Killing is Too Easy

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw writes, "Maybe this is another of those signs of aging that have been standing out all the more to me since I turned 30, but I've been feeling more and more uneasy about all the killing people we have to do in triple-A games. I don't remember this ever being as stark an issue in the past as it seems to be now, I mean, you kill human beings in Contra on the NES without worrying about justification. Maybe it's an issue that realistic graphics brings with it."

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-Gespenst-1927d ago

The closer graphics get to fidelity with reality, the more responsible we have to be. Their "reality" doesn't matter. All forms of media communicate notions of how things aught to be or how the author / writer sees the world - their ingrained assumptions and preconceptions, and violence isn't exempt from this.

If we churn out games that realistically and entertainingly portray violence, we run the risk of fostering toxic ideas about violence in culture. Violence in games is deliberately created alongside carefully constructed sound design, the promise of reward thereafter, and the response of the controls, as well as the animations. We cannot forget that in reality, violence would not feel or look the same - the biorhythms are different, it would not be an entertaining experience. In violent games, violence is CONSTRUCTED in such a way as to make it fun, and it has no bearing on the actual reality of violence in physical, mental, and moral terms. We cannot allow the virtual violence of videogames somehow come to supplant the place of real violence - we cannot allow it to stand for what the reality of violence is. This becomes more and more of an issue as videogames acquire a greater power to represent reality, and reality itself is blurred. Thankfully, many of us can see past this, even intuitively, but for many others I don't think it'll be the same. I'm not saying a person would suddenly kill another person, but certainly I can see someone choosing violence in a certain scenario, and that choice being informed by the understanding and the "vicarious experience" of violence that their videogames have taught them.

It is of course a storytelling issue too. Though storytelling and narrative are inextricably linked with cultural assumption, expectation, and preconceptions. Narratives from a macroscopic level reflect a kind of progression of life on the part of the author - a kind of self-contained possibility or lifespan which carries certain messages about life and existence. A narrative is a model for a greater archetypal thing that the author expresses (sometimes unwittingly, sometimes not). Not only this, but narrative is bound up in language, and language contains and defines all our meanings. Language is necessarily political and culture-forming - it fixes boundaries on the imagination and on understanding and is a vector of assumptions about everything. When you argue the point about "ludonarrative dissonance" (that's become such a buzzword) and bemoan the lack of narrative coherence amidst ultra-violence in games, you can't claim that your argument is only concerned with narrative. For that very narrative communicates life and meaning to us on an extraordinarily deep level as I've been saying above, and is formative of culture, which is basically how we operate as humans in the world, limited in our perspectives and needing to write stories and form hypotheses about the universe around us.

Nevertheless, what Yahtzee says is a good starting point to graduate to the arguments I'm putting forward (sorry, that sounds terribly self-congratulatory and arrogant haha), and yes, I'm damn tired of playing as "heroes" that kill hundreds of dehumanised and faceless "enemies" in really fetishised and choreographed ways. It's not cool, it's not glorious, it's stupid, artistically inept, and shallow, and it's plagues videogames. It is in fact one of the reasons videogames are so stupid.

Dr Pepper1927d ago (Edited 1927d ago )

Your statement:
"Thankfully, many of us can see past this, even intuitively, but for many others I don't think it'll be the same. I'm not saying a person would suddenly kill another person, but certainly I can see someone choosing violence in a certain scenario, and that choice being informed by the understanding and the "vicarious experience" of violence that their videogames have taught them."

Interestingly enough, youth violence, in the United States, has declined as video games have gotten more realistic (the shift can be seen slightly before the mid 90s concerning youth violence). I'm not saying there is a causal link (that games make people less violent), but if what you are saying had any merit, surely youth violence would be on the rise after being exposed to such games (which most teenagers/young adults are, according to recent studies). What exactly are you backing up that statement with? Feelings? Because I could link to many articles throughout the past decade discussing the decline of violence among youth (in multiple nations), regardless of how realistic video gamers are looking.

If somebody is already mentally unstable, they could perhaps be influenced by games, as well as a whole host of other media, events, bizarre ideas, etc. But I fail to see how violence in video games would be responsible for their brain's altered state in the first place.

-Gespenst-1927d ago (Edited 1927d ago )

Well first of all I'm not just pinning this on videogames. It's anything.

Also, I don't think the decrease of youth violence somehow corresponds to the increase of graphical fidelity. If anything, it corresponds to various social factors, education, employment etc. Just because the increase in videogame graphical quality hasn't produced more violence in youths (though you can't exclude adults) doesn't mean that it can't and isn't having an effect. All it means is that other parallel aspects are perhaps operating to curb such things.

Everyone agrees on the central tenet of materialist philophy that humans are shaped by and themselves shape, their environment. This is operative on multiple levels. Our physical environment nourishes us and shapes us, and our social and cultural environment shapes us, albeit on a more subliminal level that too many people ignore - on the level of how we interpret and assign narratives to reality - how we choose to understand reality.

