fun fact: The Bushmaster rifle used in Newtown was specifically designed to bypass the previously instated Assault Weapons Ban.

          Fun fact: Most leading forms of fatal violent crime, such as robbery, is the same, per capita, in Australia as the USA despite Australia having drastically more stringent gun control. Risk of injury is during commission is 35% less in Australia, risk of homicide is ~75% less.

          Very last fun fact: I haven’t heard any of these things mentioned in the any of the overwhelming volume of media scrutiny surrounding the Newtown shooting. But, I heard the “video games cause violence” argument being trotted out on the very first day.

          Joe Scarborough talked about it on Christmas day, actually, I believe alluding to CoD4–he mentioned being executed by a shot to the face–and how he was so shocked his 10 year old son was playing this. He stormed across the room, took it out, and threw it away. Would you buy Rambo III for your 10 year old? What about Joyce’s Ulysses? Because it’s kind of the same thing. There’s ratings. You should read them. You should educate yourself on this.

          Video games aren’t just for kids anymore, and neither are comics. The generation that grew up with these things has grown up, and they still enjoy the medium. Hence, there’s more mature media within these mediums.

          It’s sensationalism and knee-jerk finger pointing that permeates throughout the news industry. Everyone looks for a scapegoat, a magic pill to swallow, and meanwhile we ignore all the underlying issues that created these situations to begin with. Sweep them under the rug, because it’s easier to believe that it’s music, or movies, or comic books, or D&D, or novels, or video games, or TV, or mysterious shapes in the clouds rather than ourselves and the society we have created; a drastic disconnect between the worlds of “the haves” and “the have nots” that feeds a social ignorance that fuels the eeking ever-further towards egoism and the rebuking of concern or compassion for one’s fellow man.

          If we could just ban violent video games, everything would be fine. And if women controlled all of government, there would be no more wars. And if we legalize weed, there’d be peace on Earth. Too bad none of these things are even remotely true.

          It’s not to say that comprehensive, meaningful, and well-informed gun legislation isn’t needed, it most certainly is, but there is a willful ignorance about our society-at-large that needs to be addressed.

          It’s been 169 years since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and yet the morals this holiday tradition ensconces still seems to constantly elude a significant portion of the world’s population. It’s not games, or movies, or novels, or works of art, it’s us. It’s people. It’s the society we’ve steadily built and reinforce on a daily basis. But we’ll never acknowledge that, because it’s too hard to look in the mirror and accept that we may have some form of culpability, even if just a minute fraction, for the ills of the world around us. It’s easier to blame something else, anything else.

          Everyone’s acting like this kid just snapped and went nutty. There was something going on. He shot his mother 4 times in the head. There’s a reason for that. And I bet that reason has more to do with what caused the Newtown incident than anything from CoD4 or Green Day.

          But, instead, we sit, comforted in our sweeping blankets of generalization and ignorance, passing the buck and pointing fingers at what’s the very single real cause of all of this is, ignoring all of the immense complexities and forever kicking the can down the road.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            Fun fact: 3,000 to 5,000 more people commit suicide with firearms each year in the USA than are murdered using firearms.

            More fun fact: Guns do not affect the rate of suicide, only the method. Japan has a MUCH higher rate of suicide than pretty much anywhere else on the planet, and they have ver little access to guns.

            Fun fact: Gun ownership in America is on a decline. Back in the 90′s, ~50% of household had a gun. Now, only ~33% have a firearm in the household.

            More fun fact: No it’s not. A survey said that gun ownership is down. A survey by the media who tend to do things like publish the name and address of everyone who owns a firearm permit. People tend to lie on such surveys. If a random person calls me an asks if I own a firearm, I will answer with an emphatic “no”. This would be an untruth. Every other measure suggests huge increases in ownership and recreational use, from concealed carry permits to ammunition sales.

            Fun fact: Gun violence, and violence in general, has been on a steady decline over the past 3 decades.

            More fun fact: Violence has declined in the US since right-to-carry laws went into effect. In the UK where guns are pretty much banned, it is going up.

            Fun fact: The Bushmaster rifle used in Newtown was specifically designed to bypass the previously instated Assault Weapons Ban.

            More fun fact: The “assault weapons ban” was a ban on scary-looking features that have no effect on a firearm’s function. If it has a bayonet lug and an adjustable stock, it becomes an assault weapon. Good thing they prevented all of the sharing of guns between differently-sized spouses and drive-by bayonettings.

            Very last fun fact: I haven’t heard any of these things mentioned in the any of the overwhelming volume of media scrutiny surrounding the Newtown shooting. But, I heard the “video games cause violence” argument being trotted out on the very first day.

            You aren’t reading the same news that I am.

          • maninahat says:


            Actually, suicide is very means dependent, and guns have a huge influence on the success of a suicide attempt. Case in point – women are far more likely to attempt suicide in the US, but males are far more likely to successfully commit suicide. The reason is that women tend to use pills or razors, whilst men tend to use guns. A readily available gun allows a person the means to easily kill themselves in as much time as it takes to get it out the drawer and put it to their head. It takes far more time, psychological and physical motivation to take enough pills or to cut into your wrists, whilst jumping off of a bridge can easily be scuppered by a long journey in which to ruminate, or by bystanders who might scupper the attempt.

            Basically, without a gun, a chance of surviving a suicide attempt drastically increases, especially if you are in the 11-14 age bracket, where most other suicide options are implausible. A lack of guns won’t decrease depression or suicidal tendencies, but it vastly increases the chances of survival.

            I can’t even be bothered to go into the rest of your argument. I’ll stick with the bit I know, and the bit I have time to comment on.

          • roryok says:

            I don’t think you guys really understand what ‘fun fact’ means. Mark Wahlberg has a third nipple. That’s a fun fact.

          • sd4f says:


            Regarding suicides and methods, what you have said has not been the australian experience, after the tightening of laws in 1996/1997, suicides with a firearm dropped quite significantly, but overall suicide via any method just continued on its trend, seemingly unperturbed by the law changes. the data is not easy to find, but there is a paper which explains why australian gun laws were an incredibly expensive endeavour to achieve nothing.

    • Adriaan says:

      Recalibrating irony sensors… Loading sarcasm module…

    • x1501 says:

      But what what about the children? Won’t somebody please think of the children?!

    • HadToLogin says:

      1 thing I know. Before talking about videogame violence, we should talk about culture. Let’s start with ancient Greeks and their peaceful gods who mostly raped or killed, Troy with it’s bloody battles and killings and Odyssey with its blind giants. Then lets check what Shakespeare wrote – oh, yes, stories about killing your friends to become kings and suicides in name of love. Then lets read some Grimm stores, about eating grandmas, cutting foot and burning old crones.
      And you know what links all those things? Those are things kids learn in schools.
      And after agreeing about what to do with this “forced violence” in education system, we can talk about violence in mature-only materials (and what their kids play is parents responsibility, unlike what they learn in school).

      • cyrenic says:

        Pretty much this. After reading the article I started thinking about the violence in Homer and Shakespeare. This goes beyond just video games.

        • James W says:

          “After reading the article I started thinking about the violence in Homer and Shakespeare. This goes beyond just video games.”

          Well, indeed. Violence occurs in videogames because violence appeals. And violence appeals because it is an inherent part of human genetic makeup. You live now because your ancestors fought and killed their way around the world. Our genetic ancestors hunted in the seas and fought in the treetops. They killed other creatures for meat, and each other for land, for rights, for personal gain. Human history is a mountain of skulls.

          This is an indisputable fact. It doesn’t mean that violence is morally right, or even justifiable – if you’re living in much of the first world then you will probably never have to kill anyone else for any reason. It doesn’t excuse violent acts committed for any purpose beyond defending oneself or one’s friends and family. It doesn’t mean you or I have will necessarily, at any point in our lives, genuinely consider killing anyone. It doesn’t mean such urges, if they ever appear, are correct, or should be acted upon.

          Still. It’s there, coiled up in the amygdala. The urge to kill, to hunt. To react to affront or attack with thoughts of aggression or violence. It affects some more than others, and any well-balanced human being should be able to fight those urges, or channel the floods of adrenaline into more constructive, non-violence solutions. But it’s there, an artefact of the days when we smashed each-others’ heads in with rocks because we wanted the better fruit, the more attractive mates, the territory that would allow our genes to propagate.

          Of course, our brains developed, expanded, swamped the raw, bestial fuck-kill-eat-sleep nodes with complex ideas of morality, philosophy, theology, society; we learned to distance ourselves from our base desires, to find higher purposes and more fruitful uses for our time. We made art.

          And though art comes from our higher, human brain, our deep-rooted animal instincts still bleed through. We call them ‘base desires’, and that’s doubly true, because they are not just bestial, but the figurative base upon which all our higher thinking has grown and flourished over millions of years of evolution. And it doesn’t matter how high you build your tower, you can’t unhook it from the ground.

          So it’s no wonder that violence flows like hot blood through video games. Any civilised, compassionate and remotely intelligent human being doesn’t want to kill, not really. Oh, we might, if put in a position where we have to. But only the truly damaged would seek out such positions, or create them. Who, really, wants to snuff out a human life? Turn wives into widows, children into orphans, parents into inconsolable, shuddering wrecks? Nobody in their right mind.

          But games allow us to murder our way through a world of prefabricated ghosts, places where people exist without families, without children or parents, or friends. Where we can be thrust into rivalries and battles, or construct our own, and scratch a 50,000-year-old itch without troubling the conscience and compassion that sets us apart from much of the rest of the animal kingdom.

          Action games don’t have to be about violence, of course, but the fast-paced, adrenaline-guided, fight-or-flight mechanics at their core tap into violent, bloody instincts that are in us all. It’s no wonder that these things appeal, and that so many games are about maiming and killing, whether it’s a grotesquely bloody FPS like Alien vs Predator, or Mario’s latest bouncy, colourful adventure.

          The same is true of certain genres of film, play, novel, comic book, music… this isn’t about games, it’s about us. Which is a scary thought, until you remember that so many other games (and films, plays, etc) aren’t about violence, or even conflict. A video game might reflect who we are, but it’s a partial reflection, a fragment of a larger whole.

          More importantly, games give us all a safe space to exercise (and, to an extent, exorcise) instincts that humanity is slowly outgrowing, and needs to outgrow if it’s ever going to make it off this planet and into the rest of the universe. I’m not saying that videogames are a cure for the psychopathically violent, but I don’t think they are a negative influence on anyone, and might even serve a very marginal benefit for their players. More importantly, being concerned about the amount of (and depiction of) violence in videogames is a waste of time – you’re just being concerned about your own generic lineage. Better to spend that time and energy lobbying politicians to restrict access to guns, which allow people to exercise their violent instincts in a much more harmful way.

          Bah. If we’d all just evolved from herbivores this wouldn’t be a problem, and we could all get back to our next round of graze-’em-ups.

          TL;DR, right?

          • Unrein says:

            James W just ended this whole wankery- I mean serious discussion with one post.

          • mouton says:

            Well, obviously you are “aware”, as described by Nathan. Problem is, most people aren’t, that is why we still have to discuss the basics you have outlined before progressing anywhere.

            “Human history is a mountain of skulls.”

            And that is why W40K setting appeals to me.

          • elderman says:

            TL;DR, right?

            Yeah, but the bits I read were good.

          • Monkey says:

            James W wins this round, next story please.

          • boodeeboodaa says:

            James W, congrats on turning 14.

          • orionsmasta says:

            “More importantly, games give us all a safe space to exercise (and, to an extent, exorcise) instincts that humanity is slowly outgrowing, and needs to outgrow”

            I couldn’t agree more

          • diamondmx says:

            Well and eloquently said, good sir.
            I think we will eventually find the truth is somewhere between what you suggest (gaming/violent media as a pressure release for our evolved violent urges) and what the more moderate critics suggest (gaming/violent media as a desensitisation towards our violent urges)

            The more immediate solutions will be found in the direct causes of violence (unhappiness, inequality and hate), and in limiting the ease of violence(guns). First and final causes. Not in trying to find a solution that seems easier by supposing a middle-cause, when the first and final are so clear and so solvable, given sufficient will to do so.

          • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

            Is it wrong that I couldn’t help but read this in the voice of Dr. Breen?

          • lurkalisk says:


            Uh… What?

            Also, now want to play a “graze ’em up”.

          • Sidewinder says:

            “TL;DR, right?”

            Here, I think, it’s another part of the problem. as a subculture, we’ve somehow moved to the point where anything that can’t be expressed in 140 characters or less isn’t worth reading. Nathan’s trying to start a discussion here. That means exchanging complicated ideas, which requires using lots of words. Lose the fear of expansiveness or it’s doomed from the beginning.

          • Snakejuice says:

            Thank you! I can now stop scrolling down because you just won COTY – Comment of The Year, my comment-reading urges are now more than filled for today.

          • somnolentsurfer says:

            Just occasionally, I wish RPS had a way to vote up comments.

          • stupid_mcgee says:

            boodeeboodaa; Congrats on trotting out a tired and fallacious trope. You may, technically, be an adult, but your behaviour is nothing short of juvenile.

          • lijenstina says:

            Violence does occur in herbivores That’s what horns are for.

            Let’s talk about big issues. A madman going on a shooting spree is a tragic event that is an exception not a rule. Much more dangerous are problems inherit with the society, economy, state and international affairs that disrupt the basics of morality – justice and compassion. If those are in the shitter, then serious problems in the vein of extremist ideologies which often channel the accumulated rage and frustration of the population into violence against some perceived “enemy” – foreigners, minority groups, classes, political affiliations start taking the main stage. I don’t think that ,for instance, how this economical crisis was handled did any help with making the world a more peaceful place, because the sources of the problem – both the ideological apologists that tried to legitimize the status quo and the main actors of it have been punished at all.

            Also, the lack of accountability of big players in world affairs does show up that violence can not be persecuted, and also it can be a source of , in the twisted way of how those thing work, legitimacy of their actions. You cannot isolate things and forget that, for instance a foreign invasion is possible when a country doesn’t have an nuclear arsenal but it is not an option when it does. That shows up how things really work – the threat of violence can be stopped by the threat of bigger violence so it leads to piling up of arsenals in the world.

            Both of those examples are related to anomia – lack of laws or better say – lack of justice within a society (laws can be unjust). The threat of violence in the world can be curbed down only if the world adheres to the before mentioned two pillars. If not, then it’s going to end up, like usual, in shit.

          • WildcardUK says:

            I could not agree more and it was better said than I could ever have done myself. Bravo!

          • YourMessageHere says:

            Well, that saves me the effort of expressing much the same thing, with the added bonus of being rather more coherent than me as well.

            Can’t resist my own addition, though – in addition to the base desires listed (eat, sleep, fuck, kill) there’s also ‘dream’, and I’d say this is where art, in the form of cave paintings and probably decoration of bodies and tools and homes, originates. The imagination is something that’s been with us for just as long as any other ‘base’ desire, it’s just that the downsides are less immediately clear or obvious, so it’s much better thought of than the others. As a species we’ve always loved combining pleasures, and games let us mix imagination with all the other desires that bit more tangibly. This, to me, explains how much more theraputic violent games are compared to passive media of comparable violence levels.

          • Nate says:

            I think that, in general, you have excellent points. But I’m not so sure about one of them.

            If catharsis is a thing– if we exorcise via exercise– shouldn’t we be grateful for rampant misogyny in video games? Is catharsis something that only works on violence and not sexism?

            I don’t think that violence is ever going to stop to being a major theme of art/entertainment, and I don’t think we’re well-served by focusing on one medium, or by contemplating censorship at all (crazily, I believe that freedom of expression is valuable enough to be worth it, even if it is responsible in some part for some deaths and injuries), but I do believe there’s some worth in examining the role that violent media play in our lives, and in shaping our values.

          • James W says:

            Thanks to all the kind remarks about my comment. Just a quick one, though:

            @Nate: “If catharsis is a thing– if we exorcise via exercise– shouldn’t we be grateful for rampant misogyny in video games? Is catharsis something that only works on violence and not sexism?”

            Are you suggesting that misogyny is an inbuilt urge rather than a societal construct?

          • Nate says:

            I don’t know what misogyny is, but I don’t think of anything as ever being just “built-in” or just socially constructed. I think everything in biology, genetics, psychology teaches us is that nothing is just one or the other, but a combination of both.

            Is that the deciding line for whether catharsis works, though? To the extent that it’s built-in, play makes us less prone to the behavior; to the extent that it’s socially constructed, play makes us more prone to the behavior? That seems like a strange idea to me. I guess, if true, it would be a good way to settle those nature v nurture arguments, just see whether it works along the catharis model!

        • Ernesto says:

          There is a difference: Homer, Shakespeare and the likes mostly tell great stories along the way while most modern video games just tell you to kill ‘bad guys’ because they are in the way… because errm…. you are a hero and can not be stopped….
          In video games you often kill because you can, not because there is a plausible reason.

          But I also think, that video games will mature eventually.

          • PikaBot says:

            Homer and Shakespeare, perhaps, but there’s plenty of ancient literature full of gratuitous murdering. Read any given Irish myth, for instance.

          • Archonsod says:

            Both Homer and Shakespeare tended to involve a lot of murder simply because someone was in the way (see Macbeth and the Odyssey for example).

            In fact the deaths of the various un-named Greeks and Trojans during the Iliad just so that a main character can get somewhere could be compared with your average FPS.

          • Twitchity says:

            Macbeth may be the closest thing to a videogame character in classic literature — he can only express himself through action and violence, and when he can’t chop his way through a problem he proves himself weak and vacillating. By the end, he can’t see the world as anything other than a meaningless backdrop to violence, to the point that his wife’s suicide barely registers (“Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts/Cannot once start me”) and he gratefully flings himself into his final battle (“I ‘gin to be aweary of the sun/And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone./Ring the alarum bell! Blow, wind! Come, wrack/At least we’ll die with harness on our back!”) For Macbeth, life is a series of battles and stealth missions bracketed by cutscenes: if he’s not killing someone, he lacks any sense of agency (“Press X to see the dagger before me”).

          • Gap Gen says:

            I have another hypothesis: that stories are all about conflict, and that in graphical media physical conflict is the easiest to do. But there is something in the American psyche that seems to value violent conflict resolution in its culture. Probably in the European psyche, too.

          • YourMessageHere says:

            Twichity, that is superb and is getting saved in my big text file of other people’s sagacity.

      • CGB Spender says:

        I’m a bit surprised you didn’t mention, well, religion. That’s something that isn’t the responsibility of the education system. That’s “forced violence” at home.

        Coming from the perspective of a teacher, yes, we examine literature that includes violent subtexts. I would argue that, in the context of your Homers and Shakespeares and Grimms, it’s more about metaphor and analogy and symbolism than it is grandma-eating and giant-slaying. It’s not as if we teachers are pushing an agenda as mandated by a secret cult of violence known only to us.

        Of course, I understand your drive of “if we’re going to blame x, why not have a look at y”. But your quip about education seemed targeted specifically at public schools for reasons not relating to the topic of this article. I don’t know that for sure, so I apologize if I misunderstood.

        The NRA’s suggestion of arming teachers should be catching more heat. It’s revolting. That truly would be forcing a culture of violence (NOT defense) onto our children. How could I begin a unit on social justice and bullying with my 1st graders with a loaded handgun locked in my teacher’s desk? It’s just… ugh. I don’t even have words to describe the feeling that gives me.

        • Dangerdad says:

          Revolting? Why? Most teachers I know would be willing to put their life on the line for the kids they teach. Wouldn’t it be better if they could shoot the attacker dead than simply dying first before the attacker kills the rest of the classroom?

          • PikaBot says:

            Oh, yes. More guns in schools. This is precisely what we need to make things safer. More machines that shoot deadly pieces of metal at high speeds.

            The idea that an armed civilian will stop a mass shooting is a fantasy. In the long history of mass shootings in America, a country with far more guns per capita than anywhere else in the developed world, it has never happened once. It simply does not happen.

          • Mman says:

            The logic of “There’s an issue with gun violence here, so the obvious solution is more guns!” Literally sounds like it came out of Borderlands or something.

          • x1501 says:

            Yes, but what will happen when one of those armed teachers IS the attacker? Shouldn’t the poor, innocent children also have the right to defend themselves? So the only obvious way to make the school truly safe is to arm everyone in it, including the kids. It’s just common sense.

          • mouton says:

            “The logic of “There’s an issue with gun violence here, so the obvious solution is more guns!” Literally sounds like it came out of Borderlands or something.”

            Which is really funny when one remembers that the writers of Borderlands are actually pretty liberal-minded.

          • OMMad says:

            man, i can’t wait until they give guns to every teacher. i don’t know where to get a gun because my parents don’t own any. can’t wait until there’s a gun in every classroom. it’ll make it easier to reload when i run out of bullets.

          • majormauser says:

            @ Ommad You’re a liberal and childish sick thug. A good guy with a gun would have stopped this. We have to stop being so chicken about everything. Clearly all the shooters had mental issues that were being altered by drugs. Millions of owners of Far Cry 3 and COD live normal lives and never equate what they do while gaming with real life.

        • mouton says:

          Violent religion is not the cause, it is simply a side effect – and an amplifier – of our inherent violent nature.

          • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

            I’m not a violent person. My child is not a violent person. Very few of my friends are prone to violence. Are we unnatural? Are we not human?

          • mouton says:


            No, you are civilized. But it is a recent development. Take away electricity and supermarkets and you will kill to feed and defend your family within a month.

            Point is, violence is part of our biological firmware, that is why violent media appeal to us. The key is, of course, to keep it in the fantasy land.

