Another reputation that games have struggled to rid themselves of, is the image of an over-abundance of violence. We are bombarded with images of destruction in games. On TV, YouTube, billboards, in cinemas and on the front covers of our morning papers you will find adverts for the latest and greatest in war simulation. It’s understandable that gamers, non-gamers, and even journalists (who are expected to have a broader view of the industry), may be left with the impression that this is a hobby with an unhealthy, and possibly quite dangerous obsession.
It’s not possible to make the argument that there isn’t a lot of violence in video games: there is a lot of violence. Combat of some form or another has been, if not an essential feature, certainly a key feature of a great number of games, and even those games which don’t feature combat as part of the game-play, often depict physical confrontation at some point.
It’s worth noting that a lot of this violence, possibly even the majority of it, is in fact no more realistic than the equivalent depictions in children’s cartoons. The truly violent games – the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Battlefield – are over-represented in advertising and in the public consciousness. This isn’t to say that violence isn’t present in video games; rather that it is only one aspect of a very diverse medium, and shouldn’t be considered to be representative of it. The distorted image of games presented in mainstream media and in advertising is only a pale imitation of what is swiftly becoming the cultural keystone of the modern age.
Parallels could be drawn between games and movies, music, or even books, but this would only distract from the real argument: that games are not purely for children. They haven’t been a children’s toy for a very long time. Just as there are movies, music and, yes, books, that aren’t appropriate for children, so are there games which are not appropriate for children. From Max Payne to Saints Row, L.A. Noire to The Witcher, some games were simply not created to be consumed by a young audience. Mature games for mature people.
“What about those gamers who describe in vivid detail and with rather too much relish, the latest brutality they inflicted on a virtual enemy”, you may ask. It’s true that some gamers can become almost disturbingly focused on the kill, particularly in games where the difficulty of killing pushes it almost to the point of being an art-form. In the majority of cases, this is likely to be a case of mistaken achievement. The gamer in question is not so much focussed on the kill, despite what they may be saying they are likely focussed on the fact that they have just overcome a very difficult challenge, and they are revelling in their success. If the kill was all they were after, they could hop into Call of Duty or Dynasty Warriors and mow down hundreds of enemies in a few hours.
Whether they are talking of that one, perfect headshot in Sniper Elite, or the trail of motorised destruction in Burnout, it’s important to remember that games are, if nothing else, a fantasy. Actions here are largely devoid of consequence. They’re a virtual playground where indulging in behaviour which is unacceptable in reality, is fine. Human nature pushes us to test boundaries, whether this is our own skill at a particular task or a more grandiose goal, such as space flight, games provide an environment in which we can do these things free of the ramifications that accompany such shenanigans.
The concerned individual may ask about violent games’ effect on children. I’ve written before that this is the responsibility of parents; to control what content their children view and to ensure that their children understand that driving recklessly, hurting the people, and creatures around them, is not acceptable behaviour.
The final point often made about gaming, is that it is an anti-social activity. This particular argument is swiftly crumbling in the face of the rise of the MMO, and other online gaming trends. These days it’s very easy to fire up a console, phone or PC and connect with anything from dozens to thousands of other people at the same time.
Upon the expected retort of “what about single player only games”, it should be noted that being alone from time-to-time is not an inherently bad thing. Retreating from the world and not talking to anyone for a few hours is a fantastic way to relax, and relaxation is vital for slowing the aging process thus gaming can be used in the maintenance of both physical and mental health.
Communicating games to the uninitiated can be a tough task, it can be daunting, and it can test your knowledge of gaming, but it is well worth trying. You may learn something and the ever growing hive mind of gamers will only expand through assimilation!