Games are gaining a lot of cultural and social traction these days, and as they approach ubiquity, they become more and more culturally influential and formative. Already people are fascinated with the glorified and heavily distorted portrait of war that CoD depicts. It's fetishism and choreography has spellbound people into thinking that's what war is actually like. That a grizzled soldier (proxy killer for a man in a suit) is somehow "cool" and that the jingoistic bullcrap that fills those games is somehow an accurate and righteous portrayal of global politics. We KNOW from literally thousands of examples that media in all its forms is formative of culture and opinion and assumption. Just look at early American history and beyond for chrissakes. Scholars readily admit that America as a country was "invented" by the settlers - the reality of its landscape and its natives supplanted by a "written" version that would become the true version for the settlers. I could literally go on and on, but I don't really need to explain do I?

Dr Pepper1927d ago (Edited 1927d ago )

"If anything, it corresponds to various social factors, education, employment etc."

In other words, aspects that actually significantly impact the lives of said individuals. Yet, you go on and on about video games in your initial statement, which many studies would disagree with you on.

"Already people are fascinated with the glorified and heavily distorted portrait of war that CoD depicts. It's fetishism and choreography has spellbound people into thinking that's what war is actually like."

Where are you getting this from? I know of no instances where people have been influenced by the game in such a manner, unless you refer to someone who has a warped sense of reality due to a preexisting mental condition, which even then would be hard to come by. Considering the overall view (highly negative) of current wars that the CoD games tend to mimic, I would say that people of many ages have a very clear distinction between a game and an actual conflict.

-Gespenst-1927d ago (Edited 1927d ago )

Aarrgh I wish I could communicate my argument to you a bit better, you're sort of not acknowledging it properly... I feel like if you did, you wouldn't be as against me. First of all, look beyond this example. Videogames aren't the only things operative in the manner I've described. You have to take what I've said and position it alongside ALL the other sources of such notions in popular culture. This is how it acquires it's power. No matter how you try to avoid it, the media and entertainment shape a lot of how we view the world these days.

You seem like a level-headed enough person, but you need to think about the millions of far more impressionable people, young and old. As well as that, even the most resilient person isn't impervious to cultural conditioning and social pressures.

Indeed, a childhood friend of mine compulsively buys CoD every year, is an absolute pro at it, and is currently in training. I know him well enough to know it's no coincidence - to know that CoD certainly hd something of a role to play in his decision, not to mention war films in general. All these things are simulations that for many people replace reality with their own contrived, exploitative form of reality.

Games could become perhaps the most influential of all our media to date. Not only will their graphical quality begin to blur the line between the virtual and the real, but the actual experience of holding a controller and simulating causation within the game is a highly potent experiential component. When the trigger is pushed, the gun in the game fires, the dude dies. Not only are we viewing a super convincing representation of reality, but we're actually convincingly and accurately influencing events within that representation. Many games strive to look and feel "real", and this is dangerous if what they present as "real" is in fact merely contrived to entertain and to to turn a profit through sales, and as a result is fundamentally irrepresentative of actual reality. On the surface (visually, causally) it may seem a convincing representation, but certain more subliminal structures and ques within it don't obey the same laws - sound design, animation, systems of reward, all these things are designed in a certain way to entertain, and do not represent reality. Not to mention that embedded within this wildly inaccurate representation is a jingoistic commentary on war. Seems very dangerous to me. Such biased commentary becomes intertwined with the attraction of the game's gameplay itself, and are themselves subject to distorting and biased representation, as well as glorification.

The more real games become, the more potential they have to be taken seriously and to become more culturally formative and important. To me, while games are technically mature, everything else about them is immature, and before they really gain a big cultural presence, they aught to smarten up a good bit, for they have the potential to more culturally formative than every form of entertainment media that has come before them. This isn't a matter of censorship, this is a matter of positive and responsible use of representation and language to ensure that no one gets hurt and to ensure that we don't destroy ourselves. You've constantly got to think about the big picture alongside this. I'm not just talking about games, I'm talking about games AS embedded within popular culture and the myriad other artifacts within it.

Dr Pepper1927d ago (Edited 1927d ago )

"Not only are we viewing a super convincing representation of reality"

I honestly don't understand statements like this. Games are not super convincing representations of reality, concerning both visuals and design mechanics. I agree that some strive to be more realistic than others, but they still fall way short of a convincing replica of reality.

"You seem like a level-headed enough person, but you need to think about the millions of far more impressionable people, young and old. As well as that, even the most resilient person isn't impervious to cultural conditioning and social pressures."

If there are so many impressionable people, then tens of millions of gamers would have reflected that notion by now. As it stands, they have not. One person or so, every year or two, may shoot up a school, in which there is virtually always some underlying psychological issue found and, sometimes, a loose connection to some of the most widely distributed games on the planet, played by millions.

I don't really want to comment on your friend, as it's not my wish to accidentally insult him. I will say that a game like Call of Duty is just that: a game. If the army is taking it and trying to use it to lure people in to join the military, then it is not the game's fault. The purpose is being manipulated. It is the fault of, let's say, naive minds that would be just as equally be persuaded by any number of things for any number of causes. That still wouldn't be the fault of the game. It could be more fair (in my opinion) to say that that is due to a poor upbringing, but I wish to stress I'm not passing judgement on your friend since I do not know him.