          • Apolloin says:

            @ GunnerMcCaffrey – You are human, you’re simply not hungry/angry/frightened enough to be considering violence as an option. Also society has managed to create a number of ways of exercising force that are not immediately apparent as being such.

          • lijenstina says:

            Don’t like using the word civilized – it can be a loaded word – especially towards those who are “uncivilized”. Then, they’ll need to be “civilized” through “civilized” methods of dropping bombs on their heads.

        • HadToLogin says:

          My text wasn’t meant as attack at schools at all, I meant to say “why bother with MATURE-INTENDED games, when from the very beginning of life kids are taught violence is a quite-good way to go”.

          It’s taught in houses by parents (Grimm stories for bed, well, maybe not that popular now, I guess), they are taught in schools (Homer, Shakespeare as ‘those-big-names’ from ancient and medieval times) and so-called-everyone is totally happy about that (and both home and school is obligatory for most kids, at least for gaming-kids).

          (Religion is different, because that one is more of a random-thing – changes from family to family, it depends where you were born, etc, it’s not mandatory for all-kids life.)

          And right now, every time some loony kills people it’s “games are bad, they make you mad”, sometimes with a bit of movies. Nobody notices that violence is taught from start, and nobody care. We have our scapegoat.

        • Axess Denyd says:

          The idea that an armed civilian will stop a mass shooting is a fantasy. In the long history of mass shootings in America, a country with far more guns per capita than anywhere else in the developed world, it has never happened once. It simply does not happen.

          The reason that more mass shootings in the US is that every one of them in the past 50 years, save the Tuscon shooting, was in a place where guns were banned. Oddly, the criminals were disinclined to obey the sign.

          People who commit mass shootings are complete cowards, that’s why they tend to choose places where there will not be anyone else armed. In almost all cases, as soon as they even see someone else with a gun, they either immediately kill themselves or surrender.

          – Mayan Palace Theater, San Antonio, Texas, this week: Jesus Manuel Garcia shoots at a movie theater, a police car and bystanders from the nearby China Garden restaurant; as he enters the movie theater, guns blazing, an armed off-duty cop shoots Garcia four times, stopping the attack. Total dead: Zero.

          – Winnemucca, Nev., 2008: Ernesto Villagomez opens fire in a crowded restaurant; concealed carry permit-holder shoots him dead. Total dead: Two. (I’m excluding the shooters’ deaths in these examples.)

          – Appalachian School of Law, 2002: Crazed immigrant shoots the dean and a professor, then begins shooting students; as he goes for more ammunition, two armed students point their guns at him, allowing a third to tackle him. Total dead: Three.

          – Santee, Calif., 2001: Student begins shooting his classmates — as well as the “trained campus supervisor”; an off-duty cop who happened to be bringing his daughter to school that day points his gun at the shooter, holding him until more police arrive. Total dead: Two.

          – Pearl High School, Mississippi, 1997: After shooting several people at his high school, student heads for the junior high school; assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieves a .45 pistol from his car and points it at the gunman’s head, ending the murder spree. Total dead: Two.

          – Edinboro, Pa., 1998: A student shoots up a junior high school dance being held at a restaurant; restaurant owner pulls out his shotgun and stops the gunman. Total dead: One.

          – Clackamas Mall, Oklahoma, 2012: Shooter opens fire, a civilian with a concealed carry permits draws his gun but does not fire because he doesn’t have a clean shot, the shooter ducks into a utility doorway and shoots himself in the head

          An off-duty cop counts the same as a civilian in my eyes, they do not generally have much more training, and the advantage is the same: They are there when crime happens so they can stop it immediately.

          Though technically I suppose you’re right in that these were not technically “mass shootings” because more than four people didn’t die. The average number of people that has died in a mass shooting when police came from off-site is 19. The average when stopped by civilians is 2.

          • pantognost says:

            @Axess I have to interject here, for the sake of accuracy of concept and fact.

            Weapons’ ban in a place where it isn’t enforced is no ban at all. If a ban should be enforced in a given area of space then there should be single point of access to this area and a real search for weapons should be conducted by law enforcement professionals with the means to overpower anyone not willingly submitting to the ban, i.e. armed police. Or, well, americans could just concede the right to violence to the state only and not need security checkpoints in schools. The justification of overthrowing a tyrranical US regime with free arms access is absurd given the means disparity between state and people.

            “off duty cop counts as a civilian in my eyes”. An off duty cop is still the same person that has been trained, at the very least, to not panic in life threatening situations, has been conditioned to react with rote motions designed by experts to be effective against armed assailants and has used, several times, his firarm under time pressure, at least in mock training. How can this be perceived as civilian is something that I cannot understand. Bear in mind that the equipment of a police officer, or military personnel for that matter, given to an untrained civilian is just a murder invitation for anyone with baggage against the symbolism of the uniform. So the examples given were not about armed civilians but about armed professionals who used their skills off duty. I hope you understand the huge difference.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            Weapons’ ban in a place where it isn’t enforced is no ban at all.

            Well, to an extent I agree with you–it only affects the law-abiding. Criminals will not disarm, they will just know where to find people who are not armed.

            Or, well, americans could just concede the right to violence to the state only

            We call that a police state, and we do not like them.

            An off duty cop is still the same person that has been trained, at the very least, to not panic in life threatening situations, has been conditioned to react with rote motions designed by experts to be effective against armed assailants and has used, several times, his firarm under time pressure, at least in mock training.

            It has been shown several times that the firearm training the police receive is, at best very limited. The NYPD has extremely lax standards for qualification. We can see the price for this in the recent shooting near the Empire State Building, where two police officers managed to shoot several people they were not aiming at. If you look at the cases provided, only two of the seven were actually police officers.

            The key point is that someone who is already on the scene is going to be much faster and more effective at stopping something bad happening than someone who has to come from miles away.

            Guns aren’t the issue. Ask China how their knife attacks are doing–25 dead and 115 injured in the past two years, which is a very similar mortality rate to what one sees in handgun attacks.

        • Axess Denyd says:

          That truly would be forcing a culture of violence (NOT defense) onto our children. How could I begin a unit on social justice and bullying with my 1st graders with a loaded handgun locked in my teacher’s desk? It’s just… ugh. I don’t even have words to describe the feeling that gives me.

          Handguns are defensive tools, not offensive. Defense by itself frequently needs to be violent.

          Don’t teach social justice, because that is a horrid concept that literally has an opposite meaning to the word “justice”.

          The gun should be on the teacher’s person where it is always under control and accessible and not locked in a desk.

          Your focus on feelings is irrelevant. We are dealing with saving lives, not preserving your feelings.

          • maxriderules says:

            @axess denyd
            No way are handguns defensive- they are solely offensive. You can’t use one to stop violence- you use it to direct the violence ato ther people. Defensive things are shields- they negate the violence without causing more vioence. Handguns simply kill the person who is going to cause violence, which is an offensive function.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            Shooting someone who is attacking you is not offensive, it is a form of defense.

            Handguns are primarily defensive in that they are way less effective than rifles and shotguns. They are intended as a last-resort weapon to use when you cannot have a rifle or shotgun with you. If you actually are going to intend to commit murder, a different weapon is much more effective.

          • x1501 says:

            @Axess Denyd
            “Machine guns are primarily defensive in that they are way less effective than intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. They’re no different from shields, really, or bulletproof vests, or rainbows and lollipops.”

            David Keene, is that you?

          • Axess Denyd says:

            Oh, by all means, willfilly misunderstand and misrepresent. That’ll get a dialogue going for sure.

          • pantognost says:

            “Don’t teach social justice, because that is a horrid concept that literally has an opposite meaning to the word “justice”.”

            What is the meaning of this phrase? Social justice, that is the concept that disparity of power, of any kind, in a society should not be used to increase this disparity, is horrid? I think that without this any society would soon become a neo-feudalistic regime where life liberty and the pursuit of hapiness would be just fancy afterthoughts for the coctail parties of the gentry.
            Hmm…megacorporations each owning lesser corporations which in turn own many lesser companies, which in turn employ people with company provided housing car and healthcare, each corporation ruled by a ceo elected by votes based on percentage of stocks owned…interesting!
            Can we make a mod for crusader kings 2 for that? We could call it…hmmm…..”20th century corporation”. I think it would be very successful.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            What is the meaning of this phrase? Social justice, that is the concept that disparity of power, of any kind, in a society should not be used to increase this disparity, is horrid?

            Your definition doesn’t seem to fit what I actually see the term being used for. My understanding of what is meant by the term is based on the words (and actions) of the American left.

            See example below:

            There is no Social Justice in one man being poor while his neighbor is rich. There is no Justice in taking money from a man who works all his life and giving it to a man who does not.

          • jrodman says:

            You are describing some view of social justice as painted by churls who hate the idea that the poorer people of our country might get a decent life.

            In other words, it’s all slanted nonsense that you’re quoting.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            “Social justice” is slanted nonsense. If it was actually justice, there wouldn’t be a modifier in front of it, would there?

          • jrodman says:

            “Blue jeans *are* slanted nonsense! If they were actually jeans there wouldn’t be a modifier in front of them, now would there?”

            This is how stupid you are.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            It’s good that you don’t have any actual arguments or examples. Let’s just go straight to name-calling, commie.

          • elderman says:

            We’re very far from the subject of Nathan’s original post, now.

            The following is from real curiosity, because I’m surprised to find the concept of social justice dismissed so casually. It’s a term used by many people to mean a variety of things, I guess. Personally, I recognise other subcategories in the idea of justice that aren’t nonsense such as legal justice and divine justice; and I’ve read a bit of Rawls and admired the way he broke the idea of justice down into categories like distributive justice, retributive justice, and restorative justice.

            I think there are even games that explore these differences: I’m thinking of the Spiderweb RPGs that trap the player in situations where they have to choose between sides or between actions associated with different abstract ideas. I’m playing through my first full Spiderweb game right now, so I can’t be sure, but it seems to me the games force you play through the consequences of different ideas of justice.

            Your idea of justice doesn’t encompass social justice, Axess Denyd. What is justice to you then? Not asking for a philosophy thesis, and wont hold you to unreasonable standards of completeness or consistency, just curious.

            If you reply, it’d be especially cool if games somehow figured in your response.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            I’m no philosopher, so I’m oversimplifying a bit, and beginning a bit narrowly, but: Receiving what is earned. This would apply to monetary things like income as well as saying that one “earns” a jail sentence for committing crime. “Earn” and “deserve” can be interchangeable, but not “entitled to”, since that can have different connotations (since it was just Christmas, think Sally in A Charlie Brown Christmas: “All I want is what’s coming to me! All I want is my fair share!”).

          • elderman says:

            I’m not a philosopher either and tend to feel I get myself into trouble in discussions of abstract principle instead of applied principle.

            I can see how you get from earning and deserving to the idea that social justice is a perversion of the core idea of justice. You might see people not having to earn what they get and not deserving what they receive.

            So, the world is messy and you have the problem where people do get things nobody deserves and receive things no one can earn. (Sorry about the synonyms, I hope it’s clear what I’m getting at.) I’ll try to find uncontroversial examples to stand in for categories of experience. No one deserves to be born with a congenital disease and no one earns the right to keep slaves. Let’s say that neither of these situations is god-given or directly attributable to the actions of a single individual, because there are lots of things that happen that are caused by people but are no particular person’s fault. In these examples, maybe the congenital disease is acquired from the mother who got it from a blood transfusion or caused by a chemical and the slaves are inherited. Does the idea of justice simply not apply? Or is there injustice here and are there just actions that could be taken to remedy it?

            I’m trying to be fair, not to talk about edge cases but to try and get at the heart of the idea of justice.

          • Axess Denyd says:

            Slavery is an easy one. Since you cannot earn slaves (or deserve to be a slave), free the slaves. The slave owner has also earned himself jail time or worse.

            I agree that congenital diseases are not earned, at least by the one who suffers from them. Then we enter an area where it might not be “justice” to provide for someone who didn’t earn it, but it is surely “nice”.

            I won’t have any other responses for a few hours because now I am going to go sleep.

          • pantognost says:

            @Axess I think, from your posts, that you are oversimplifying the political morality a little bit. Social justice is indeed the state putting a curb to rich and powerful people’s capabilities in order to avoid social collapse. If there are Power differnces in a society it is bound for someone or for some gathering of someones to be on top of this power hierarchy even by a small margin. Now, if left unchecked, this power group or person will find it increasingly easier to open the “power gap” between itself and its competitors. In what is called a limited resources environment this means that the powerful group or person will aiphon resources from the others. If this thing continues beyond a certain point the resources that will remain for the rest will be so little that they will not be able to survive. Thus this group will be the only remaining. So “social justice” is the only way to keep a republic political state not to be overthrown, or just become irrelevant to a corporate feudalism. I hope we can agree that the former political system is more favorable to the majority of the people.

            As for “Justice” as an abstract term and the semantics of it.
            Unless we talk religion there is no way to talk about “Justice” in an objective abstract, law-and-culture-detached way. You consider justice the freedom for everyone to use his assets to achieve whatever he or she can. But you consider, as stated in a previous post, slavery a punishable offense. This second belief is contrary to the first and it is there exactly because you, I and everyone in the western world are conditioned to not accept the subjugation of a person to another person. So as you can understand everyones sense of justice is subjective and culture dependent, with the final arbiter of what is “Just”, being the social common cultural perception as it is codified by a legislating body. so for example the cutting of an arm for stealing may seem atrocious to you and me but in for some people in afghanistan it is as logical as the sun rising from the east. Is your “Justice” better? Why? Because you are more comfortable in it? Or because it helps to unleash more constructive powers and create a more powerful state? Definitely,though, it isn’t becauses there is an absolute “Justice” for all people.

          • elderman says:

            You write, Axess Denyd, as if you had the ability to help or punish these people. You don’t. They’re just examples standing in for the kinds of situations people can be in and even if they were more than that, you still wouldn’t know them.

            [Edit: On rereading I see this is unfair because I do mention actions in my earlier post. There is a point I’m trying to get at which is about responsibility that isn’t personal and justice that isn’t punitive. After realising my own inconsistency, I haven’t changed the argument in this post.]

            The question isn’t what to do, the question is what’s just and why.

            Presumably you wish you could disinherit the slaveowner, even though you can’t, because their position (having done nothing yet but inherit slaves) is unjust. Obviously it’s unjust. Why is it unjust? (I think it’s implied by the word ‘inherit’ but I want to make it explicit that in this situation slave-owning is legal and not uncommon)

            What is it about the baby’s situation that makes you want to help it, even though you can’t? Don’t you think about it and say that it hasn’t earned or deserved anything? That’s it’s unjust for a child to suffer a disease at birth?

            I understand you don’t see the world the same way I do. I assume that’s why you’re fixating on the particulars and the practical in these two stories I made up instead of taking on the general point. [Edit: again not totally fair because I introduced the idea of action, but in the general you can’t particularly address every instance of a similar injustice.] Do you think these situations are unrepresentative so can’t be treated as templates for describing common things that happen? I’m trying to ask you how your sense of justice reacts in an imperfect world where people have things they don’t earn and suffer things they don’t deserve and it’s somehow the result of human action but there’s no single person to blame. I ask the question because I think that’s the world we live in.

            Finally, gratuitously, just to relate it back to games ’cause, hey look we’re on a gaming site, I wonder how many of the protagonists of FPS games could be described as just. Maybe being unjustified is part of the fun.

          • elderman says:

            By the way, my goal here is pretty modest. The main thing I’m trying to convince anyone of here is that the idea of social justice isn’t ‘horrid’ and it isn’t ‘slanted nonsense’.

            I don’t particularly mind about being right about anything else.

          • jrodman says:

            You appear to be confused.

            It’s you who have no actual argument. It’s me who has an actual argument of pointing out that your statement was false on its face and thus ludicrous. Which is an argument, if mocking. But you deserved it.

          • nanyoida says:

            ‘Actual argument or example’?
            You mean something like this?

            Social justice is nonsense because there’s a modifier in front of it

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        “Before talking about videogame violence, we should talk about culture.”

        Please explain how videogames aren’t a part of culture.

        • mouton says:

          He mean “broader culture in general”, of course. That doesn’t exclude videogames, simply positions them as a relatively recent addition.

      • ScorpionWasp says:

        Let’s not forget the violence in the old testament. Now, THAT’S something that’d make the most violent videogame look like a Disney ride.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      No, but we’re Kotaku now.

    • ZephaniahGrey says:

      You fool! You can’t use sarcasm on the internet! You’ll destroy us all!!

    • BargainOnly_HalfMySoul says:

      author of this article says we are outgrowing our brutish violent natures, shedding the artifacts of an ancient past, but I was imagining a scenario: Our planet is already crowded and only getting more crowded. Our peaceful nature perhaps outpaced the ability of our ecosystem to catch up and our own ability to continue evolving. If it is in the interest of mankind to kill each other off until the strongest ones survive, one could argue that preserving or resurrecting our violent tendencies is a morally positive effort. Also, given the declining stability of the peace among nations, global financial crippling, civil unrest, miniature and concealable weapons and bombs, increasing degree of potential power (+/-) in a single individual or small group, and rising PTSD incidents, disgruntled militia, hate groups, republicans, corrupt cops, school shooters, urban snipers, and drug dealers with ownership of submarines and multiple countries, perhaps it may be naive to think that a more ‘peaceful’ culture is appropriate, or well adapted for the world we live in.

      Peace? Duh. Everyone loves peace like ice cream or sleep. We need peace. We need violence too. The world is voilent, not just culturally. Have ya heard about how the universe started? Did u read about the sun? did you see a grape rot? How about a corpse? In my driver’s ed class, we saw half a guy’s head remaining on his body, as he slumped off the car without a seatbelt. It’s not guaranteed that in your lifespan you’ll never have to fight, to kill, to have an enemy, to have to go to war, to have to pick up a weapon and use it against another living thing. In the way that countries are organisms, America may be one of the more violent ones, so much so that one of our symptoms is punching ourselves in the nuts so hard it bleeds. But come wartime, the bruises and cuts have become callouses… or infections. And the ones who survived the infections, because we put in the numbers to beat the odds, we have a few immune people! Stronger, Faster, Better, baby.

      Morality on the issue of the mere presence and exposure to violence is too ambiguous in an environment where peace and violence are only a doorstep and a bad luck away. Neither time nor proximity can guarantee you a promise of safety so safe that we’d consider a serious, dedicated, supported, financed national effort to curb the use of violence for entertainment, profit, and enjoyment

      (and training, and desensitizing, and whetting the appetite for more, and recruiting).

  2. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    I think this is a good point. Whenever I talk about video games to non-gamers, this is always something that comes up. “But why are they so violent”. There’s something about video games that attracts aggression, though I think for most people it’s more a way to release said agression than a cause.

    But it’s rather telling that almost all games that are released have some sort of violence to them, and it’s refreshing when there are those that don’t (notably waking mars).

    • Xocrates says:

      I don’t think it’s a case of video games “attracting aggression” so much as it is the industry pursuing the same trends and market since it’s inception, added to the fact that death makes for a clear failure state.

      If you look at lists of all time best selling games, you’ll notice stuff like the Sims and Myst, which, while technically containing violence, are essentially non-violent.
      And that’s to say nothing of the casual market where stuff like tetris, bejeweled or farmville dominate(d).

      Games do not need to be as violent, and I suspect that the reason they are like that is because they’ve always been.

      Should that change? Perhaps, even if only so we get more variety within the medium.

      • Thingus says:

        Beyond Good And Evil pitched it about right for me; violence was part of the path you had to follow, but it wasn’t always the best approach, and in the end it wasn’t the final solution or really the point of the game. It also didn’t revel in it in the same way, say, God Of War does.
        Now I think of it, you can make the same argument about Minecraft and Waking Mars (I think, I haven’t played it).

        • f1x says:

          Of course,

          I think one of the possible problems now is the overall creed that if you put morale/ethics in your triple A game then you are “not cool”

          • The Random One says:

            Really? Spec Ops and Far Cry 3 seem to think that discussing the ethics of violence instantly makes you cool, even if you do it really poorly.

          • f1x says:

            Yeah, but its always about how twisted everything is,
            in the end of those, the morale is that everybody is bad, even the good guys and sometimes the bad guys are also bad, it tries to be adult and cool as if going beyong the classical “hero vs bad guy”

            The thing is instead of sending a message or provoking thought it just becomes a mess, its the Marquis de Sade gone cheap

          • rockidr4 says:

            I think what we are seeing is just the beginning. More games will address ethics. More games will address ethics, and they will do a better job. So far the best we have had was moral choice systems, which were absolute poppycock in that they presented the player in a choice between sensible and downright insane. The game would say “Kill this person” and then you had the choice of killing them quickly with a bullet to the head, or getting out your cheese grater and chasing the around slowly grinding them into smaller bits. Games like this did not present a realistic presentation of ethics. I think in the future we will have games that explore ethics in more meaningful ways. I won’t speak to Spec Ops (I haven’t played it) but I can discuss my experiences with Far Cry 3.

            The game makes you look at Vaas, the supposed villain, and then it makes you look at yourself. It honestly does it best if you spend most of you time screwing around. If your anything like me, when you’re screwing around, you are murdering the islands’ indigenous animals. Not even so you can upgrade your stuff, but because its there. Then you have missions that want a certain pirate dead for poaching. Suddenly you ask yourself, “Am I not also a poacher? Why am I good and he evil?” Then you have the story missions, Vaas is considered bad because he is driven to do bad things by Volker. Then you as well are driven to do bad things by Volker.

            The trouble is that in all of this you are given a single choice. Not a series of choices. If the game were purely linear in its story development, I would have preferred that. Instead, the game gives you a choice, and only one. This comes as a surprise because throughout the whole rest of the game you have not had choices. The game should have either had more choices or no choices, but that’s more a discussion of the game design, though I do think that it affects the ethical discussion that is raised by the game.

        • ffordesoon says:

          Funny that you should mention BG&E, seeing as how it’s a game about an entirely different sort of “shooting.”

          It’s always confused me that there aren’t more games about photography. Vast swathes of the medium are built around a point-and-shoot mechanic. We can do point-and-shoot really well. But pointing a camera at someone and “shooting” them – which is something that requires exactly the same skillset as firing a virtual gun at them – has rarely been explored, even though it could be really cool.

          Imagine, say, a Hitman-style game where you play as a sleazy tabloid reporter who tricks celebrities into doing trashy stuff through a variety of means, then takes pictures of them which are graded at the end of the level for clarity, shock value, etc. Same structure as Hitman, but you’re not killing anyone.

          Boom, you’ve got a game about shooting that’s not about killing.

    • Shivoa says:

      The evolution of computer gaming is the harnessing of verbs for overloading ‘point’ and ‘click’. Aim and shoot are good verbs to attach to that and when computer gaming took over the consoles (with dual sticks providing an approximation of the point and click so well developed and the PC developers started working on console titles for the fixed hardware) then it became a lot of the AAA industry. Even before the immersive 3D perspective it was easy to attach the shooting and this is so common because it is a lot easier to build a system where you draw out lines and check for intersections and simply reduce health on hit rather than ‘make have conversation’ or another interaction. Shooting is easier so it became common and so it became well developed and demanded.

      • DJ Madeira says:

        Great point. It’s not that we have any particular zeal for killing; I know when I play online shooters I do it to relax, not to get angry or release aggression. It’s simply a system that works well and has therefore been refined into something really, really fun to do.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        Really well observed and said, Shivoa.

        Violence is basically the quickest and easiest path to drama. But as game technology and design theory get more complex, “easiest” is becoming “laziest.” I thought the conversation battles in DX:HR were brilliant. I’d love to see more innovation along that line, and others as well, even though that will take years of careful audience training.

      • Frank says:


      • Jim Dandy says:

        Very well said, Shivoa. I was trying to figure out how to say something similar, then I realised that I’m not sure it’s actually true.

        There’s a laser-straight line running from Space War to Space Invaders to Doom , and that line has nothing to do with input metaphors. It’s got a lot to do with clever boys in universities, clever boys with repressed power-fantasies and too much time on their hands. The boys whose games became obscenely huge money-spinners and spawned an industry of imitators.

        A hit calculation could be dressed up in a million ways: a coin reaches a beggar’s bowl, a needle applies a perfect stitch, a wink meets the right pair of eyes.

        And if gaming really is just different ways of dressing up hit calculations, then Ebert was fucking well right.

        And before anyone mentions Dear Esther or any other piece of delicate indy abstraction, I’ll just say ‘Hotline Miami’. Even in the bazaar of beautiful weirdness that is non-mainstream games, the game that gets the most love this year is a bloody shooter.

        And, speaking of Hotline Miami, mechanical perfection isn’t a value judgement. It often seems to be when criticising games, but it really isn’t. The most abominable rape-porn could conceivably be mechanically perfect (pacing, photography, performance veracity), as could a chemical-weapon or a concentration camp. Mechanical perfection doesn’t make something ‘good’ (whatever that means) beyond mute engineering. Score another one to Ebert if mechanical perfection is at the peak of gaming’s critical values.

        • darkChozo says:

          Am I the only one sick of the whole “power fantasy” thing? It’s really painful armchair psychology that’s only serves to turn everything into a straw man argument against some hypothetical race of underdeveloped manchildren. I’m fine with suggesting that there’s some psychological backing to why video games are as they are, but people are way too complex to simplify things to one motive, let alone a motive that seems to be entirely based on hypothesis.

          As for the rest, I’m beginning to believe that making a direct comparison between video games and movies/TV/literature is a lost cause. Video games have never been particularly good at telling stores, at least in the traditional conflict-driven rising-action-climax-falling-action sense. Storytelling of that sort always seems to be a layer on top of the actual game — think complaints of cutscenes or that people don’t even pay attention to the plot — and the medium really isn’t good at doing a lot of the traditional story-telling stuff (can’t use the main character to drive anything because the main character is the player, can’t use dialogue much because we don’t have talking AI, can’t have internal conflict because, once again, the main character is the player and the player is apparently half insane).

          Instead, games almost seem to be somewhere closer to traditional art in a lot of ways. They’re at they’re best when they’re simply a matter of interfacing with a world as portrayed by the game, it’s engine, it’s mechanics, and its content. Far Cry 3 is a game whose plot and missions take a lot of flak but whose world and mechanics are so good that the game has been lauded. Minecraft and Skyrim are games with a laughably light plot, but are similarly revered basically on the basis of the worlds they create.

          As such, I don’t think that saying that games are largely a matter of mechanics is a bad thing. Traditional art and music are both largely based on “mechanical” perfection as well, and no one’s going out of their way to suggest that either is not art.

          • Jim Dandy says:

            Thanks Chozo. I still think that the teenage dick-fantasy cliché can’t be dismissed so easily. We might like to dismiss or banish it, but that’s a different argument. The pioneers of videogaming were young men who probably read E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith and liked lasers and rockets. Their sensibilities were embedded in those early games*, and their thematic models were laid down and standardised as an industry grew around them. I’m sick of the whole power fantasy thing as well, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

            Videogames are a new medium, and they require new approaches to criticism, but I can’t see why critical approaches to other media are suddenly entirely invalid. For example, aspects of literary criticism can apply to film, theatre, and music: the rhythms of language, the cleverness of a line, the solidity of a plot.

            It seems to me that very often videogaming uses its distinguishing features as a crutch – ‘we spent so long fine tuning our collision detection that we could only afford to spend half a day coaxing a voice performance out of the janitor’ or ‘look at all these amazing pixel-shaders displaying a half-arsed mish-mash of fantasy cliché’.

            Just like film, videogames are a syncretive form. Elements of pre-existing forms are presented in new ways via new technology, and become more than their sum. Something undeniably new, but not automatically free of the critical underpinnings of its borrowed parts. Whether or not it’s a good medium for traditional linear narratives is a different (interesting) argument.

            As for ‘mechanical’ perfection, I think we can distinguish between that type of perfection, or aptitude, and ‘technical’ aptitude. Applying this to a painting, you could say that, mechanically, the paint is chemically perfect, is adhered properly to a correctly-stretched canvas, and has been optimally varnished for lightfastness, colour transmission, and durability. This is all entirely ‘quality’ neutral, the critic isn’t considering the artist’s technique beyond a rudimentary level: the paint is applied ‘correctly’ but do the brush strokes convey anything interesting? The critic is not considering (arguably very important) factors like emotional and intellectual response, personal empathy, historical precedent, political implications, and a thousand others.

            *This is why Ebert is wrong
            (edited for spelling) (and again for tautology)

    • Michael Fogg says:

      As always Tadhg Kelly has the explanation
      link to techcrunch.com

    • seattlepete says:

      Whenever someone says that to me, “why are videogames so violent” I always respond with the fact that most games in general are “violent” in nature. Checkers, for instance, gives you a set number of pieces which suffer permanent death at the hands of your opponent. Now just like, say, L4D2 – there are certain circumstances where your checkers can respawn, or gain super powers. At the end of the day though, the winner is the one who has “taken out” all of the other guys checkers.

      That is the basic nature of competitiveness in all gaming. Chess is even worse because there is a direct correlation to actual people – a King and Queen. Video games are no different, it’s just a matter of artistic styling. That and trying to be understandable to a large audience.

      Thinking of chess now and DOTA2. When my hero dies and they leave behind a little pool of blood and yell “I diiiied!”, is that unnecessary violence, or just a ham-fisted visual cue for an audience we assume is already a little confused by the gameplay? Wouldn’t the original designers of chess used the same cues if the technology had been available?

      So yeah, violence is inherit in almost all competitive games. Monopoly! Make your friends and loved ones homeless and broke! Points based games would be the exception to this, although I am certain there’s a violent “Unarmed Pedestrian Killer” pinball machine out there somewhere.

      • Shuck says:

        Monopoly is an interesting one, as it was originally created as a tool to point out the evils of capitalism. Something that was lost after it was, fittingly, fraudulently sold by a random third party to the Parker Bros. game company. That seems to say something about the (in)ability of games to convey particular messages, especially when the context for the game changes at all.

      • Michael Anson says:

        I would counter by pointing at War of the Roses, where executions are performed in the first person, and are accurate enough to make you flinch. The problem with violence in games is how it is portrayed. Specifically, as something you do to people, not something that happens to you. If the player was just as fragile as the foes, it would most likely have a different feel; however, since this does not fit into the power fantasy, it is not what sells well.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Its not the games that are violent it is humans. Violent games sell because humans have violent tendencies and in our society there are not a lot of acceptable outlets for those tendencies.

      Don’t make the incorrect assumption that the problem is with the games. The games are what people want. Before there were games we used to run around with sticks in the woods and play “guns”. Thats what we would call it, a bunch of 8 year olds running around with sticks screaming “bam bam bam”.

      That video games allow us a more enjoyable way to do that is immaterial.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        Beyond food, shelter, and love, people mostly want what we learn to want. Desires are for the most part constructed. And there’s a profit motive to certain constructs being privileged over others.

        We’re way beyond “human nature” or some such reductive bullshit when we’re talking about entire worlds being re-created with near-fidelity inside boxes that are thicker than a good BLT.

        • Joshua Northey says:

          I think you are actually really wrong about this. We don’t want food love and shelter. We want better food love and shelter than our neighbors have.

          Poor people in the US today live better than 99% of people who have ever lived. People still view their lives as hugely painful. They view their lives as hugely painful. Because the absolute level of love food and shelter isn’t what matters, the relative amount does.

          People are competitive and violent naturally and you are not going to successfully socialize that out of them. You might mitigate it, but you aren’t going to eliminate it. Little boys who are taught nothing more than compassion and sharing and cooperation from a young age still jockey for dominance and violently compete as soon as the hormones kick in.

          • Consumatopia says:

            It’s totally rational for people to worry about relative deprivation–if somebody else has more than you do, that demonstrates that its possible for you to have more as well. It might mean that you need to change yourself to do better, or that the other guy is shirking and not contributing as much to the community as you are, or that goods in the community are poorly or unfairly distributed.

            In any event, the whole point of a game–video or otherwise–is to construct an artificial reward system. A game doesn’t give the player what they want (“but our princess is in another cas–no, wait, here she is! You win!”), a game tells players what to want.

            Note that most people in this world do not play realistic shooter games. They’re a very profitable segment of the gaming industry, just as people with concealed-carry licences are a profitable segment of the gun industry, but most Americans haven’t played Call of Duty or carried a concealed gun. It’s not unusual to play violent games, but it’s not universal or even typical either.

          • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

            “We don’t want food love and shelter. We want better food love and shelter than our neighbors have.”

            Kindly speak for yourself.

            “People are competitive and violent naturally and you are not going to successfully socialize that out of them. You might mitigate it, but you aren’t going to eliminate it. Little boys who are taught nothing more than compassion and sharing and cooperation from a young age still jockey for dominance and violently compete as soon as the hormones kick in”

            This is all true except in, you know, every case where it isn’t.

            Do you have kids? Do you know many people in general? I can think of a number of exceptions to everything you just said, drawing only on people I know personally.

            And even if your bit about hormones were universally true (having spent enough time at school playgrounds, I can tell you it’s not), I’d like to think we can base our image of a well-socialized 21st-Century human on something other than a pubescent boy.

            If there is any human nature, it’s to be adaptable and plastic, to decide what it means to be human.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            “”We don’t want food love and shelter. We want better food love and shelter than our neighbors have.”

            Kindly speak for yourself.”

            I am not speaking for myself. I am speaking for decades of research. Bob in South Africa doesn’t care if he has only 300sqft of living space and no indoor plumbing if everyone he knows has nothing better. Bob in New York finds the same situation close to prison camp living because most everyone he knows has more. I cannot believe you are trying to argue this point. Certainly some people are happy with “enough”. But that is a very very small slice of the world.

            “Do you have kids? Do you know many people in general? I can think of a number of exceptions to everything you just said, drawing only on people I know personally.”

            ??? I am talking about people generally, not every single individual who has ever walked the earth? You don’t think your random run of the mill 12 year old boy is violent?

            “If there is any human nature, it’s to be adaptable and plastic, to decide what it means to be human.”

            Certainly I am all for making improvements to human nature. I don’t really think tackling the “problem of the popularity of man-shooters” is a good way to go about it. You will have a lot more luck raising kids who aren’t interested in man-shooters than you will have reducing the supply of man-shooters.

          • Consumatopia says:

            I am speaking for decades of research.

            You’re completely misunderstanding decades of research.

            Bob in South Africa doesn’t care if he has only 300sqft of living space and no indoor plumbing if everyone he knows has nothing better. Bob in New York finds the same situation close to prison camp living because most everyone he knows has more.

            People set their expectations based on other people around him. That is completely different from a competitive desire for other people to have less. It’s one thing for Bob in South African to look around and say “hey, I must be doing okay for myself”. It’s quite another for him to look around and say “ha ha, look at all these poor people. It sure is fun to watch them suffer.”

      • elderman says:

        I often like what you have to post in the comments here, Joshua, but I don’t understand your perspective on this.

        Why make the distinction between games being violent and humans being violent? Why do it and then use the term ‘violent games’ in the following sentence. Obviously games don’t take material form, bust out of their cartriges with a roar, and go hitting other games in the living room or shooting pre-pubescent games in schools. If there’s a problem, of course it will be with people, what else would it be with? People make the games and people play the games. It’s a situation involving people in society.

        Ninja Foodstuff isn’t making any grand claims about the effects of violent games. Neither is Nathan and neither am I. Ninja Foodstuff is telling us he talks with people whose experience watching or playing video games reminds them of the experience, imagined or real, of witnessing violence. He says it’s a common complaint.

        What’s happening when games are violent (is ok to use this as shorthand for ‘depict violence or provoke feelings in people that remind them of the feelings they get when in proximity to violence?’) is something between people and the game, or maybe between people with a common relationship to the game, but it’s a thing people experience. So is it ok with you and with others if Nathan and some of the rest of us discuss what that is, what it means, in a public way? Will you pack up the straw men?

        Me, I mostly find graphic or realistic violence in games disgusting so I mostly avoid it. Still, I’m ok with stylised violence, and occasionally a game like Limbo, involving vivid, stylised violence, will set my brain on fire.

        Maybe you’re right that violent gaming is just an outlet. If so, thinking about how this is the case, might lead to making games that are better outlets.

        • Joshua Northey says:

          “Why make the distinction between games being violent and humans being violent? ”

          The distinction is an attempt to highlight that the games are violent BECAUSE people are violent. Not that people are violent BECAUSE games they play are violent. It is getting the causation backwards.

          The world is safer and less violent than it has ever been, and yet people certainly play more violent video games than ever before. I would argue that this is because the two things are not really related (the overall level of violence and the overall level of entertainment provided by violent games).

          “Why do it and then use the term ‘violent games’ in the following sentence.”

          Well I think everyone can agree Sim City isn’t having any impact on people’s psychological relationship to violence. I would point out in even so impersonal a setting as that the developers still felt the need to include a whole sub-game involving destroying your town, and that this sub-game was quite popular.

          “If there’s a problem, of course it will be with people, what else would it be with?”

          Once again the distinction here is between whether the culture is molding people into something that is deleterious, or merely reflecting deleterious aspects of how people are. It can obviously be working both ways, but I think the later is the much more powerful impact.

          “What’s happening when games are violent (is ok to use this as shorthand for ‘depict violence or provoke feelings in people that remind them of the feelings they get when in proximity to violence?’) is something between people and the game, or maybe between people with a common relationship to the game, but it’s a thing people experience. So is it ok with you and with others if Nathan and some of the rest of us discuss what that is, what it means, in a public way? Will you pack up the straw men?”

          The point isn’t to raise a straw man. The point is that by focusing on “violent videogames” instead of “violent play” or just human violence in general, you unnecessarily limit your perspective and likely start seeing connections where really there may not be any. Certainly I personally think a lot of the violence in video-games is unnecessary and gratuitous. It is an aesthetic I don’t particularly enjoy.

          “Maybe you’re right that violent gaming is just an outlet. If so, thinking about how this is the case, might lead to making games that are better outlets.”

          Everything can always be improved, obviously. But “can X be improved?” is a rather shallow uncontroversial question. As you can see from the comments people are taking this to be a rather unshallow, and controversial discussion, because I think the basic assumption posited is that manshooty or otherwise violent games have something to do with nurturing violent behavior in people.

          Maybe that is true, but it is really hard to find evidence for that i the data when the past several decades have seen massive reductions in violence.

          • elderman says:

            I’m going to narrow this down to two related points.

            First, anyone making a causal claim should propose a causal process. You’ve talked about demand for violence in video games, but that’s a final cause, not an efficient cause. If there’s a causal link there has to be a causal process, otherwise you’re talking about correlation. What do you think the causal process is?

            Secondly, I’d prefer to talk about aesthetics, where I agree with you, and which I think fits the purview of the site better, and more accurately reflects the themes of Nathan’s post. However, I’ve got caught up in the debate over real world violence and gaming now. That’s not what Nathan’s post was about and it’s not what the OP was about, but that seems to be what people want to fruitlessly argue about with no evidence.

            (This, by the way, is my definition of shallow. We can at least introspect with authority and talk about aesthetics based on taste and experience. If you take on a topic that relies on knowledge without having that knowledge, that to me is superficial.)

            Well, I’m a little bit of a social scientist myself (only a little), so it annoys me when people talk nonsense about a social science issue, as I’m sure I annoy people more knowledgeable than I am. So, I’ve started to look at the evidence.

            It seems to be an accepted commonplace around here that the evidence is against a connection between violence in entertainment and violence in people. You don’t say this, Joshua, you just say that violent entertainment is caused by violent people. You, at least, seem to believe in a link. However, a lot of people posting here, including Nathan, take it for granted that because the people who take a stand against violence in video games are often moralistic, hypocritical, non-gamers, they don’t have the evidence behind them.

            I have access to peer-reviewed journals, so I decided to take a look. So far I’m finding the preponderance of the evidence does not go our way. The studies I’ve read so far, four of them, find a small, consistent causal link between exposure to violent video games and subsequent violent behaviour in individuals. They also cite many other studies with similar results. Note that these are results on the level of the individual, not of society. The idea that the general level of violence in a society or at any larger level depends on the level of exposure of the youth to computer gaming certainly seems absurd to me, and I think it would be very hard to study.

            There’s a lot of information to sift through, a lot of different methodologies I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m not prepared to express an informed opinion one way or another. However, I think we gamers should reexamine our assumption. Violent games may very well cause violent behavior in people. My reading is giving me an uncomfortable feeling that’s the case.

            I’ll try and report back next time Nathan posts on this topic with a better review of the literature.

            (Gah, there’s no way anyone will read that whole post.)

            TL;DR: There is actually a body of evidence about violence and gaming. I’ve decided to trawl through it. At first glance, it’s bad news for people who defend violent games.

          • jhng says:

            If you do do a review of the literature, perhaps you could get RPS to do a post summarising it and linking to the most reputable studies?

            My wife (non-gamer) is a psychologist and tells me that the evidence she is aware of does indicate a slight contributory role of games in violent behaviour although she has not looked into it in any depth. I am a bit blinkered on the issue because, being very committed to the medium, I am used to defending it vigorously; however, if you can summarise the research I would be interested to know.

          • elderman says:

            I’ve emailed Nathan, offering to write him a research memo based on a literature review. What I do with what I find may depend on how interesting the research is and what I can make out of it. At the very least, I have my own blog and could post there with proper links and references. I promise to report back, anyway.

      • darkChozo says:

        That doesn’t explain why violence in video games is so much more prevalent than in other forms of entertainment that people enjoy. If it were simply a matter of people being violent, then why aren’t TV shows, movies, and books as consistently violent as video games are?

        • Joshua Northey says:

          A) Is it that much less prevalent? Most books and movies are either about killing or screwing.
          B) Video games are about doing things, it is not a passive media. Most forms of entertainment or narrative are about resolving conflicts, but unfortunately many of the non-passive ways to resolve conflict involve violence. No one is going to fire up a video-game where when someone won’t do what you want you wait around for a few days until they are in a better mood and then have a 40 minutes discussion with them, and even if they would AIs are not really currently able to handle that type of interaction.

          • darkChozo says:

            On A, I’m more or less stating an assumption that underlines this debate. I’d be interested to see a direct comparison, though I think there’s something of an issue of metrics here — I’m not sure if it’s helpful to point at, say, abstract puzzle games and say they’re nonviolent, when they basically sidestep the issue entirely. Personally, it seems to me that movies are more free to pursue nonviolent plots much more freely, but that’s basically anecdotal and is subject to any number of biases.

            On B, I actually agree wholeheartedly, but that’s more or less my point; I don’t think it’s particularly meaningful to say that video games in particular are violent because people are violent. It comes off a bit like sidestepping the issue, particularly when it’s something that affects literally everything we do ever.

        • SoupDuJour says:

          The reason why games feature more violence is because games are terrible at displaying people and social interaction, except if stylized. But in any case, if it’s not a multiplayer thing, social interaction in games comes down to playing back prefab lines and animations.

          In film, it’s easy to put 2 people in front of the camera and let them waffle to each other. That’s why it happens so much. And that stuff is being recorded, and as such isn’t interactive, isn’t really a problem. It was never meant to be interactive.

          But there’s a bigger issue: positive feedback loops. If game developers make something and it sells, they make more of that thing. With the result that eventually the only audience left is people that want that particular thing. For games this just happened to be violence. Same thing happened with comic books, except there the subject was “superheroes” and in Japanese games, where the subject was “anime archetype/formula-based characters and stories”. People that aren’t interested in the subject that’s being milked dry will lose interest in the medium altogether. “Games? Nah, too violent for me!” Those people also often don’t want to be associated with the medium because of its negative social connotations. “Games… oh… hey, are you a psychopath?”

          I think the question is: will “games” as a medium be able to break the feedback loop? Even if not, does it even matter? There will eventually be other (imho more interesting) interactive things than “games”.

    • Consumatopia says:

      though I think for most people it’s more a way to release said agression than a cause.

      That’s certainly possible–it’s difficult to prove that violent media causes real violence.

      But I think we should back up and ask ourselves whether that actually matters. Suppose there was a game in which you hurt your mother. I don’t mean a game in which you hurt your player character’s mother, I mean that the game identifies the real-life player and finds a picture of their real-life mother and puts them into the game as a target.

      Now I have no idea whether playing such a game would make you more or less likely to hurt your mother or anyone else in real life. But even if it were established that playing this game is completely uncorrelated with real-world violence, it’s still legitimate to ask why the hell would anyone ever want to play such a horrible game? The game itself would be evil, regardless of any real-world impact.

      Until the day that game NPCs are sophisticated enough to be called sentient, I don’t think any game should be banned. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that some of the loudest voices against video game violence (e.g. Wayne LaPierre, Joe Lieberman) are associated with the gun lobby or war mongering in real-life. But that we as gamers spend such a large portion of our experience engaged in a celebration of death and entropy is an unfortunate thing, even if this celebration has no effect on homicide rates. Let’s just answer “should this game be banned?” with a resounding “No!” so we can move on to the more worthwhile question “should this game be played?”

  3. Tuckey says:

    I don’t see why the events in one messed-up country have any relevance to my hobby in the UK

    • Carbonated Dan says:

      article authored by an american discusses american sensibilities on the [i]internet[/i], a uniquely international forum

      it may not directly apply to your little corner of the world, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant to those with some degree of proximity to the event and direct exposure to it’s aftershock

      indeed, given the US’ position as a leading producer and consumer of this medium, anything that affects the industry there is of relevance to all of us

    • Wut The Melon says:

      I think the whole point was that they don’t. It’s just, you know, that your hobby in the UK is to kill virtual people. Which, at first glance, is a slightly odd hobby. It’s obvious that (male) humans have a bit of a weird relation to violence, so it seems a fair question to ask if we really should be indulging in so much violence, even if it is completely virtual. The notion that violence in gaming is a completely innocent outlet that does not affect us in any way is as ridiculous as the idea that it is the cause of events such as Newtown.

      But then again, there’s no-one forcing you to read these articles, so if you really think that they won’t spawn an interesting discussion you don’t need to read them.

    • Ajh says:

      I think that’s the point. None of us are saying video game violence causes these sorts of events.

      In fact, I’m fairly certain it’s a combination of mentally unstable + going out with your name all over the news that the american news media likes to do to shooters, they make them into villains, sure, but they become household names during the weeks after the shootings.

      The major problem people claiming that violent video games are the reason for all the shootings in the states face is the statistics. People in the UK play the same games, there’s nowhere near the amount of shootings there. People in Canada play the same games, there’s nowhere near the amount of shootings there. You could blame it on the gun laws in the states, but you can buy both video games and a gun with a license in many places and there’s nowhere near the percentage of gun homicide in most of those countries as there is in the US, so…blaming access to guns isn’t entirely right either.

      Even though video games definitely aren’t the cause, isn’t it a good idea to stop and look at why we play what we play? Does the violence in games teach us anything? Maybe the lessons learned are negative, positive or not there at all.

      It’s simply something to think about, see?

    • bill says:

      The article isn’t about events in one country. It’s about your hobby.

    • Fathom says:

      Right, because the world is all about you. Prick.

      • beekay says:

        “I don’t think it’s especially great that you’re addressing this as though the US is the only country in the world.”
        “You cunt. How dare you.”

      • beekay says:

        “I don’t see why an international gaming site is addressing us as though the US is the only country which exists.”
        “Shut up you bastard, think of the children.”

    • Ostymandias says:

      Then how about the events in the far less messed up country Norway last year? Or the about as-messed up-as-the-UK country France? Hell, Anders Behring Breivik even admitted he played Call of Duty. To practice aiming and shooting, he claimed. Worked out quite well for him.

      • bonescraper says:

        First of all, you can’t practice aiming and shooting in a video game. That’s ridiculous. I’ll give you a hint: virtual guns have made up stats, no weight, virtual recoil. Maybe he could practice drone bombings on his PC, but definitely not gun handling.

        Secondly, i live in a country 8 times more populated than Norway, yet we never had any school shootings, mall shootings or theater shootings. And i’ve been playing video games for almost 20 years now.

        Americans desperately try to draw some kind of correlation between those incidents an video games. Ironically enough, USA is the only country where mass shootings occur on constant basis. If they’re really concerned, they should look elsewhere. Last time i checked, USA was pretty much in a constant state of war with somebody since WWII. That makes them stand out in the world just as much as their annual school shootings.

        • spindaden says:

          I’m not sure what country you live in bonescraper, but for those who seem to think the UK is somehow immune or better: the UK has had a school shooting: Dunblane, 1996. This issue is not unique to any country, violence occurs globally.

          Also, IIRC, Breivik wrote his ‘manifesto’ and said most of what he said purely to stir shit up and get attention for himself and his politics.
          He did play games like WoW and CoD but he’s just a nutjob who happened to play some games.

          • Gorf says:

            without nitpicking, school shootings are a US problem.

            ps. thats not saying we shouldnt talk about it tho. personally i like violent games but if its mainly happening in the US then i cant see it as video games being the cause.

            someone should tell the NRA that the same games are played all over the world.

            that screenshot has made me want to play Bulletstorm again……top shooter that was.

          • soulblur says:

            Yes, yes. But you’re wrong is one very relevant sense, which is that the UK has had one school shooting in the last 15 years, and the US has had over a hundred. The US is unique in the fact that their shootings are so frequent and in the fact that no one addresses the root issues.

            That said, a discussion of violence in is useful, particularly in the RPS context – as commenters here tend to be a little more civilised and thoughtful than elsewhere on the web. I think discounting studies is the wrong approach – I feel Nathan has made a mistake here, as studies and statistics are how we draw objective conclusions – but I will be interested to read what he comes up with tomorrow.

            Sadly, it’s unlikely to change the tenor of the argument in the US. The leadership of NRA doesn’t really believe that games cause violence, or they’re being wilfully blind. They know the availability of guns is one of the primary issues – the enabling issue, even – and they need to draw attention away from that.

          • bonescraper says:

            Oh, it is unique to every single country. Violence occurs globally. But how each and every country deals with their shit is another thing. From Somalia with no gaming culture at all, to Japan, one of the safest countries in the world, which also happens to be the cradle of video games. It’s always different depending on where you point your finger on the map. Now, a heavily militarized country with loose gun control laws has violence issues. Who could imagine that?

            School shootings are not our (gamers’) concern. It’s America’s internal problem, and since i’m not American, i couldn’t care less.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            Honestly school shootings are not really a “problem” in the US either. Once you consider the scale of the country, the number of schools and the disparate population, well the schools are incredibly safe even if a few dozen kids are shot each year. It is not really a nationally relevant problem.

            In the US 8000 people die a day, if on 1 or 2 days a year 8010 die, well that is terrible, but it is not necessarily “actionable”.

            People of course always want to say “any child murder is one child murder too many”, but you cannot actually make national policy on that basis or you would have to live in the world’s most restrictive police state.

            Obviously the US could use some more gun control, and that might or might not impact the number of school shootings, but the extra 2,500 or however many people die each year because of poor gun control laws is not really a major issue, especially when there are some minor but legitimate social benefits to having such an armed populace.

          • Gorf says:

            Joshua you are taking the word “problem” too literally.
            Maybe, “Issue specific to the US” or “Morbid trend”, would have been a better way to describe the school shooting phenomenon.

            sorry, I just read this bit again and LOL’d
            “….well the schools are incredibly safe even if a few dozen kids are shot each year.”

          • Jason Moyer says:

            “School shootings are a US problem”

            link to cryptomundo.com

          • Gorf says:

            Jason that information was utter crap. This year alone there has been 6 school shootings in the US.
            Probably close to a hundred in the last 5 decades.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            People are really bad with statistics and aggregates. They have a very hard time keeping things in perspective.

            A similar case is say the problem of people being killed by foul balls and slipped bats at baseball games. When something like that happens there is always a cry for more safety measures. Someone points to the fact that 2 people a year (or whatever) die from this and “why won’t somebody do something!?!”

            Except when you, you know, actually do the math, being at a baseball game is about the single safest activity you can possibly undertake on a “mortality per hour basis”. It is WAY WAY WAY safer than walking or driving to the baseball game, and even safer than being in your home (though that likely has to do with accidents that don’t involve sitting on your couch). Anyways it is very easy after some notable event to feel like there is some problem, if you don’t take the whole context of that event into consideration.

            There are 55 million American school children, in 150,000 schools. Some very very bad things are going to happen to a few of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem (though there could be).

          • Jahkaivah says:

            If your example of a UK School Shooting is one that happened 16 years ago, I’m going to be led to believe the country doesn’t have an awful lot of them. Granted size is no doubt a major contributing factor.

          • Michael Anson says:

            @soulblur Perhaps the statistic you should be looking at is massacres per capita? Remember that the United States is also vastly larger than the UK is, which is very much a relevant statistic when talking about levels of violence.

            @Joshua Eh, looks like you are covering things effectively here. Carry on, good sir.

          • jhng says:

            @Joshua and others — do go and have a look at the statistics (I am typing on the phone so can’t look them up to link). Even correcting for population size, the rates of gun death in the States are astronomical compared to the UK or any where else that isn’t actually at war. I think the difference (corrected for size) is at least a couple of orders of magnitude.

            We did have one school shooting in the UK in 1996 as mentioned. The response to that was tighter gun control and — critically — a ban on handguns. Since then, not only have we not had any more close-quarters massacres (although we have still had a couple of shotgun sprees), but the rate of gun death in the UK has fallen through the floor.

            I realise that guns are a very emotional issue in the States, that some people have a lot of love for their firearms (and some guns are beautiful pieces of technology), and that change is hard. However, if there really is any appetite for change, the only sensible approach is to start by weaning the population off handguns and other firearms that are designed for anti-personnel use rather than hunting use. Arguing about violent media, while being a worthwhile discussion in its own right, is not a useful response to the US gun death issues. Also, for the love of god don’t put more guns into schools as the NRA suggests — guns are like any other tool, if they are there then sooner or later they will be used.

      • f69 says:

        Except Breivik is crazy and plain wrong. You cannot learn to aim a gun with a mouse any more than you can learn to hit a tennis ball with Wii sports (where you can actually swing).

        • jhng says:

          I think he used some special military gadgetry in conjunction with the game to simulate the shooting experience (which kind of blows the whole ‘CoD as murder-trainer’ point).

      • lazy8 says:

        Which only shows that Breivik lives in this time and age in a modern western country.
        The average age of a gamer is now above 30, a lot of people play video-games and COD is one of the most popular games around.
        The fact that he played video-games didn’t make him crazy or a murderer, I think that the vast majority on this site will agree with that.

      • codename_bloodfist says:

        >Hell, Anders Behring Breivik even admitted he played Call of Duty. To practice aiming and shooting, he claimed. Worked out quite well for him.

        HAHAHAHA! People actually believe this shit? Really now?

        • x1501 says:

          It’s true. Just like Prometheus gave mankind the secret of fire, Call of Duty made us privy to the well-guarded secret of all the complex movements and techniques involved in aiming and shooting a gun at a person. And did you know that Jack the Ripper used to play Skyrim to hone his 1337 knife skillz? It’s all true, I tell you.

    • F3ck says:

      I’m going to quote this every time you whine that you’re waiting for a game to get over there…

    • socrate says:

      Saying video game aren’t part of the problem is totally stupid and show just how you blind yourself and don’t want to admit that it as some influence over violent behaviour,i don’t think we should remove violent game but they are in part responsible for some violent action and behaviour,just like movie affect us…the problem with video game nowaday is the stupidity behind them…they are usually dumbed down and made of over hyper and dumbed down to make a bunch of chimp even more stupid,

      Far cry 3 for example started you off as a young man with no combat training and scared to death and traumatised about the situation….and what did they do….10 min later you are a killing machine with nothing to stop you and no moral or consequence behind it….another mind numbing,dumb and uncreative game with bad AI,uninteresting story that was told a million time,horribly retarded environment filled with blood and the occasional boob shot and bad sex scene for a teenage mindset that just show how stupid society is going.

      But you do get gem from time to time….Witcher is one of the most clever game out there…racism,violence with consequence to your decision and action….purely beautiful game…in the first one i remember how horrified i got when i learned that me not interfering with the Scoia’tael(had to google this) with their mysterious crate ended with a fragmentation bomb exploding and killing load of innocent in the bar i kept going and visited and enjoyed quite frequently…..there is a big need for these moral issue and the dumb mentality of good side and bad side to go away in these retarded game that are called AAA game and just usually end up being just a bunch of overhyped crap that every dumb idiot buy out of hype and pure mindless pew pew.

      • Archonsod says:

        “Saying video game aren’t part of the problem is totally stupid and show just how you blind yourself and don’t want to admit that it as some influence over violent behaviour,i don’t think we should remove violent game but they are in part responsible for some violent action and behaviour,just like movie affect us”

        I have yet to see any study demonstrating a link between games and behaviour (or for that matter TV and behaviour, in fact the science currently points to a remarkable ability of our brain to distinguish between reality and fantasy, which is probably one of the reasons our species survived long enough to invent the computer in the first place, but I digress …).

        • Strangerator says:

          In the average person, there is most definitely a mechanism to distinguish fantasy from reality.

          In all of these shootings, however, the suspect almost always turns out to be mentally disturbed or compromised in one form or another. So then, perhaps this “barrier” between fantasy and reality breaks down, and they believe it would be fun to go outside their house and play a new FPS of their own design? Since it is obvious we can’t stop all mental illness in its tracks, what would have happened if the “fantasy” partition in this disturbed kid’s brain had been filled with less homicidal actions?

          Let’s take another violent crime as an example. There is very little (to none) rape in video games, and none where the player commits the crime. Rape is deemed far more offensive than murder, even though murder is arguably a far more final crime. Whatever the case, we’re conditioned to believe that a theoretical game called “Semenstorm” in which the goal is to rape 1000 women would be totally out of the question, but games where you murder similar numbers are fine.

          So going back to our brain partitions, nobody is playing “rape games” and thus the “fantasy” part of our brain is not filled with concepts like “rape is fun.” So when these disturbed individuals snap, they don’t go all Bill Clinton on everybody’s ass. The idea of casual slaughter is omnipresent in American media, so it’s no wonder that when these disturbed individuals break down, it is casual slaughters they commit. So it’s hard to show true causality, but it should be noted that another kind of violent crime which is universally stigmatized and not presented as “entertainment” in our media, is never committed by these mentally disturbed people who have a breakdown.

          If only we could make successful video games whose main mechanic was “socially awkward hugging” or something. So you lose your fantasy/reality barrier and a few random people get hugs with no explanation for them.

          • Michael Anson says:

            While it is true that the line between fantasy and reality blurs in these disturbed individuals, the prevalence of media is no more to blame than the prevalence of weaponry. The root cause is the disturbed individual, who is a minority in the extreme in the population and only emerges as a phenomenon past certain population levels. The proper approach is to try to identify these individuals, and try to help them as best we can so that these events do not occur.

          • Jim Dandy says:

            Hey, Strangerator, are you aware of this little jewel?

            link to en.wikipedia.org

            This medium is as dark a mirror as any other. Perhaps darker, or rather less often bright. There’s absolutely no reason why ‘socially awkward hugging’ couldn’t be a viable game mechanic, and the same goes for ‘stealthy cheek-pecking’ or ‘manly hand-shaking’ – it’s all about feedback. The ‘ding’ that the player craves can be delivered in so many ways. Why is the ‘ding’ so often an ‘AIIIEEEEE!!”?

            I think Nathan’s premise is sound. Why all the violence? We spend a lot of time scoffing at tabloid representations of gaming culture, but in our secret hearts we know that there’s an ugly kernel of truth. Gaming normalises violence to an unsurpassed degree. The only form I can think of that has an equally cavalier attitude to human integrity is porn.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          “I have yet to see any study demonstrating a link between games and behaviour”

          Here you go:
          link to polygon.com
          The actual study is behind a paywall, but I’m sure there are copies of it floating around the internet.

          There have been some other studies published too, but I’m simply too lazy to look them up. I don’t necessarily agree with any of them either.

          • Bitter says:

            The study you link talks about aggressive behavior immediately after playing. That doesn’t indicate desensitization, and it doesn’t indicate a longer-term influence on behavior. It just means that if you’re pumped on adrenaline from doing something exciting (like a violent video game, or a sport, or an argument) you’ll act more aggressively.

            There isn’t a peer-reviewed study that demonstrates a link between video games and actual violence against other people. Nor is there one that demonstrates a link to viewing violence in movies or on TV.

            That’s why this article annoys me. “Forget the ‘studies'”…Sure, forget the studies that aren’t peer-reviewed, but the ones that are supposed be actual science aren’t there to prove a point – they’re there to test a hypothesis. I’d take that over your gut feelings and introspection any day.

          • darkChozo says:

            To be fair, the post said that there was no studies showing a link between video games and behavior, which is decidedly untrue. That’s likely due to some confusion on what exactly “behavior” is (video games are affecting my behavior by resulting in me arguing about video games on the internet), but still.

      • Shuck says:

        The violent crime rate in the US has actually decreased while the number of people who play video games has increased. Not to say that proves there’s no causal effect of video games contributing to violence, but it can’t be very strong if there is.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Sad that it takes 20 dead kids in an America school to prompt this discussion, and not the far more numerous dead kids in Pakistan or Afghanistan that get killed by drones flown by guys with joypads sitting at a screen somewhere in the US or UK. As well meaning as Nathan’s piece is, the hypocrisy stinks just as it does every other time we weep for a domestic death toll that pales in comparison to those we create elsewhere and ignore. This violence isn’t new, its just come home to roost. You need to consider that before you start questioning the role of games.

      • mouton says:

        Perhaps the community of said kids shouldn’t have supported a brutal armed movement that aims to subvert the whole region to its image and has no problems with murdering children themselves.

        Drone attacks do not purposefully target civilians. Taliban attacks, on the other hand, do.

        • ArthurBarnhouse says:

          They perhaps aren’t targeting civilians purposefully, but civilian deaths are clearly considered acceptable in drone strikes in a way that I don’t think would be true if on-the-ground soldiers were involved. Also the way they catalog civilian deaths is a bit weird. A male is reported as an enemy combatant, a woman or child is reported as a civilian.

          • mouton says:

            On the other hand, drones can patiently track and pick their targets without the fear of death. Soldiers on the ground are under constant risk and often make poor decisions due to pressure.

          • ArthurBarnhouse says:

            The Stanford Law School this year released a study that claims on average 19 out of 100 kills are civilian kills. Those are pretty bad numbers by any measure, particularly when taking into account that the US isn’t even technically at war with Pakistan.

          • mouton says:

            Not bad numbers if you remember that targets hide among the population and the drones fire rockets from far away.

            As to declaring war, armed groups that shield among those Pakistani tribes are at war with their own state as well and generally don’t follow the rules as we know them, like “declaring war” or “not killing prisoners of war” etc.

          • ArthurBarnhouse says:

            I… I think we’ll just have part ways on this. I can’t imagine how a 20% civilian casualty rate is “not bad”, nor how a questionable at best, illegal at worst military action that wasn’t approved by the government of the country where it’s occurring is acceptable.

          • RakeShark says:

            Because of the logistical and combat nightmare that is sending troops into the same area. One singular strike on a target, instead of a whole movement of armed individuals that may or may not handle a situation well, is very much preferable. The use of drone strikes have been shown to cut down substantially on collateral damage for combat operations.

            When folks like myself say the 20% casualty rate is “not bad”, we mean that there are a lot more options that potentially can and in the past have done far worse. Yes it’s a terrible thing to pat ourselves on the back for, in the humanitarian sense, but it is also to be lauded as a step in the right direction.

          • battles_atlas says:

            So the claim here is that its defensible to pursue a strategy that kills children because it means that our soldiers, who volunteered for active duty, aren’t put in danger.

            How long do you spend considering your moral sanctity?

            “Yes it’s a terrible thing to pat ourselves on the back for, in the humanitarian sense, but it is also to be lauded as a step in the right direction.”

            Right direction? Towards what? Are you still buying in to the notion that an ideology of violent anti-westernism can be defeated militarily? Drone warfare creates the very thing its supposed to solve. Civilian populations tend to resent being killed by machines of a foreign government, its the kind of thing that radicalises them.

            This lazy casualisation of murdering children makes me sick to my stomach. A cultural environment that allows such transparently flawed justifications to pass unquestioned is what needs to be being challenged, not “games”. The rot goes far deeper.

        • battles_atlas says:

          @ Mouton
          “Perhaps the community of said kids shouldn’t have supported a brutal armed movement that aims to subvert the whole region to its image and has no problems with murdering children themselves.”

          Just so we’re clear on the moral claim here: you’re saying that because the Taliban are “supported” by the kids parent’s (which you have no evidence of, given that unlike our murdering governments the Taliban are not elected), those kids become fair game? And the justification is that we are the good guys? We can kill kids because we aren’t brutal murderers like the Taliban?

          • mouton says:

            They are not “fair game”. No one advocates purposefully killing children. But a sad fact of armed conflict is that when a community or a nation goes to war, their non-combatants suffer as well. I wish there were no conflicts at all, but since there are, we have to reconcile with innocents being killed in the process. The only other option is total pacifism, which is, sadly, not practical at this moment.

            Taleban are not elected, yes. But they have a wide support in that area and they control it, thus making them responsible for it. They choose outward hostility and thus they choose their region’s fate.

          • lijenstina says:

            @mouton ” The only other option is total pacifism,” That is a false dichotomy. War has it’s laws too.

            Make those responsible for civilian deaths responsible under the Geneva conventions on an impartial international court not some ad hoc -let’s-legitimize-our-actions-in-the-conflict court of the victor. All of them. On all sides. The “freedom loving good guys” and the “empires of evil bad guys”. You see, unpunished lawless violence adds up and shows that the difference between the winner and the looser is not in justice and legitimacy of actions, but in who has bigger guns and can crush the opposition. Which is, BTW, how mafias do their business.

          • battles_atlas says:

            @ mouton

            Please explain what the higher cause is which justifies this strategy that is certain to kill civilians? Your account is rather lacking in context, by which I mean you seem to be deliberately choosing to ignore all of it. Like how the Taliban were attacked by the West because they sheltered a terror network that only existed as a response to centuries of Western violence and exploitation of the Middle East. In that context, the notion that the solution lies in inflicting further violence on the Middle East – of a kind that kills civilians – might strike anyone willing to consider it as a bit thick.

            I imagine you find it easier to ‘reconcile’ the death of innocents when its some brown people in a country you’ve never been to as opposed to your own family. When our innocents died on 9/11 and 7/7 the result is a justification to kill anyone, innocents included, in retribution. And we have this carte blanche because these terrorists killed our innocents. In response to us killing theirs.

            How much willpower does it take to maintain this absurd edifice of yours?

          • mouton says:


            Even a “just” war results in a multitude of collateral civilian deaths – consider WW2. Thus, this is not a false dichotomy, because practically every armed conflict is a messy and imprecise affair. If you agree to waging war at all – even in the name of defense – you agree to a lot of innocent blood.

            Geneva convention does not prohibit war. It prohibits killing civilians on purpose or due to recklessness. Whether drone strikes are reckless is up to debate, but if the ratio of 20% being civilians is accurate, it is hardly reckless. I’d love 0%, but so far modern warfare tech does not include precise orbital lasers.

            Btw, I do not categorize sides as “good guys” and “bad guys”.


            How does the West exploit Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Bin Laden? Gives it too much money for their oil, perhaps? How did it exploit Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion when Al-Qaeda was born? By giving it stinger missiles and financing the mujahedeen? I understand your empathy for civilians, but please do not try to justify those fanatics, they are as racist and fundamentalist as some of the American Bible Belt inhabitants.

            There is no higher cause that justifies anything. There is only power struggle and geopolitics. And yet, I try to discern which side is being bigger assholes than the other. Taleban are barbaric fanatics who strive to undermine Afghanistan, Pakistan and – in the longer term – India. Note, two of those countries have nuclear weapons and constitute a large chunk of humanity. Thus I find the US interest in curbing tribal islamic extremists and stabilizing the region reasonably justified, even if less appealing than my genuine dream of global peace and harmony.

    • JFS says:

      Funny thing is, German media didn’t even bring video games up this time. All that’s being discussed here is the US weapon fetish and problems in their society as causes for these constant bloodbaths. It surprised me a lot that suddenly RPS picks this up and links it to videogames.

      I’m fine with a general discussion of violence in humans, linked to video games, but what has this to do with any specific event? I think it’s very shortsighted to discuss the subject on such a small scale. If you want to do the topic justice, get out philosophy, evolution and psychology. And theology. And biology. And whatnot.

      I can’t shake off the feeling that videogamers are already so used to their hobby being connected to real violence that they kind of “need” that connection. If nobody on Fox or BBC or ARD brings it up, then we’ve got to do it ourselves, hu?

      Edit: Yeah, and what battles_atlas said above me.

  4. Squirm says:

    fuck off

    edit: So rps is the plaything of kotaku and reddit now?

    • Terragot says:

      Yeah, this article is basically copy and pasted from the Kotaku dog shit piece. Humans are violent people, we do worse shit that gets swept under the carpet than play fucking video games. If you want to be some sort of paragon of virtue, then get off your high horse and discuss something far more visceral, you can start with the events of the sabra and shatila massacre, which still lack justice.

      Why aren’t we talking about video game violence? Because it’s a folly, only a maniac and psychopathic whore would determine otherwise. You know what, Video Games, Developers and gamers don’t need to grow up, Video Game Journalism does.

      Yes, I’m an angry internet man, but after consistent baiting from the media, and still I, and millions just like me, have yet to kill, rape or maim a person, why wouldn’t I be? 1 freak event out of ad infinitum does not mean we need to dive back into 1993 and keep chasing our own tails.

      • bill says:

        So we aren’t talking about it because we are an overly defensive insular immature community? Or just because we have low standards and expectations?

        • Terragot says:

          My point is that it’s been discussed by more people, more times than events that actually contained violence, murder and injustice. The intellectual’s job is to ask the right questions, this piece is just another echo in the cesspit of video game journalism.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Note that Nathan hasn’t even said what his argument is yet, which he suggests will come in the next piece. I agree that this piece simply raises the old question in light of recent events rather than providing new perspectives on it, though.

          • Terragot says:

            Fair point, excuse my initial cynicism, hopefully it turns out to be invalidated.

        • Derppy says:

          Because “Video game violence” is just something that comes up whenever someone goes on a killing spree and media has to find a way to make it profitable. Saying the person was mentally ill doesn’t sell newspapers or get clicks, but saying “The murderer played violent video games, maybe your kid is the next serial killer!?” does, unfortunately.

          In pretty near future we’ll have quality head mounted displays with head tracking, immersing us very deeply in virtual worlds we look into as if we were there, rather than looking there though a monitor. With increasing processing power simulation in games becomes more feasible and eventually we’ll get to the point where human behavior and emotions are very realistic and dynamic, not a bunch of canned animations. Even then I don’t think a normal person would have any issue to distinct real world and it’s ethics from video games, the first time we might reach that point is when we have technology to fake all senses to our brains, but it’s not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

        • lcy says:

          While I think the previous posters’ comments read like they’ve gone off their Ritalin, I must confess to being somewhat bemused to RPS hosting this article, given that the overuse of violence in video games is regularly discussed here. The only thing the recent shootings did was wake up the Kotaku crowd.

      • Dan Lowe says:

        The problem is that just because you’re not impressed by the media at large (you have no reason to be), they’re still going to talk about it, and if the hyperbolic fear-mongering variety isn’t going to stop then it’s important for our community to have our argument a bit more refined than, ”fuck off.” And a year from now, when a lot of us will be playing games using ocular rift headsets or the equivalent to surround our senses with the medium, there may be unforeseen consequences, which an awareness of wouldn’t hurt to have. Context is everything, mosh importantly one’s means of interacting with the world.

        Also, I don’t read Kotaku (besides their Random Encounters, JRPG section) so if RPS doesn’t cover something I generally won’t see it or join in any discussion.

        Remember, not everyone is you. In fact, everyone else is not you. The staff of a site, who get to choose what to write just like you get to choose to read, are prime examples of people who aren’t you.

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        we do worse shit that gets swept under the carpet than play fucking video games.

        I helped a friend with a report on the Mexican drug war. If you want to see something horrible, the Mexican cartels is a good place to start. Drugs, the sex trade, immigrant smuggling, kidnappings, ransoms… Severed heads of police officers being impaled on the fences outside of police stations. Pits filled with dismembered bodies. Police found a train car being carried by a flat-bed truck filled with immigrants that was abandoned by their smugglers. The immigrants all suffocated.

        The world is pretty insane. Most people just don’t know because they don’t bother to try to know. Willful ignorance.

    • SpakAttack says:

      This is exactly the sort of game culture knee-jerk defense Nathan was talking about (unless you were being ironic of course, but if so it was at a level I couldn’t detect).

      If you’re not into intelligent thought or rational discussion, you can always ‘fuck off’ and read something else.

      • Squirm says:

        There’s absolutely nothing intelligent about parroting “journalism” from other websites to get “shock views”.

        • Whosi says:

          Your main stance seems to be “fuck off”. It would seem you are not qualified to judge intelligent discourse.

          • Squirm says:

            It would seem you’re new to the internet and shoddy games journalism. I’ll forgive you this one time.
            This has nothing to do with games, it’s just a pop culture thing it comes around every few years, next time it does you might be able to remember this one.

            good luck with puberty though.

          • The Random One says:

            Well, now that you’ve said your opponent is a child and referred to all games journalism with the same broad brushstroke I have no doubt you’re a mature and intelligent individual whose opinions ought to be respected.

          • Clavus says:

            Oh my, something topical is being discussed. How awful.

          • Whosi says:

            Well that certainly hurt, accusing me of being in puberty and new to the internet. Good ones, I’m trembling so much I can barely type. Tell you what we will just let our comments stand and let others judge which one of us is going through puberty.

            As for it not being about games, the NRA dragged games into this time…it’s part of the conversation whether you like it or not.

        • SpakAttack says:

          So, you don’t have an opinion about violence in videogames then? Just plenty of opinion about how the lack of original thought is a scourge in videogame journalism?

          Come on Squirm, don’t be coy. Stop beating around the bush and tell us how you really feel! (but try and make it an original thought eh?)

      • sophof says:

        The fact that he wrote about it doesn’t make him right, if someone still feels like that they an still respond of course. Even though the response wasn’t very well written, he still makes a good point. ‘Discussing’ video game violence feels like nothing more than a silly diversion from the actual point.

        I at least find it strange that people have a hard time accepting that violence is inherent in humans and yet have the capacity to notice it is represented in copious amounts in every medium. Isn’t it incredibly silly to focus on one medium in such a case? It is the same folly as ‘sexism in gaming’ where the problem is simply ‘sexism’. It is silly to discuss ‘violence in gaming’ when we clearly have the overarching problem/concept of ‘people like violence’.

        I guess it is another of those human tendencies…

    • Gap Gen says:

      No-one here is arguing that games should be banned, or that all representations of violence are wrong. In any case, if you wanted to argue with the substance of what Nathan is saying, I suspect that’ll come in his next piece.

      Also, I have no problem with the commentary on RPS. I suspect that the commentary on Kotaku is also some of its best work, even if it does undermine its work on women’s rights by posting pictures of scantily-clad cosplay enthusiasts next to articles about Brad Wardell/sexual harrassment stories.

    • DrGhostman says:

      You didn’t realize that allready with all the incessant blathering about providing proper women role models in games?

      Steps of Journalist evolution : 1. Talented writers passionate about hobby start a blog. 2. Blog becomes successful. 3. Writers are invited to annual cocktail parties w/ Jezebel gawker and Kotaku for ‘real journalists’ 4. Writers social milieu changes to journalist cocktail party. 5. Writers start writing for their cocktail party audience.

    • Pop says:

      Man, some of the comments in this thread are really depressing, and they surely demonstrate that at the heart of the issue of violence in games is not the games themselves, but some parts of the community.

      I’ve not played multiplayer for a while now, which can be a vile experience, but from the reactions you get to this article, the self documenting man paddies that litter Youtube by gamers and the reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter it seems like there’s still a sick heart that needs to be cut out sooner rather than later.

      Perhaps rather than a long hard look at violence in games, perhaps we need to have a long hard look at ourselves?

      • Squirm says:

        Anite literally scammed people just like you.

        How overdue is she? “give me money so i can carry on making the videos of been making all along, but btw i need money this time aqnd wont do anything with it”

        See my earlier post: Fuck off

        • Pop says:

          Nothing justifies the treatment she received. You don’t have to agree or like what people do, but you should still treat them as fellow humans.

          And anyway, I make second rate games as a hobby, I’ll do that whether people pay me or not, but if I can get people to pay me that’s much preferable. That’s not a scam, that’s just looking for an opportunity to get paid doing what you love.

          • Squirm says:

            Except she stopped making videos on the subject and instead just flies around the world with the money giving “lectures” (she genuinely thinks that’s what she is doing).
            If it wasn’t for gaming being the new “facebook nerd thing” she’d have just picked something else, she just parrots the arguments she reads on tumblr and hides behind an act of professorial knowledge.

          • Pop says:

            That’s fine: she’s responsible to the people who gave her money. I know people who absolutely love her, have sponsored her and love what’s she’s doing. Again, if anything is going awry, she’s probably more of a symptom of the issues than the problem: people never do the research on things they agree with, but that’s an issue with all humans, not just a subsection.

            Violence in games is, I think, a similar issue: it’s a symptom of a problem. At best it’s pandering to what’s already there, like a demagogue stokes the fires of existing prejudices, so they sell to the market that’s already there (though doing so probably does sustain the market).

            I can’t remember who said it, but “Every dollar you spend is a vote for how you want the world to be and who you want to control it”. That’s economics. Lets not patronise games which portray violence irresponsibly.

          • codename_bloodfist says:

            I’ll be frank with you, Pop, you’re being played and you should feel pretty fucking stupid because of it. Anita, like many of her fellows neo anti-pornography feminists (not to be confused with feminists as a whole), played the professional victim card and scored in lotsa money by doing so. She’s hardly the first to do so. There’s also some girl in the online atheist movement, whose entire thing is basically telling people about how much hate mail she gets and selling t-shirts. Her biggest example of sexual oppression was some guy approaching her in a hotel elevator and asking her out. Anita can’t even say this.

            I’m really not going to go into an whole meaningless discussion about “hurr durr they send her rape threats on YouTubes” and how very, -very- difficult it must be to be her. It’s a waste of time and she already received more than she deserves. There are two videos by this guy (link to youtube.com). I’m certain the folks there would gladly discuss it at great lengths, if you’re still not convinced that you’re a sucker by the end of the video.

            Lastly, nobody is holding it against you. You literally are the only victim here.

        • Okami says:

          you are a horrible human being. I only logged in to tell you this and block you.

          • captainparty says:

            I also logged in to block him. What a terrible person, and what a shock: Man with childish reaction to the very idea that the fact that almost all popular products in a medium contain almost shocking levels of violence is also the same person as Man who has a childish reaction to the idea that women might be important and should be treated with at least the same amount of courtesy and respect than men are.

        • Ajh says:

          The thing about a kickstarter is no one forced anyone to donate. And I don’t see a reason to do a study about something I already KNOW exists, so I didn’t donate. IMAGINE THAT. WOW.

          If no one had commented on her stuff, if the “menz” (different from actual men, these man-children get upset when there’s a girl in their clubhouse after all, and no real men I know would attack a woman for their own insecurities.) hadn’t raised such a fuss, well her kickstarter may not have even been funded. But they got their jockstraps all tangled and twisted or something and set about a hateful gendered campaign of sexism so vile that it caused many NON GAMERS to stare in awe at the hatred being flung. If she had no grounds, there wouldn’t have been any funding.

          Honestly sir, I’m glad I can block people here, because I like the commentary at RPS, it’s usually better than kotaku’s juvenile “hurhur boobies” attitude and commenters like you might be more at home there.

      • Fluka says:

        Tangentially, the commenter block list which I calibrated on the Anita Sarkeesian threads seems to work equally well on the violence-in-game threads! Brilliant! And depressing.

        • sophof says:

          I understand what you mean, but once you only read posts that you agree with, you should really ask yourself why you read the comments? I say this because I have especially noticed in the sexism topics that people have trouble differentiating between contrary opinions and offensive opinions.

          • Pop says:

            I think Pullman puts it nicely. We shouldn’t expect to go about life without people offending us with their opinions. However there’s no justifying being offensive. There’s a distinction.

          • Fluka says:

            I read the comments because oftentimes people here say very insightful, interesting things. (I reserve a second browser with a comment-blocker installed for websites where the comments are not worth reading whatsoever.) Well-considered dissent doesn’t get blocked. However, lots of commenters repeat the same type of idiotic arguments I’ve heard several times before (“RPS why do we need to discuss sexism/violence/art it is so pretentious and why are you in favor of *censorship!*). It’s upsetting to hear over and over again, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the “debate,” so the block button improves my experience substantially.

    • Jenks says:

      Heh, Kotaku

      Whenever one of these dipshit crusades across every gaming blog starts, it always begins at Gamasutra.

    • Xerian says:

      I’m looking forward to you being banned. You’re nothing but a childish moron, throwing petty insults at everyone and telling them to fuck off.
      We *SHOULD* be discussing violence in videogames. And in EVERY media, especially as its such a big part of every culture in the world. Nathan HASNT claimed that violence in videogames is the root of the problems America has, nor has he claimed it to be the root of ANY PROBLEM. Hes not even called it a problem, hes sparking discussions, and has most likely written an excellent piece. Now, go away. You’re the one that should “fuck off”, as RPS is a place for civilised, excellent, intelligent and sensible people, not angry internet men with no sensibility, a god-complex ranting angrily at everyone who disagrees with them.
      The door is right here, now get out.
      Get out. Seriously. Please get out. You’re not part of the community that RPS has always thrived to be, and mostly is.

    • mouton says:

      Thank you, Sir, I always wondered what is that “Block” button for!

  5. trjp says:

    I’ve never had a problem playing video games in the light of any event because I’ve known for a long time that the world is full of nutters and a throwing them into a nation stupid enough to think that guns are some sort of entitlement isn’t a good mix – bad things will happen, why are we surprised, why do we even care??

    It’s perverse – people think a gun is some sort of essential item/the cure to everything against people who play games with not-real guns because – and there’s no other possible reason for it – we’re the ONLY people they can possibly tar as being worse than they are.

    “I own 23 guns but HE has a game where he SHOOTS people”

    “But they’re not real people and no harm is done in a game wheras and you own REAL guns which can kill REAL people”

    “Ah but I wont’ do that – well, unless someone tries to kill me or mine or I get drunk or my kid is depressed and mental or I get robbed or… BUT HE HAS A GAME AND HE’S MORE DANGEROUS!”

    I think a more interesting topic to discuss would be “Will Americans ever realise they aren’t all John Wayne, they are not the land of the free and we’re past caring about their shit?”

    • Deathmaster says:

      Now the Newtown shooter supposedly had an installment of Call of Duty on his PC. Anders Breivik and James Holmes (Aurora shootings) had played World of Warcraft. If the conclusion herein is that these people have been driven to their actions by presumed violence in video games, then they’re missing one crucial part.


      It’s not like these murderers were made violent by the games they played. No. It’s a simple act of social seclusion in which insane ideas are not being rationalized by their environment. And the little boy in mommas basement who barely goes outside is more likely to be playing games than to be knitting a sweater.

      • bill says:

        I think Nathan made a mistake referencing the school shooting. From my viewpoint the school shooting isn’t relevant, and ‘gaming causing school shootings’ is something that always takes us off track.

        • bonescraper says:

          Indeed. The article obviously wasn’t written on impulse just after the school shooting, so he just as well could restrain himself from referencing that event. It’s a pretty good article overall, but that sentence really puts it in a bad context.

    • DJ Madeira says:

      :| I had a feeling someone would go here. I’m glad Nate didn’t.

    • Axess Denyd says:

      Let’s not lump everyone together.

      I own 15 guns (well, if you count my wife’s) and have over 300 games in my Steam library, most of which are in some way violent. Neither I nor my guns have killed anyone (well….except maybe my Mosin-Nagant. It was likely used by the Soviet Union in WW2).

      We don’t all agree with the point that Lapiere made about video games, but it was such a minor part of the speech it seems odd to fixate on it. No one is actively pushing for new regulations on games.

      I will say, though, that your classification of gun owners seems to be almost exactly as accurate as saying video games cause mass murder.

  6. asshibbitty says:

    More importantly, why is this discussion impossible without some recent tragedy triggering it? Why are you mimicking the sensationalist approach? There was an article posted on techmeme on the same topic recently, and while it did acknowledge the crappy attitude “gamers” got about this, it didnt go beyond that. (sorry, didn’t read past first line)

    • bill says:

      Referencing the school shooting may have been a mistake, as you are right that connecting gaming to such events always takes us off track and makes us all defensive. It’d be a better discussion to have with cooler heads. But other than that, I thought the article was well written and made good points.

      • asshibbitty says:

        I’ll read it when I get to a distraction free environment. If anyone’s interested here’s the article I’m talking about:

        link to buzzfeed.com

        I’m not linking to it because it’s good, check out the Facebook conversations comments tab. The guy with the first post, that smug fucker is the face of everything that’s wrong with this goddamn hobby.

    • Rhuhuhuhu says:

      More interestingly, why does one massacre trigger a response, but not those 242 gun-related deaths since then in The States:

      link to slate.com

      As far as I can see, it’s not a male sensitivity to violence, but an American fascination with firearms. No country in the world is so dead-set on having firearms as a symbol of power and freedom. Christmas has suddenly turned a lot more dark:

      link to theverge.com

      • bonescraper says:

        242 deaths SINCE? Damn, i read it wrong the first time and i thought that’s a yearly statistic.

        • x1501 says:

          242 per year? HA! The average number of gun homicides in the U.S. is more than 9,000 per year. That excludes annual firearm suicides, which total to roughly 17,000 or so.

          To compare the statistic to that of UK:
          “In 2008-2009, there were 39 fatal injuries from crimes involving firearms in England and Wales, with a population about one sixth the size of America’s. In America, there were 12,000 gun-related homicides in 2008.”

          • 2helix4u says:

            That is completely, terrifyingly insane.

            Surely we can lower this number by giving more guns to good guys though right? MY BRAIN.

            No wonder the US is frightened of foreign nations, if their fellow citizens are killing each-other in their thousands just imagine how much damage a foreigner could do.

            edit: I just realised that you don’t mean 17k deaths WITH suicides included. Its actually around 30,000 people shot to death per year if you include people who shot themselves. How do 30,000 lives a year not outweigh an oddly worded amendment from colonial times.

  7. fenriz says:

    could it be any simpler?

    Violence in videogames is bad because it’s gratuitous. In movies it is not.

    Videogames don’t offer any sort of consequence or deep interaction with the environment that would make kids sensible about their actions. It has no context, no world.

    So violence in videogames is very very bad, because technology took huge steps before the brain did. There’s no balance!
    and when there’s no balance somewhere, something always goes awry.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      I think you’ll find there’s a lot of gratuitous violence in movies dude.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’m not sure I understand. Movies have plenty of gratuitous violence, and games often have real-world contexts. Plus, society will always change faster than human physiology. Up to us to use our nouse to adapt to that.

    • f1x says:

      One of the differences is that in movies you have sort of a wide offer, something that is sometimes lacking in videogames, in this past 10 years with the market dominated by call of dutys and assassin’s creeds

      And there have been plenty of movies that questioned violence and became cult movies and plenty of studies and talkings about that, thats another big difference YOU CAN cuestion violence in movies but its hard to question violence in videogames without getting people too defensive or agressive

      Of course things are changing, in the very present days, videogames have started to expand a bit on what they can offer with the rise of indie games and independant developers, something that happened with movies a while ago when the Hollywood fatigue started

    • Dan Lowe says:

      I think that movies/TV (right now at least) are considerably more influential than games. I don’t identify with events in games, while movies are real people getting my mirror neurons flashing, acting out scenarios meant to be portrayed in a realistic and emotion-jarring way. I watched two clearly fictional movies this week, Battle Los Angeles and Battleship, and every one of my American military loyalist nerves was firing, telling me the military guys are the good guys and I should go be one. Mind you I’ve also owned and operated firearms since I was a toddler, and grew up at gun shows where my dad (former marine, police and lifelong outdoorsman) actually had tables, so my exposure to the very root of American exceptionalism and libertarian attitudes to weapons is different than most.

      Media makes us emotional, on some level. The* Media makes it worse, because they dictate a narrative to be consumed sufficiently to string us from one commercial break to the next. The question for us is whether our preferred medium of choice contributes to this or if it’s merely in response to it.

    • Whosi says:

      Gratuitous violence doesn’t exist in movies? Sorry, wrong answer..


    • jhng says:

      I suspect you may be trolling a little here, but in my view it’s the other way round:

      In movies violence is more likely to be gratuitous than in games. Look at classic action cinema — it’s basically bodycount for bodycount’s sake.

      By contrast in games the violence serves a key function — it serves as a the most obvious and direct analogue for the competition and challenge that is at the heart of any game mechanic. Even in chess they talk about ‘capturing’ other pieces.

      Think about the history of violence in videogames: in Mario you want to have the challenge of making Mario jump onto a moving object in order to progress and avoid restarting if the object hits him. Easiest way to explain this is make the object a creature and say ‘kill the goomba by jumping on it before it kills you’. Similar story following the move to 3D environments and FPS. Okay the challenge is navigating a simulated 3D environment while clicking on moving objects that will fail the game for you if they get to close. The natural form of these mechanics is ‘shoot the monsters before they kill you’ – Doom. From that point we just escalate in graphic fidelity and — admittedly — bloodsplat effects for the wow factor.

      Personally, I am increasingly uncomfortable with realistic violence in games — Max Payne 3 was a bit too much for me — but perfectly comfortable with the comic book violence of a game like Borderlands 2 where it is very much violence in the service of mechanics rather than vice-versa (they all resurrect, ffs!). However, I think it would be wrong to try and suggest that violence in passive media like film or books is somehow more legitimate than violence in games. (On the subject of books — the classic whodunnit like those of Agatha Christie is an example of using horrible violence (murder as often as not) as an analogue for logic puzzle mechanics.)

      On Newtown (which left me feeling sick for days, my children are only a little younger than those murdered) the NRA’s suggestion that the correct response is to put an armed guard in every school (thereby selling lots more guns for its core corporate membership while hugely increasing the risk of gun deaths for children) was one of the most disgusting things I have ever heard.

      • f1x says:

        You are right,
        my point is that there are some missunderstandings when comparing movies to videogames:

        – First of all they are different media, that is to be sure

        – There is gratuitous violence in movies, a lot,
        but the difference is there has been a lot of debate about that and it was a legitimate one, the problem is still there but it seems like the movie industry is more open to it, the videogame counterpart is only just at the start so we have to travel a road that movies have already made half way of it
        And you can be an adult and watch adult movies without being bombarded with machos and violence and even when portraying violence they can do it in a way that makes you think, there a lot of movies to show that but you dont get many videogames that make you think about

        – Saying that movies are not censored but videogames are is just false, movies have been censored a whole lot and there has always been controversy in the past, movies have been blamed for tragedys as much as videogames and is the same with music,

        Thats not to say violence is legitimate in any media, on the contrary, but going defensive like…. “if movies can, videogames can too”, well movies not always can and when they can its not always like in videogames

      • fenriz says:

        I may be trolling a bit, sure, but there’s also a clear point, it’s just a sarcastic tone.

        I doubt there’s as much gratuitous violence in movies as there is in games. REALLY. YEs there were many action movies in ’80s. And hey they stopped making them, all the heroes are retired, the expendable flicks fail, Schwarzenegger felt he had to make sensible movies about war.

        Violence in movies will never be as numerous and senseless as that in videogames. It’s the repetition(which is, as you pointed out, competition) that makes someone turn crazy and too many kids turn stupid as they are. Don’t tell me the last mission impossible bodycount is even remotely comparable to that of any videogame. Do not. I repeat, it’s when violence becoems competition, sport, that becomes amoral. Sport has no morality(people throw spears, weights, shoots bows and pistols), and killing, becoming sport, also becomes acceptable.

        And what if movies and games were equally bad? As the person here above said, does this allow us to be horrible?

        Videogames have to offer more realism! Not to graphics but the possibility of interaction. Every game has to contain puzzles, half of the game should be about non-killing interaction. There’s just too much killing and no puzzles :)

        It can’t be any simpler, as i said: videogames, when they were created, were all about killing stuff… as you mentioned, there’s Mario. But yep, graphics in mario are innocent, you weren’t killing people, just little pixels. Technology went forward, but gameplay didn’t evolve AT ALL, in action games.

        And it’s useless to say well there’s other genres for puzzles, let us shoot stuff in action games, that’s why they’re action. But no, it’s the action genre that should loose a bit of its rigidity.

        • jhng says:

          I think you put your finger on an important point when you refer to video game violence as ‘senseless’ and compare bodycounts. However — again — I come at this from a different angle:

          The act of shooting a monster in Doom or a bandit in Far Cry 3 has much more meaning as a ludic act than as a representation of violence. As a representation of violence it is virtually meaningless and to my mind this makes the violence much less problematic than the violence in a film which only has meaning as a representation of violence (or in the case of action movies as a signifier of empowerment for the protagonist with whom we are expected to identify). The bodycount in any videogame is way higher than in a film but that is precisely because those ‘deaths’ are essentially just a metaphorical scorecard rather than any meaningful representation of the reality of violent death.

          Where I think games do need to tread much more carefully is where they start to push into representations of death as more direct entertainment rather than being part and parcel of mechanics — for example, violence in cutscenes and violent killcams where the presentation of the violence is essentially a discrete reward for a successful ludic act rather than the dress-up of the ludic act itself. Here the game is essentially moving from using violence as the analogue for play (which is as old as time itself) towards using violent representations as a reward for play — an act which in itself implies entertainment value to the violence and tells people ‘you should enjoy watching this, that’s why it’s your reward’.

          Picking up Agatha Christie again, it is as though the payoff of an Agatha Christie novel rather than being satisfaction (or surprise) when you find out how the puzzle all fits together — and how close your guess was — was an extract from American Psycho describing graphic details of the original killing and the feelings or the killer.

          (I haven’t expressed myself very well above — apologies in advance for confusion, best I can manage on a Friday afternoon)

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          All I can say to your opinion on movie violence is this: you’re not watching the right movies.

  8. Tuckey says:

    Easy way to get a few extra hits over the quiet Christmas period eh

    • trjp says:

      Like David Cameron who said he’d not use his disabled son for political brownie points…

    • Godwhacker says:

      Yes, let’s always assume it’s about getting “hits” and ad revenue whenever someone on a website writes about a controversial topic and doesn’t come to the same conclusions that you have.

      That’s a completely sensible position.

  9. DodgyG33za says:

    I think the underlying problem is not with games. It is with a society fixated on instant gratification and fame.

    There are some people that think this can be achieved with an assault rifle. And they are right. They become famous. And the media feeds on this, eventually making entertainment that inspires the next generation.

    Anyone who watches the films or buys the games or watches the one hour specials on how the massacre unfolded is complicit. Which, given that is human nature to be fascinated by such things, is all of us.

    Pretty sad really.

    • Josh W says:

      Exactly, an entertainment industry with a direct symbiotic relationship with mass killings. If you want to be cross about anyone causing them, go there first.

      Reducing the sales of guns and ammo in america would probably help too.

      On the other hand, I personally think many games are a little too violent, and would rather they give options to make them less so. That’s my personal reaction though, and not any reaction to the recent american shooting, nor a way to avoid it.

  10. bramble says:

    How timely. I’m certainly looking forward to reading some more on this subject.

    My girlfriend of 2 years is not a gamer, has no interest in games, and can’t understand why I do. More than a few times we’ve had talks, and slightly more heated talks, about the content of the games I play and what effect it could be having. Clearly, like all culture and media, I am subtly effected by what I am exposed to. My expectations and sense of normal shifts to accomodate the messages that are out there: from what brand of toothpaste is best to what gender roles I fill and expect others to. What, then, has the varying degrees of and ever-increasing graphical fidelity of the violence I have been exposed to through video games done to me? How would I even know.

    Even if talking about these things doesn’t shed any light on my personal questions, I agree with Nathan that it is good for the industry to have a greater awareness of what it produces. Trust me, there is nothing like living with a non-gamer whose opinion is very important to you to make you see just how stupid many games can be. I’d love for a more thoughtful, artistically and culturally relevant gaming industry, on par with how film, television, and literature is treated.

    • chrisguitar says:

      That is a good point.
      Living with girlfriends who are not into games taught me much about my hobby.

      Before them my parents talked with me about my games. The first time they saw me playing a shooter they asked me why there had to be shooting in the game. My reaction was “Leave me and my games alone, you don’t understand any of this” like any self-centered 14-year old who is annoyed by his/her parents.

      Now i am above 30 and when my non-gamer girlfriend asks me, why the most prominent artifact on my screen is a gun, i start asking myself the same thing.
      I am a pacifist and playing first-person shooters? How does this work together? Note: i don’t play military shooters. That’s simply too much for my delicate little goody-two-shoes soul.
      But when the enemy is a mutant/zombie/alien/whatever: fire at will!

      My theory is this: the first real mainstream blockbusters in games simply happened to be shooters: Doom, Quake, Unreal. After that, the way to go if you wanted a blockbuster was: make a shooter. Nearly every new major blockbuster-game from there on was a shooter (not counting the early console-generations from Nintendo and Sega but they are rarely the target of critisizm).
      I grew up with them i didn’t question it. Everyone played Unreal, so did i. Everyone played Half Life, so did i. I didn’t think about it.

      Now that i started thinking about it, i believe: shooters are holding gaming back as a whole.
      Every now and then i still play shooters, but it got stale for me.
      “Why am i another muscular dude running around with a huge gun? This is ridiculous.”
      I enjoy RPGs now. But even there i think to myself “Why am i fighting all the time? This is kinda stupid.”.

      There are numerous examples of great “core” games which don’t solely depend on violence. Planescape Torment, The Walking Dead, Heavy Rain just to name a few.
      Why can’t violence be treated like in movies? A dramaturgical instrument, nothing more.
      There are good movies which mainly focus on violence (i liked the Expendables) and thus some games can do this too (i liked Bulletstorm) but not so many.
      That’s simply boring.

      Sorry for my bad english.

      • Fluka says:

        Speaking as a former “girlfriend” (i.e., a lady who was around lots of folks inc. boyfriend playing videogames, but not understanding why running around trying to shoot other human-shaped collections of pixels was supposed to be the height of modern entertainment), I agree with all of the above. I didn’t get interested in gaming until I realized there were beautiful, complicated modern games with interactive elements beyond “point gun at man to kill man” – Portal, the non-shooty parts of Mass Effect, etc. I now fully admit to enjoying many games with a fair degree of stabbyshootiness, but I find the idea that the core mechanic of modern gameplay is “What methods are we using to kill people?” to be extremely *boring*. I want there to be many types of games, just like there are many types of book or film. Indie games have been getting better at reaching this type of variety – I just went through Dear Esther last night which, love it or hate it (and I loved it), really is an experiment to create the anti-FPS – but mainstream games still seem stuck in this mindset. I want games to be free to try new things beyond “new clever ways to kill men/monsters/blobs” etc

      • NathanH says:

        The problem is clearly demonstrated by the games you mention: even though they are very highly-regarded, they are actually have poor gameplay mechanics. They’re trying to do things that video games currently don’t have the tools to do particularly effectively without abandoning the appeal of being games. Let’s think about what sorts of things lend themselves to good video game mechanics. For action games, it’s things that are easy to simulate using the control tools at hand. Apart from abstract action games, these are typically sport and combat.

        For non-action games, it’s things that can be easily abstracted into a simulation without losing a sense of plausibility. We have more options here: typically computer games are good at simulating combat, business, transport, manufacture, and cities. Of those, combat is likely to get more attention because first of all it’s more exciting and second it is potentially the most personal.

        This “personal” point is perhaps important. I suspect people like games about things that resonate with them, and personal stories tend to resonate more deeply than larger-scale stories. When it comes to simulating personal stories, video games don’t have particularly good gameplay tools. Practically all modern RPGs now sidestep entirely any attempt to simulate conversation, for instance, instead falling back on the primitive choose-your-own-adventure dialogue tree. Interactions between individuals are very hard to simulate in a non-absurd way—except physical conflict.

      • f1x says:

        I think thats a missconception, that action = combat, therefore fun = killing

        You can have action games without killing people (platformers) and if you kill, it dosnt have to be so visceral or dosnt have to be hyperviolent, the problem to this is most probably how manshooters/gunFPS have become the king of all games

        but is it necessary for them to be so explicit and violent? I think thats what we need to discuss
        for example the polemical “No russian” mission in Modern Warfare 2, was it really necessary as it was? did it made it a better game or made you more emotionally connected to the history?

  11. Demon Beaver says:

    I’ve been thinking of that myself lately…

    There’s been a violent crime in my neighborhood last week. No permanent damage to the victims, apparently, but a certain attitude behind it (attacking someone as a result of being asked to move your car) really made me angry when I heard of it. So angry, in fact, that I immediately had a weird fantasy of having been there and beating on the offenders with something metallic, in the vibe of HLM or Condemned.

    This made me wonder, how would I have reacted if I had actually been there (probably too scared to do that kind of thing) and whether these thoughts (which I am sure have some kind of connection to me playing violent video games since I was 10, 15 years ago) are a negative thing.

    On one hand, yes, it probably would not have helped if I had killed or maimed two relatively minor delinquents with a tire iron, so even the thought of doing it is probably not that good.

    On the other hand, I have to think of The Clockwork Orange, where the protagonist (if you can call him that) is brainwashed into getting sick when confronted with violence and the effect is… problematic. Trying to blank out these kind of thoughts is not the best way to go either, I assume…

    While this is to me quite a bit of food for thought, I will obviously continue playing Far Cry 2 and all the other games I enjoy. I agree, though, that awareness of the violence in games and how it affects the player is important to us all.

    • Nafu says:

      It might not have helped to kill or maim them, but a mild beating would at least teach them that their actions have consequences. And if the victim had instead turned the tables on them, or someone else had intervened, I’m sure you would have approved on some level, as would I.

      We are violent creatures, and the world is a violent place. Like other media, video games merely reflect, and capitalise on, this unfortunate fact. We criticise the USA because its murder rate is high for a first world country, but it is below the global average, and doesn’t even compare to the murder rates of many other nations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticise, or discuss the role our hobby arguably plays; I just want to offer a little perspective. Perhaps we should ask our African and Latin American friends how they feel about video game violence?

  12. tigershuffle says:

    I inboxed RPS with this BBC story yesterday…… link to bbc.co.uk

    EA have (been forced?!) withdrawn the links on the Warfighter website that took you straight to gun manufacturers etc…
    Makes a further nonsense of the NRA stance against video games when their own paymasters are using the games industry to sell their wares………… fuckberks

    • elderman says:

      I read an article recently, can’t remember where or find the article after a search of my most common news sources, about the symbiotic relationship between the gun industry lobby and video game companies. It made the same point that for years gun hobbyists supported FPS games as a way to increase interest in guns. They educated and trained game makers with that intention. They thought for years that gun-focused games were good for gun sales, gun hobbyists, and gun rights.

      Similarly, the game industry has catered to gun hobbyists. They’ve found plenty of success making games about guns.

      Not sure either party is being exploited: they’ve had common interests for a long time.

    • yatagarasu says:

      Not sure how NRA works, but think it is nonprofitable organization. It does not sell weapons. It is a club of people who love shooting and have fun of this. They have a right to posses firearms and fight the public opinion to stop their rights.
      In contradiction to Game Developers, who sleep and dream about new Ferrari, and would not stop before anything just to make their games popular and profitable. The want to see more and more people playing video games. They’ll sell their mother just to be popular and loved by public. They are sick in the head egoistic bastards.

      That’s my opinion. May be it’s to harsh. But Video Game Industry is driven mainly by making money principle. Even it have authority as moral standard. Like literature and cinema.

      • John Brindle says:

        The NRA is an industry lobbying organization with an enormous amount of money flowing through it via donations. Its CEO has a near-million-dollar salary and it spends millions more in lobbying, elections and campaign donations to sympathetic legislators.

        I’m not saying “it has money therefore is evil”, but you have to understand it as primarily a lobbyist organisation for gun manufacturers. It is not a happy fun club of shooting enthusiasts (or not JUST that). it is a clearing house for money from gun companies which allows them to influence US politics. That is its major function. And this obviously is not a function which is completely divorced from ‘profit’!

        • Axess Denyd says:

          I’m sure it does a lot for gun manufacturers, but it is to help protect the rights of gun owners.

          Gun companies don’t have a say in how the NRA is run, the board is elected by members, who have to be memebers for (I believe) 5 years before they are allowed to vote in elections.

          So sure, gun companies can get more sales based on their actions, but to say that they exist primarily to serve the gun companies is coming at it from exactly the wrong direction.

  13. TechnicalBen 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.”
    This. Not read the rest of the article yet, but this is what most people forget. The violence in a game might be “fictional” but it imitates real life. That can be really important if we think about the settings and actions in a game.

    Most games now have QT events, which I really dislike. Why? Because I many not want to shoot a person, when I can just walk by. What about telling them that we need to work together to fight the “aliens” instead of mowing them down on my way? Although, most of that is just “story” which is sidelined compared to the gruesome effects shown.

    I don’t care if it’s real or fictional, I don’t want to watch humans/people being painfully or sickeningly destroyed on screen. :/

    • Fathom says:

      Exactly. The “it’s just a game” argument holds water, but is also partially missing the point. Why have developers bothered with improving graphics at all if it’s “just a game”? The intention is to make them more real. I was 7 when I played Doom, but that was a cartoon. We’ll be at photorealism within 10 years. Violence in video games will not be able to be treated trivially then.

  14. Fathom says:

    Games have become extremely graphic. No one likes to talk about it, because it’s shameful, at least in cases where the games in question have no excuse to be graphic in the first place (Bulletstorm). Dishonored and Red Dead Redemption, to name two of many, treat it as necessary extensions of the story. In Dishonored, you don’t even have to kill anyone, but when you do – it’s graphic and treated seriously (as it should). In cases like this, it’s fine because it’s done with taste. It really all comes down to the artistic intent, same with movies.

    Spec Ops was pretty much the definitive statement on video game violence. In the game itself, it was used to send a message, but the deeper point it implicitly made was that the message isn’t even worth it if you have to do everything it’s asking you to do to get there. Do we endure video game violence for the other discoveries, or do we just enjoy the act of violence on it’s own?

    • Carbonated Dan says:

      Bulletstorm is not needlessly graphic per se

      Bulletstorm exists as the bombastic epitome of an artform – its violent gusto is the sole defining feature, and the pure focus imbues the game with a purpose quite absent from, say, Gears of War, which has lost itself amongst the entrails of cheap pathos and the most unabashed warrior-cult crap since Starship Troopers (the pompous soapbox book, not the fun satirical film)

      I don’t enjoy playing Bulletstorm, but lets not pretend its clearly utopian consequence-free violence is some great evil when there are so many devout disciples of mars proclaiming murderous intent a virtue

    • mpk says:

      I’ve avoided playing Dishonoured specifically because the trailers showed how graphic the ingame violence was.

      “If only we could talk to the monsters…”

  15. rulez says:

    I’m grateful for anyone who can keep their calm and publish reasonable arguments, in light of the decades long ongoing legendary fail of people blaming games or movies and the like.

  16. widowfactory says:

    Excellent, excellent article. Something i’ve thought for a long time but the vast majority of gamers instantly respond so negatively to any suggestion of even mentioning violence in games it makes it extremely difficult to discuss intelligently (even here, on RPS, where generally the quality of comments are higher than the rest of the ‘net, most of the comments in response to this are negative or sarcastic)

  17. Rusky says:

    I’m not sure what’s happening to RPS but I don’t like it.
    First the silly “sexism in videogames” crap and now this ? I thought this site was supposed to be free from the mainstream media “feeding frenzy”, guess not…

    • Kaira- says:

      Gods above help us if RPS were to discuss about video games and where they are going.

    • fenriz says:

      do you really think RPS should ignore the only REAL problem about videogames?

    • asshibbitty says:

      You may wanna check out how deep the “sexism” tag goes on this site.

    • Ajh says:

      Oh Right! Because there’s no sexism in games. That woman was just harassed because there isn’t anything to talk about am I right? People made a beat em up game and tried to get her videos flagged filled her wikipedia page with hate speech and porn and made over 5000 comments about it because the issue didn’t exist? I’m sorry but you can’t pretend that one doesn’t exist either. Go spend some time on some of the blogs dedicated to listing the things men have said to women who have dared to enter THEIR sacred gaming space and picture your mom or your sister as the receiver of those comments. Silly that you would get upset at someone graphically threatening your mother with sexual violence huh?

      There IS sexism in video game culture, and there IS violence in video games. Simply talking about it without the “I’M RIGHT YOUR WRONG!!!” stick our fingers in our ears approach is not silly.

      Examining the medium we use for entertainment isn’t a waste of time. People do it with literature all the time, why not examine games too?

      • Gap Gen says:

        Don’t be silly. Sexism is silly, you silly billy. The fact that society is still deeply divided by gender is just a silly, silly notion, you funny bunny.

        • Ajh says:

          I just get these strange silly ideas that because I’m a woman that has played video games since my mother put an intellivision controller into my 3 year old hands that I’m equal to any man, even though most of the men I meet don’t even know what an intellivision was. I also am silly to attempt with my girly hands to build gaming computers, and my sister is definitely silly, since she’s going into programming with a focus on game designs. We’re SO SILLY. We should just leave it to the men and stay in the kitchen or something. (That reminds me, I should probably make more applesauce for the weekend..mhm strawberry applesauce….)

      • Rusky says:

        I’m sorry dear, did I offend you ?
        It’s hard to tell, most women seem to be offended at the mere sight of their own shadow these days.

        In case you’re still reading, how about checking this out:

        So why don’t you and your mother and whoever else, just keep to your “sacred places” and leave video games alone.
        If you want to play, go ahead and play by the rules like everyone else. I’d rather video games didn’t turn into the same feminist catering buffet society has turned into lately.

        OT: My concern with people “discussing” violence in video games is that it might result in even more censorship and innovation stifling (oh sorry can’t create that nasty alien with sword arms because it’s too violent. Let’s make it more like a panda bear instead ! And not show any kill scenes, like in those B movies that didn’t have enough money to do them ;).

        So go ahead, discuss how to censor them.

        • Jehuty says:

          Sweet fucking christ. Congratulations if you were going for offensive, I guess? I do indeed find your attitude loathsome and puerile. You missed your target though, I’m a dude. Here’s a tip, next time you encounter a member of the opposite gender, try not thinking “Great, what is she going to do to get my attention now? *mental eyeroll* ” Instead, maybe try “Oh, here is a person, trying to go about her person life, with her own person interests that may or may not coincide with my own, possibly even without some ulterior motive.” I know there’s more words there, but don’t worry, your brain will be able to process them all eventually.

          You say you don’t want to stifle innovation? Creativity and innovation generally mean moving away from industry standards and norms. We have plenty of “nasty aliens with sword arms” already. I greatly enjoy the games you seem to think are on the chopping block, the mobas, the Demon’s Souls, the old twitch shooters, the bullet hells, the precision platformers, the “hardcore” etc. as much as the next guy, probably more. Bulletstorm was one of my favorite games of 2011, and Hotline Miami was certainly one of my favorites in 2012. I go to my games for skill-based challenge and nerve-searing reflex action and even the sinfully pleasurable simplicity of Skinner box style gratification. And whatever grand revolution comes, this is not going to change.

          What might happen is the ultra-real, super in your face portrayals of violence might diminish a little. Not disappear certainly, but be treated with more maturity than they are now, and when they are not, become a niche of their own rather than the mainstream fixation. Much like not every action movie ever has to have “Saw” or “Hostel” levels of gorn. Experimentation with new genres, with new thematic material is going to result in many, many more games, not many less.

          This is not a discussion of censorship. No one here, not one person, is saying “These games must not be made.” This is a discussion about mindfulness, about maintaining self-awareness of what we enjoy and why we enjoy it, and whether completely intimate depictions of human suffering needs to be the majority of it. The problems we are discussing here cannot be met with silence, and the multitude of solutions that people will come up with are tremendously exciting.

          Also, fuck you. Seriously. I really don’t think I got that through clearly enough in the beginning, and I was getting kind of optimistic towards the end, so it bears restating. Fuck. You.

    • mrbeman says:


      “Where can I read about videogames without ever having to think even the most tiniest bit?”

      Try anywhere else.

    • CommanderZx2 says:

      “I’m not sure what’s happening to RPS but I don’t like it.”

      Indeed it is pretty sad, I’m running out of genuine gaming blogs to visit. They’re mostly filled with garbage now.

  18. cheezr says:

    I’m not big on violence in games but only because it’s so uncreative. I’d rather solve a puzzle or explore and use stealth to complete an objective.

    • Kadayi says:

      Same. I’m not wholesale against violence in games , but if your games narrative is simply one of moving from one firefight to another it does kind of wear after a while, especially when you’re killing hundreds of combatants in the process, especially if you’re attempting in some manner to tell a gritty story.

      Max Payne 3 for instance. Loved the shooting mechanics, but goddamn it if I didn’t decimate the male population of San Paulo & Brooklyn in that game.

  19. HungryDinosaur says:

    Thanks RPS – it’s really important that we discuss this. I don’t believe there’s any credence to the argument that video games cause violence but violence is in an important part of the experience and we should mindful of that.

    This might sound ridiculous but I was mugged recently and it felt like I feel when I play DayZ – that fight or flight / sheer terror… I guess sometimes our gaming experiences and violence do really intersect…

  20. AmateurScience says:

    I certainly find that as games move visually from pixelly/polygonal abstraction to approach near-photorealism I’m having more trouble tolerating the more graphic excesses of some recent games.

    The worst/most troubling moments are when player agency (the great towering strength of games as a medium) is removed. Recent (for me) example: In the first assassin’s creed. The first proper assassination mission, the target brutally murders one of his servants right in front of the PC, an act that I am unable to stop and am basically forced to watch Clockwork Orange style. I put the game down there because that scene upset me a great deal. Violence should ideally always be a choice. And the best games (with conflict as a central theme) allow you to choose not only how but if you apply violence to a situation.

    Player agency must be king.

  21. Heliocentric says:

    I recently performed a reduction in range of what my son could play because I felt like his imagination was suffering from a bias towards battles and shooting and swords etc. The effects have been gradual but I’m glad to have made the shift but its frustrating how many games he would dearly love to explore (open world games with vast detail) boil down to bishing peoples heads in.

    While strategic and management games are well represented open world games without violence are few and far between (thank you minecraft peaceful mode).

    While games that more evenly represent conflict (Company of Heroes) have been allowed in moderation the whole “kill 400 people in half an hour games are off the range.

  22. golem09 says:

    I always see violence in context. Playing Splatterhouse, Mortal Combat or Far Cry 3 is ok for me.
    You kill anonymous henchmen like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a no brain action flick where violence is just oversimplified.

    Then I see stuff like The Last of Us, and I am completely disgusted.
    I think this is the first time EVER, that we should even begin to discuss violence in videogames, because oversimplifying of violence was a technical neccessity before, but now is just a matter of choice.

    • Fathom says:

      To me it’s kind of the opposite. If violence is treated realistically, making the player feel something when he kills someone, it’s done it’s job.

      • cappstv says:

        I think you are completely right about what Last of Us is doing with it’s violence. But, and this maybe what golem09 was referring to when they brought the game up, when it was shown at E3 there was that moment when the entire audience cheered when the NPC buddy blew away a guy with a shotgun.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Right, context is very important. Bastion’s message about war and its effect on people is deep and meaningful, even if it is mainly a game about beating things with hammers. Meanwhile, Call of Duty has a rather nasty subtext, ignoring the effects of war and torture on people and instead promoting a rather garbled, nationalistic message.

      • Ajh says:

        Bastion’s message was at it’s best when the music and the narrator and all were going on and I was dragging someone who’d been my enemy through a crowd of hateful people, all alone, as if forgiving him was a horrible thing for me to do.

        I couldn’t put him down and hit them, I had to keep walking along, peaceful instead.

  23. Taidan says:

    Hang on, I thought we’d proved beyond a doubt that Westerns were the root cause of violence in society, like, decades ago?

    Seriously, we need to start thinking about banning cowboy movies ASAP, before any more killings take place.

  24. Jerykk says:

    There’s not much to talk about. There’s no correlation between videogame violence and real-life violence, just as there’s no correlation between movie violence, TV violence, cartoon violence, comic violence, literary violence, etc, and real-life violence. Real-life violence is the easiest way to feel empowered. That’s why these shooting sprees most commonly happen in schools or business areas. It’s easier to feel empowered when you’re the only one with a gun.

    If we want to curb real-life violence, we need to look to the root of the problem: crappy parents. I’ll venture a guess and say that at least 90% of violent criminals had lousy upbringings. Abuse and negligence typically result in antisocial and/or sociopathic adults. The solution? Put restrictions on parenthood. You should not be allowed to have children if you meet any of the following conditions:

    – You have a criminal record.
    – You have a history of drug abuse.
    – You have a history of mental illness.
    – You don’t have sufficient income to support a child.
    – Your IQ is below a minimum level.
    – You never graduated from high school.
    – You are single.
    – You failed to pass a mandatory parenthood training course.
    – Your living conditions are unfit for children.

    If the above requirements were actually enforced, violent crime would be decreased significantly.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Also if you are a communist or trades unionist, homosexual or non-white.

      Godwin’s Law aside, that kind of social programming is pretty abhorent. People will always go crazy and kill people; the role of the state is to minimise the number of times that happens.

    • mrbeman says:

      “I’ll make some stuff up and then use that as my reason to instate a totalitarian regime.”


      That is WAY better than thinking critically about our hobby ever.

    • JohnS says:

      For someone who is so certain that video games do not cause violence, you sure are certain about other things causing violence.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        Wouldn’t you agree that mental illness, abuse and neglect are probably a bit more likely to lead to real violence than a videogame?

    • Stellar Duck says:

      “- Your IQ is below a minimum level.
      – You never graduated from high school.
      – You are single.”

      Don’t these prevent you as well?

    • Tomac says:

      My mother, who grew up poor (and at times was homeless) due to her parents having health issues causing them to be unable to work, never graduated from high school. But she went on to meet my father and have 4 children and eventually become a pharmacist after having worked at a nursing home.

      By no means did we grow up poor, never were we abused or neglected. But according to you she’s a terrible person who is unfit to have children.

      Are you saying my three brothers and I, who are all adults and have never committed a crime worse than a speeding ticket and all love playing video games, should have never been born?

      Clearly we’re all going to commit horrible acts of violence right?

      What a joke.

    • BobbyKotickIsTheAntichrist says:

      So, your solution amounts to fascism and eugenics.

      • mouton says:

        Eugenics are cool, as long as they have reasonable rules. Adolf kind of spoiled them for us for a while.

    • jhng says:

      Yes — parenting is the most important job in the world and yet we have virtually zero framework for educating people about parenting. To my mind, parenting and family/relational dynamics really belong in the national curriculum alongside longshore drift (apparently they don’t actually teach that anymore so the knowledge will die — hooray!).

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      I’ve got four words that discount virtually everything you listed there:

      Eric Harris
      Dylan Klebold

      • Dervish says:

        I don’t need to agree with or even follow the original argument to know that your one case cannot “discount” a claim about decreasing total violent crime significantly.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          Jerykk is blaming the parents when parenting rarely comes into play in these types of tragedies.

          Many of his causation theories are rendered blatantly incorrect when you take into account that the overwhelming majority of school shootings involve white, mentally competent, privileged middle-class young men with no prior criminal records and relatively stable family backgrounds. That goes for a large portion of general mass shootings too. Klebold and Harris were just examples.

          If he’s going to make blanket claims, he needs to be accurate.

    • darkChozo says:

      Actually, if you follow the relevant statistics, I think you’ll find that the best way to reduce crime in the US would be to kill all the poor and all black people (I’d have to consult a criminologist to determine which one to start with, I’ve forgotten).

      Oh, and also, fuck you.

  25. Aaarrrggghhh says:

    Ah, cant wait for the glorious E3 2013 with cutting out tongues from alive victims, waterboarding enemies in quicktime events and being able to not only cut our enemies to pieces but also being able to eviscerate them in great detail.
    And the audience will applaud as they did this year. Most likely even louder. And the few head shaking journalists in the crowed will be swallowed by the loud clapping of joy over more and more violence. And the publisher will continue because they get such a positive feedback and most importantly: this stuff sells.

    To be honest, I have been given up on this cause. I have said this for years now: games got more and more brutal with every year and this is most prominent during E3. It’s not that there are MORE violent games, but those which are violent have increased their violence in some sort of wicked violence race. Was there some sort of secret hipster memo that in 2012 neck-stabbing is the new thing? Most likely it was transported around the world by a bowman in a helicopter…

    I simply don’t get it anymore. And don’t get me wrong, many of those are good or great games. But you know what? They still would be amazing games with less violence. In most cases (Spec Ops the Line being the wonderful counter-example) It’s just there, it serves no purpose.

  26. inteuniso says:

    Violence in video games isn’t awful. It’s when every major release is violent, that you should start taking notice. Every AAA game release has something to do with violence, and the protagonist committing some act of violence.

    This does not happen in books, this does not happen in movies, this does not happen in music, this does not happen in other forms of art. Why should we let it happen in video games? I think it’s time, as gamers, to grow up and start asking for more. Why can’t we play a role-playing game where we proceed through a story, a drama or romance? Why must we have violence in almost every single video game?

    • Kaira- says:

      Thank you for putting it into words I couldn’t. The presence of violence in the sphere of gaming is acceptable, as it is with movies and books and whatnot. However, when it dominates the sphere so completely that it almost suffocates everything else it’s time to question where the medium is going to.

    • Ajh says:

      Why. when I am asked to think of games where I can win without violence that aren’t puzzle, card, simulation, and racing games the only thing that come to mind is Planescape Torment.

      Yes, we should demand more out of our games.

    • bill says:

      I agree. It’s not violence in some games, it’s a constant diet of violence in every game. And while chocolate from time to time is great, a constant diet of it will make you both sick and fat (and sick of chocolate).

      I do understand why it’s the case, combat and it’s associated violence fit very nicely with what games do well. But it’s a shame that we haven’t evolved games that much other than making the deaths more realistic.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      We need to ask what the violence means to us before we accuse it of anything.

      We like challenges, and especially challenges with high stakes. Nothing is more satisfying and empowering than mastering skills that lead to our triumph over threat. Here violence is secondary to mastery.

      Violence can be about mindless dominance, or the sense of empowerment over something oppressing us. Egotism or liberation. These discussions seem to always assume that its about the former. For me violent video games are a release, a way to blow off steam – not a kind of bullying simulator.

      We fight ‘bad guys’ in games and seek victory over them, going from victim to victor. Its not about the exercise of power over innocents, which is what is happening in shootings in real life. Unless of ccourse the gunmen have convinced themselves that e everyone is somehow guilty, this theme does not connect the motivations between real violence and virtual violence.

  27. Yargh says:

    There should be more sex in 16+ rated games. Make love, not war … etc

    • HungryDinosaur says:


    • Stellar Duck says:

      I greatly prefer sex to violence in my day to day life and I too would like to see more of it in games and less of the increasingly obnoxious violence.

      I think my own spiral of increasing disgust of violence in games started when I beat up a black dude in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Conviction. That was the start. And so far it’s led me to not buy Hotline Miami, quit FarCry 3 in disgust, applaud SpecOps: The Line and wonder if gaming is still for me.

      • Gap Gen says:

        “I greatly prefer sex to violence in my day to day life”

        Heh. Well, sure.

      • jhng says:

        ‘I prefer sex in my daily life’ — ban this sick filth!

      • Brise Bonbons says:

        “…wonder if gaming is still for me.”

        I find avoiding games which feature especially dumb/indulgent violence is very helpful in editing my wishlist down to a realistic size. There are so many amazing games out there right now, too many for any person to ever play. So I’m happy to ignore Far Cry 3; it means I have time to play Miasmata or replay Stalker. Forgoing Drox Operative and its ceaseless killing (I respect Soldak, but action RPGS are just not my thing) means I have time to finally try out Startopia or give EvE a spin as a pacifist trader/miner.

        I still play violent games which revel in their violence, the same way I might watch a hyperviolent movie such as Ichi the Killer. I love Hotline Miami (and how it lets the violence touch the character’s story); I think DOTA2 and Natural Selection 2 are games about combat which feature violence in the same way that the story of Thermopylae might do. I will probably enjoy Mark of the Ninja for its blend of stealth and violence though I never really enjoyed Shank or its sequel.

        Clearly it’s a complex subject, but I think there are plenty of games out there that understand how to treat violence in a thoughtful way – or ignore it entirely.

        • Stellar Duck says:

          You’re right, of course. I suppose I was just a bit too frustrated with a lot of the comments here that I went into melodrama mode.

          There are a ton of games that doesn’t require me to make dude eat broken glass and I should keep that in mind. :)

  28. Xanadu says:

    Personally, whilst I’ve played many, many games with violence in them in the past 30 years, I consistently prefer those where I’m violent towards monsters, aliens, demons, zombies, wolves, or at worst obviously futuristic or ancient humans such as space marines, wizards or barbarian hordes, and steer well clear of 20th/21st century manshoots where the enemy is closest to the people I share a society with. I don’t know whether this is subconscious, or just personal preference formed from reading too much fantasy and Sci-fi at an early age and my gaming preferences formed before Call of Duty and its ilk became so popular. Given the popularity of modern shooters though, I realise I am in a minority.

    As a parent, the ubiquity of violence in games (and movies – I cant take my 5 year old son to see the movie of the childrens book the Hobbit despite reading him the book as a commercial decision was made to fill it with violence befitting a 12 rating) is worrying – not because games contain violence, but because so few do not. I’ll defend to my last breath the right of a consenting adult to play a game that contains violence, as longa s that does not damage others, but it is at times frustrating,that so many games have violence as the primary game mechanic, or the only way to overcome a situation.

    • Mist says:

      It saddens me that so many shooters these days are of the “mass murdering people with litres of blood and closeups of decapitations”-type. The mechanics of shooters are fun, and that certainly explains some of the popularity of the genre, but the whole mass murdering people thing (for DEMOCRACY, of course) just doesn’t strike me as entertaining and becomes repulsive if the victims become more lifelike through animation/sound/etc.

      Give me a Hard Reset where I can blow up robots. Give me Quake Live where I shoot green blobs bunnyhopping through a fullbright stage. Give me Painkiller where I’m clearing purgatory of demons. Just don’t expect me to observe a lifelike human character through my scope, and then cheer or feel happy or whatever the intention is, when I blow of a bodypart in a spray of blood and the character cries out in pain for his mommy.

      Skyryim was a great game and quite “sterile” in it’s violence.. until you use melee weapons and are forced to watch your character “cinematically” murder people with blood sprays and bodies writhing in pain and whatever they came up with. So I stuck to long range attacks (which were then ALSO given killcams. Wtf people. Mods disabled them but were still a bit buggy).

      Far Cry 3 looks interesting to me with the open world exploration, but the violence in 2 already made me so uncomfortable that 3 is a no-go. Why the fascination with ever more realistic or at least gruesome executions of the ‘bad guys”?

    • jhng says:

      “I’m violent towards …obviously .. ancient humans such as … wizards”

      Must be why they all died out.

  29. draylorre says:

    There’s a famous Aristotle quote that comes to mind:

    “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

    EDIT: Wow, so upon some quick googling to question if it really was Aristotle, I have to say it is indeed not (At least not in it’s diluted form). Fact checking at 7:30 is hard!

    The actual source and the full quote (Nicomachean Ethics Book 1) is actually much more entertaining. Glad I looked it up.

    Harris Rackham’s 1831 translation, quoted here from the 1996 Wordsworth edition:

    “We must therefore be content if, in dealing with subjects and starting from premises thus uncertain, we succeed in presenting a broad outline of the truth: when our subjects and our premises are merely generalities, it is enough if we arrive at generally valid conclusions. Accordingly we may ask the student also to accept the various views we put forward in the same spirit; for it is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits.”

    link to publicnoises.blogspot.com

    • Dan Lowe says:

      You may have misquoted Aristotle, wondered if you misquoted Aristotle, checked for yourself and then updated your post to reflect that thought process and what you found.

      Can we be Internet friends?

  30. Zetetic says:

    I am often surprised how many games journalists, including some on here, seem to espouse the apparently incoherent views that
    1) games can be a wonderful tool for making us reconsider our views and better understand different points of view by virtue of the special properties of the medium (broadly, that it is participatory), and
    2) that playing games that constantly present violence as an effective tool (and explicitly and implicitly reward its use) could not possibly cause any attitude change towards violence.

    The strawman, that Nathan does highlight, of whether we can causally link any act or acts of violence to someone playing some videogames (and taking ’cause’ to mean that without playing the games, they wouldn’t have committed those acts) is something that it would be good to move beyond. That’s not a sensible question. (Edit: It’s now been brought up again and again in the comments in order to angrily decry Nathan’s suggestion that we question the content of our games.)

    Instead, perhaps we could ask ourselves it’s helped make us more tolerant of war, vigilantism or other examples of violence as conflict resolution.

    Some old threads from the forums:
    Where are all my moralistic videogames?
    A decision that we as a group may need to make

  31. Faldrath says:

    Thank you, Nathan.

    I think there’s a related discussion about violence in fantasy games, which seems to be even more acceptable than “realistic” ones – even though pretty much every RPG or MMO turns you into a mass murderer in the first hour or so. Especially MMOs can get somewhat depressing as a result – all this infrastructure to get people together, and the only thing they can do there is, well, kill things.

    And let us not forget Spec Ops (which I played yesterday for the first time). Yes, the story is heavyhanded, the gameplay is fairly mediocre. And yet, and yet… the very fact that the game *works* at all is a testament to how little of this discussion we’ve had in the past. If Spec Ops can work with its blatant story, all it means is that we need deeper, more mature discussion of what we do in videogames.

    Or we could all go play Waking Mars, which is the most delightful non-violent game I’ve played in a while (although “non-violent” is debatable here!)

  32. bill says:

    Very well written article Nathan. I think quite a few of us feel the same, way – but as the first few comments predictably demonstrated, you can’t bring up the issue without somehow getting accused of being some censoring crazy person as bad as Jack Thompson.

    Which is a shame, because it really is something that deserves some rational discussion, and it never gets it as the usual extremist viewpoints and strawmen get dragged out every time.

    I’d wager that most of those comments attacking RPS for writing this (you are attacking a games website for writing about games? Seriously?) are young and emotional. But that’s neither here nor there… if you take a step back and look at games it’s simply depressing that so much of gaming is focused on only violence.

    There is no problem with games having violence. There is a problem with all games being violent and nothing else.

    Thankfully indie games seem to be moving away from that, but the mainstream doesn’t seem to have noticed.

  33. SamirChong says:

    IMHO, blaming games for real-life violence can be true sometimes but for killing people? That is totally unacceptable, ridiculous and BS. You reap what you sow. If you’re a psycho killer, just admit you killed those innocent people for no reason.

    Next time they’ll blame Need for Speed for every highway chasing incidents…

    • Zorn says:

      I never thought about it, maybe Need for Speed II is the reason why I often think
      about taking short cuts with my bike and just barely be able to avoid it, when
      my mind kicks in and reminds me that I don’t have an arcade…

      I think Super Mario really hurt my perception of reality though.

    • bill says:

      That’s not really the point of the article. Infact that’s the distraction that keeps preventing us from discussing the issue rationally.

  34. Zetetic says:

    Spec Ops: The Line is an interesting example to study.

    A forumgoer (Nalano) once suggested that you can’t ” make war entertaining and then try to tell people how wrong it is”. I think that Spec Ops succeeds remarkably well (and YouTube comments – obviously the best data available… – seem to suggest that many people were, um, pleasantly surprised by the game) at both of these, although I suspect quite a few people would disagree with both the former and the latter.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      But did SpecOps make war entertaining?

      At least after a certain point I trudged onwards in the game, not out of entertainment but for wanting to see how far the rabit hole went, so to speak. I needed to find some redemption and some explanation for what I had done (and even why the hell I kept shooting people to get redemption for killing some others).

      • Zetetic says:

        It’s certainly true that by the final chapters I really wanted to just stop fighting. (I didn’t much care for how the ending was handled, but perhaps I should consider it more generously in that light.)

        Without getting too bogged down in ‘entertaining’ versus ‘enjoyable’ (and I think I found Spec Ops both towards the start), it certainly held my attention throughout.

        (I blasted through on the easiest difficulty in around 4 hours, according to Steam, which I think is the best way to experience the game. Edit: Oh, and I followed it up by watching Culloden (1964) which I think is a remarkably suitable companion.)

        • Stellar Duck says:

          Quite right. There’s no good reason to get all hung up on definitions of words.

          In the end I think Spec Ops did an admirable attempt at actually having a point and making the player consider why she was doing what she was doing. It may not have been completely successful at all turns (the ending, as you mention, is one point of contention) but ultimately it’s a game I am very glad to have played.

  35. Zorn says:

    I remembered reading an article over violence in videogames at the end of the eighties.
    There was a game called ‘Hostage’ an the C-64. You were able to kill terrorists to save
    innocent hostages. Your object was not to kill any hostages. It was a game that got
    you involved. But then I grew up with games at this time. There was a reader feedback
    in one of the following issues to the review of that game. It was from a police officer,
    he was stating to like this game very much. He stated he’d sometimes feel to want
    to shoot criminals who threaten innocents too, before they could actually do it.
    You could hear from the article that he’d actually never act against the rules of
    society, at best, he’d find some relief in the game.

    Anyway, I just played it, the mechanics were fun. I had a set of rules, shoot bad guys,
    save lives. Make a mistake, game over. It may be a question about education, and
    being well adjusted, your social and historical context. I played shooters since the
    C-64. cRpgs, strategy games, text adventures, everything that I could grab.

    My best mate at school and I killed old grandmothers in Deatwish 3. We never got
    what the game was about. While I was living at mine. With our first PC we played
    Duke Nukem 3d. He’s now an engineer, with wife and child, an energetic that
    still has to resort to violence to solve a problem for the first time in his life.

    I don’t know where we would be without these games, oh and I just remember
    that old Super Nintendo wrestling games, with chairs to hit your opponents,
    I can’t say my peeps at school, not playing video games, where the more
    well adjusted ones. A, I think I completely lost my point while writing too much.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I played Hostage on the Amiga back in the mid 90s. Loved the damned thing. Played it again last year. Not as good as I remembered. How games have changed.

      That said I agree with you. Though I increasingly find myself disgusted, both morally and aesthetically by the extreme violence of games these days. I don’t think it makes people violent, but I do think it’s a poor show as a medium to only be able to produce man shoots and murder sims.

  36. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    Gaming is in many ways about stepping outside of the real world and into a fantasy one (even games set in real worlds are still effectively other worlds). Doing things and seeing things you wouldn’t normally be able to.

    Violence is obviously part of that. I had great fun in Borderlands 2 slaughtering my way through this violent land to achieve my goal. It’s a riot.

    But then I’m an adult. And I was an adult in the late 90s when hyper-violent stuff really started to take off. So to me it was just as I described above – a fun riot – and it’s never played on my mind at all.

    Now, letting 5 year olds blow people’s brains out in realistic ways is a whole other matter. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the real problem there is probably more down to irresponsible parenting, poor supervision and a host of other social problems.

    Violent games played by adults is a complete non-issue IMO.

  37. Freddybear says:

    Games are not all about bloody slaughter. There are lots of games about other things. I like the occasional violent massacre myself but I have lots of room on my hard drives for more peaceable things as well.

    • bill says:

      Well, there’s the sims. And there are sports/racing games. But other than that I can’t think of many mainstream games that aren’t about slaughter.

      Maybe that’s why i tend to prefer indie games these days.

  38. domizindahawze says:

    I remember how terrified I felt when kid I knew got his hands on Camus’ The Stranger. He wanted to read it to be all grown up and all, and I remembered how messed up I felt when I read it myself when I was twenty. Turns out I was right and the kid has a troublesome couple years. It was a book. I remember feeling the same when I saw a friend’s four year-old brother play gta iv. The point is, I guess, that you can be deeply affected by any media, be it a book, a song – take Gloomy Sunday, for instance – or a game. Whe had a pretty long talk and debate in class after reading the book, and there is the key, in my opinion. With proper introduction and -in lack of better words- maturity, you can safely take on any book, or game, or delusional gun-mogul’s rant.

  39. Tomba says:

    If you have a problem playing a video game after some nutcase shoots people, that means YOU have a problem. A mental problem for which you should probably be locked away. Sensible people are able to see the difference between a fantasy situation and a real one and if you confuse those you are a danger to yourself and your environmen.

    People have been playing violent video games for decades now, and we’re not all killing each other are we? So all the talking and studies are null and void because reality has proven exposure to violence does not create psychopaths.

    Perhaps it’s wiser to question why these things only occur in a country in which a majority of the people are so retarded that they think buying assault weapons is normal and basic healthcare (that would detect all the nutcases instead of just letting them run loose) should be outlawed.

  40. Runs With Foxes says:

    Leigh Alexander wrote a similar article the other day, and I don’t think either of them are very useful, no offence. All you’re saying is “Let’s just all have a good think, shall we?”

    Yeah thanks, like I needed reminding to do that.

    This call to have a discussion seems weird to me, because the “discussion” hasn’t stopped among the psychologists, sociologists, etc who study this kind of thing for a living. If you want to be a useful journalist, why don’t you go have a read through some studies, go interview some of those people and find out what they’ve found out, and then tell us about it. Bring to your discussion some actual research, studies and evidence instead of just personal anecdotes.

    • Zetetic says:

      This seems like a good plan for some future date at least. There was this look at a Nature review ‘Brains on video games last year’ (that was a bit weak).

      Still, if examining the issue from a personal (‘critical’? in the sense of ‘literary criticism’) viewpoint is what starts a sensible discussion on here then I look forward to Nathan’s article.

      You’re right that the discussion hasn’t ceased in academia – but I don’t think that precludes the need for a discussion in terms of art. (Not least because there are plenty of people who will, at this point of time, reject any psychological finding as either inapplicable to them or outright; this isn’t limited to videogames and violence of course, but this question is certainly an exemplar.)

    • Crainey says:

      Indeed. But lets wait for the followup pieces shall we?

      • Rikard Peterson says:

        Right! This piece is an introduction to a series of articles. I’m with Nathan completely here, and have high hopes for the series.

        (I’ll go and renew my RPS subscription now. I was on the fence if I should do so, but this article convinced me.)

    • elderman says:

      This is a great idea: an RPS reportage on perspectives on violence in games.

  41. Error404 says:

    Dear Nathan, I’m a constant reader of RPS, and I’m also a writer for an italian generalistic videogame website. I never felt the urge to register and exit from lurk mode, but this article made me think. In my country videogames had rarely became a matter of political discuss, probably because they are not considered as a “serious” media, but when it happens suddenly videogames became the source of all evil. This is probably caused by the strong influence of the Vatican Church in the common sense of morality, but still no one blames graphic movies and other kinds of entertainment involving violence – something that I guess is common even outside Italy.
    Back to the discussion, I think that probably the only reason because people use to blame videogames more than anything else is for the youth of them compared to any other media, and as a scapegoat to not admit that violence is (imho) a part of human nature. Humanity have always simulated fights as a form of entertainment, there are evidence of that everywhere and everytime: from ancient greece fight competitions, passing through chess (chess not violent? maybe no, but is always a form of conflict) in the middle age, to the late century spread of martial arts, boards games and, finally, videogames. I didn’t mention any kind of deadly competitions such as Rome arenas and medieval tournaments, just simulated ones, both physical and not. So, think about it: did any human ever lived without some kind of violence and competion in his life?

  42. Mathonwy76 says:

    I think it may well be worth examining the nature of the games we play rather than the content or background to the game.

    The games we play most of are zero sum games according to game theory, ie there is a winner, and a loser (zero sum as +1 for a winner, and -1 for a loser). While single player games don’t have a second player to lose they are still largely modelled on the types of conflict that that come up in zero sum games, and you could consider the game itself to have lost, or if you insist on a human agent to lose then the designer (except that the designer uses a different metric, ie how popular the game was how profitable it was whatever, they rarely think they lost). The thing is that almost all these zero sum style games have violence in common, whether chess with my army of chessmen killing yours, or monopoly where I do financial violence trying to bankrupt everyone else are this zero sum type of thing. I suspect that aggression is inherent in that style of competitive I win, you lose play, even against a computer as I crush my enemies through technology in civilisation.

    There are of course games that are co-operative, where it’s not I won, but we won, and you don’t necessarily have losers, these are much rarer in computer games though. I can for example see an argument that team work in an MMO ‘s PvE content is non-zero sum, if you consider the computer controlled environment to be a single agent, and each player of the team a single agent, then you might get 5 winners, and 1 loser, which makes for a +4 game. Though the team work in PvP you tend to have an equal number of winners and losers so that would remain zero sum.

    I apologise for any misrepresentations of game theory, I’ve tried to keep it simple and accessible.
    thanks for reading.

  43. Crainey says:

    I applaud you for bringing up this topic. About time somebody grew a pair and raised their head to speak up and take some responsibility. And a middle finger to all the kids leaving comments like “Omg RPS how could u.”
    I don’t believe violence in videogames makes us more violent, because if that were true we’d have a serious epidemic on our hands. I do not however feel it’s necessary to have so many violent FPS games ruling the charts, a bit of diversity wouldn’t go a miss. Games industry is too stuck in its ways, lets loosen up on the mold a little please.

  44. Berzee says:

    “We take tremendous joy in virtual violence. We squeal with glee when life-giving liquid squirts out of men’s necks.”

    Speak for yourself. =P Half the reason I haven’t played Dishonored (and most of the reason I haven’t played Mark of the Ninja — or Shank 2 even though I own that one from a bundle) is because of all the excessively splashy stabbing.

    I also turned off the gore in Fallout 3 and wish Dishonored was moddable enough to accomplish the same thing. Which of course doesn’t actually make Fallout 3 any less violent, just less gory.

    That being said, this is a fine thing to make an article about — but it’s worth recognizing that frequent-games players like m’self sometimes exist who will, if given the choice, seek a less extreme level of *viscerality*. I’m probably not the first to mention it in the comments but I havne’t time to read them all at present. =)

    • asshibbitty says:

      Dishonored is pretty smart about this, play it. It’s one of the better games as handling violence goes. I played through it without killing anyone, tho it still showed occasionsl kills, those were environmental deaths I believe.

      • Zetetic says:

        I found Dishonored’s expressed morality around killing to be a bit all over the place to be honest.

        On the one hand it seems to suggest that any killing is inevitably a bad thing (given that it leads to increased ‘chaos’, more plague and the moral voice of Samuel calling you a cunt) but on the other goes out of its way to make the nonlethal alternatives (for assassination targets) as cruel and distressing as possible (and, IIRC, fatal in one case anyway) and, in the case of guards, has the heart suggest that killing someone may prevent further deaths (followed by that individual’s suicide anyway).

        At best, I can pull out some message about the proximal morality of the player’s choices being what matters (some sort of virtue ethics?) or perhaps something more confused and nihilistic.

    • elderman says:

      I agree. There are a lot of us who are gamers and just have an aesthetic reaction against graphic violence.

      I don’t like blood, screams of agony, or constant explosions in my computer games, so I mostly play games with other images. Simple as. I’m pretty wimpy: I can just about play Limbo, a little bit at a time.

      However, the violence in video games is deeply ingrained. Killing doesn’t bother me as much when it’s abstract in strategy games, arcade-style shmups, or RPGs. Not sure where the line lies for me, what level of violence is distasteful, or if there’s any level where it’s genuinely hurtful. That’s what I’m hoping for from discussions like this: to hear a lot of perspectives and see if any of them teach me about my own reactions, or if any of them change my mind entirely.

  45. Arathok says:

    I don’t think we have to talk about video game violence. I mean the games are Adressed as 18+ and the wish for more reality also results in more brutality. If i shoot someone in the head or put a knife IN it we all know what happens. And it just was not corroectly depicted by that games before some years. And those brutality in the Games is disgusting but it also has to be disgusting. You as player should feel a bit bad for your opponent seeing him dying so cruel. Therefore violence is even needed in some point.
    The bad things only happen in the minds of people. It is what they are understanding in that violence. A normal thinking person would never really enjoy to stab someone in the had / not even in a game. Sure some of the Charakters were assholes and you felt enraged and it was good to see them die, but still it is your own choice whether you bring this violence back to real life or not. I think it is a kind of adulthood to distinguish game violence and reality. What we have to do is to make sure no kids under that certain age can obtain this games.

  46. Sander Bos says:

    Random thoughts:

    For some reasons I always end up saving the day in games, usually it takes me a couple of tries but then I will become the hero (and my surrounding NPCs always seem to have forgottten the times I messed things up).
    I never save the day in real life…
    I would like to submit that as proof that I can differentiate between games and real life.

    Having said that, I do actually think that violence in media (games, movies, news, books) probably has an effect on people, and not a good one. After playing GTA Vice City I found myself looking over my shoulder following police cars until they were out of view. But it hasn’t led me to speeding or carjacking, or driving an ambulance.
    But if you already have violent tendencies, and are crazy, will consuming violent media have no negative influence? I cannot imagine it not being so.

    Oddly, censorship of violent games would be beneficial to me as a gamer (but of course not as a citizen). My game-catalog has a large bias towards violent games. But I seriously do not think I prefer violent games, it is just that I like to play games with high production values, and violent games seem to get the most money pumped into them. So if those big budgets would go to fluffy bunny games, I would actually welcome that, as a gamer.

  47. Kynrael says:

    Awaiting your next piece with interest.

  48. KDR_11k says:

    Put down Far Cry 3? Sorry, I’m being waaaaaaay too busy with Minecraft + Tekkit. Shooting a man with a rifle isn’t as satisfying as punching 60 meter holes into the ground (courtesy of a Catalytic Lens) and watching all the precious ores and gems fly out. Or just getting angry and pumping a few hundred thousand EMC via Hyperkinetic Lens into a mountainside because it was blocking your view. Or making the Nether more spacious with the use of a few nuclear warheads. Or hell, just building a coal powerplant with dozens of generators that can be fueled cheaply with charcoal (24 EMC a piece) to power the flatification terraformer and turn the whole area into a perfectly flat surface.

  49. DiamondDog says:

    The problem I have with these discussions is I feel at some point you have to address the issue of whether violence is a part of human nature, or perhaps something we should be working to eradicate from our culture. And I’m no academic, I just don’t have the knowledge to ask why humans throughout history have had violence as part of their culture.

    All I do know is, after spending most of my adult life having played violent games, watched some quite horrible depictions of violence in films, read some pretty gut churning books, the thought of inflicting violence on a real person still feels fundamentally wrong to me. But is that because my parents did a good job bringing me up? Is my distaste for real violence just a stroke of luck born from how my brain is wired up?

    I think it’s right not to ignore it, though. Especially when it comes to children. Too often I hear people say “well I watched/played violent things when I was a kid and it didn’t harm me” which just seems incredibly short sighted to me. My experience of violent media as a kid was one of crossing a line. Things like Duke Nukem and Robocop were contraband in my school. I experienced them, but I wasn’t meant to. In my head it waswrong. They weren’t freely available and I knew watching Robocop would get me in trouble. I do wonder if this had an effect on how I view violence.

    I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this that I just can’t express properly, so it’s going to be interesting reading the other comments and seeing how others talk about it.

    • SpakAttack says:

      I agree.

      I am convinced that we have a strong historical relationship with violence as a species. To survive we’ve had to wield violence against other creatures, and we are shockingly ready and able to wield violence against other people (it really brings it home to me if I think how far I would go personally to defend my loved ones).

      As nations, the UK and the US were birthed and forged in violence, but it does strike me that the US have fallen in love with violence post independence, and there’s a strong current of fear and need to have the ability to deploy violence ‘in defence’ (which has ironically led to a significantly higher gun crime rate than most western democracies)

      We developed control systems such as civilized society / justice systems to try and move away from our dependence on violence, with some success. We’ve even managed to eliminate the worst violence from those justice systems.

      But how far do violent games hold back / help control / bring out violent tendencies within us? How do they impact the control systems that we’ve put in place to try and limit violence against each other?

      We might have violent roots, but we’ve made the decision that we’re going to be better than that. I think we should be discussing if violent games undermine or help us in that aim.

  50. cliffski says:

    I think it’s massively obvious that videogame violence contributes to real world violence in some ways. It also probably lessens it in others, due to a release of violent impulses in some cases.
    The net effect may be good, or bad. We just can’t say.

    My issue is with people who say it has NO EFFECT on them. Yeah right. I’m guessing you think advertising has no effect on you too, or peer pressure, or that you are unswayed by fashion of any kind.
    Anyone who thinks that what we see, and what we hear, and what we act out in a game is not affecting our long term behavior needs to read up on the science of advertising. Big money and hard science has gone into establishing exactly how much our behavior can be changed by images, sound and actions.

    On the whole, I think gaming is relatively harmless, but if I had kids, no way would they be allowed anywhere near a violent bloody game until they were old enough to understand what was going on.

    • Crainey says:

      There’s a big difference between impulse buying and impulse killing. Takes a lot more to hurt another person than to buy yourself something because it’s “cool.”

    • Uthred says:

      If it’s “massively obvious” then why isnt there a single credible study that shows the link that your gut feeling says is there? As for “We just cant say”, yes, yes we can say. There have been numerous peer reviewed studies done that have proven theres no link between the two, so we can say its just that people feel their “common sense” somehow trumps valid studies in the field