A quote from the article:
"It's a more relaxed environment," said Abuali, who plans to join the Army when he graduates from college. "You don't feel like you are being pressured."

Bringing in the games is not necessarily meant to show "hey this is what war is like, it's super fun!". It seems to create an environment the individual is familiar with. I'm not saying this is not manipulative, but it is not just trying to glamorize violence.

"Seems very dangerous to me."

Until I see substantial scientific studies to back this up, which there are not despite the many times they've looked into it over nearly two decades, I simply don't know why you are so convinced of this notion. And if you're so convinced of it, how do you think it should change? Censorship? Where then do you stop? Do we ban such religious texts? Do we ban music that contains harmful lyrics? What else besides censorship should be done? As long as people are entertained by the games, they will keep buying them. Because they are simply that: entertainment. Nothing more. And what you say has been said about countless other things, including comic books decades ago. All that did was devastate the industry, it didn't stop acts of violence.

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grailly1927d ago

As always your "write-ups" are unnecessarily complicated and arrogant, but yeah, I agree.

FinalFantasyFan1926d ago

Complexity doesn't necessarily mean arrogance. But at least you didn't respond with the usual TL;DR :)
@Dr Pepper @-Gespenst-
"If the army is taking it and trying to use it to lure people in to join the military, then it is not the game's fault. It is the fault of naive say that that is due to a poor upbringing"
I'm not sure if you're aware of some of the events in videogames's past or not. In the early 90's when videogame violence was starting to rise and become apparent in the public conscience, many events led to the senate hearings that led to the creation of the ESRB and the ratings system. And although ratings helped to subdue the issue a bit, videogame violence was still a taboo, especially for the government. Then things started to change after a certain discovery at the time. More than 50% (yes, more than 50%) of those who joined the navy seals stated that their reason for doing so was socom navy seals for the PS2. This proves -Gespenst-'s point. Not long after, the pressure on videogame violence suddenly lifted. After that, the army saw the psychological value and went out of their way to produce their own 1st person shooter (I forgot what it's name was and I don't care) which was loosely based on a training simulator. They even forced themselves into E3 by sending a helicopter that descended on the show building's ceiling and made quite an unwelcome scene. So did they suddenly develop an interest for making videogames? And while they don't make videogames anymore, that's because there are a lot of bullshit "videogames" that does the job for them. I'm sure no more surveys like the socom one will ever be made again, but if one was made, I'm sure it will show similar, if not greater results. I'm also sure you realize that a lot of these 'games' users are well under the intended age rating, yet you hear no response whatsoever like the one in the early 90's. Desensitizing at an early age.

There was also another article about the desensitizing effects of these games. In the 40's soldiers showed good results in training exercises, yet when it came to actual combat, their performance was poor. That's because the training consisted of simple target shooting. No desensitizing was made. That was the beginning of desensitizing programs that led to better results (but much worse results if we're talking with the slightest bit of consciousness) in the 60's; they used targets that resembled human figures. Since then, desensitizing programs has made a lot of progress. I even heard that the military is going to use goggles with augmented reality to obscure human targets completely using abstract shapes like cubes. This aspect of these so called desensitizing programs is the obscuring of human emotions. In videogames, unlike in real life, targets don't show emotions at all, whereas in real life, a person you shoot shows a lot agony and suffering, both physically and mentally. You could see it in their eyes. Hoping that whoever is in front of them has a tiny bit of humanity left. Hoping for mercy. And if that doesn't deter whoever is in front of them from shooting again, then whoever it is has turned into a wild beast that should be exterminated, as far as anyone with a consciousness is concerned.
Another aspect is hatred. If you were trained to have complete hatred for those designated as 'enemies', whether through military specialized training you go through, or through mind conditioning through the media, entertainment, popular opinion, and everything else surrounding you at an early age, then you've also turned into a wild beast that shouldn't exist.
-Gespenst-, I really wish if there were more people like you, intelligent and aware of the real world. Seeing your comments having more disagrees than agrees is disheartening.

mossman1927d ago

The tie between video games and actual violence is a tired argument with no facts to support it. Unless there is new evidence to the contrary, let's move on.

dumahim1927d ago

I just don't get the whole argument. If you're bothered by excessive killing, don't do it. In The Last of Us, in many areas you can sneak your way through and in sections you can't, they're out to kill you so your use of violence is justified. It's not like you're just out there killing people for the hell of it or because you can. As the player, you have some role in how you play the character. Use the free will that is given to you, and if you don't feel you're given the freedom to do what you want, don't play it.

I don't even get his point about killing the guy who stole the guns early in the game. It wasn't Joel who did that. Why should you feel the need to try and relate with her situation.

a_squirrel1927d ago

Violent video games are a symptom of a violent culture.

grailly1927d ago

I mostly agree with yatzhee, but I don't get why the last of us is his prime example. I thought it was one of the games that handled violence the best.

FinalFantasyFan1927d ago

I don't know how you see it "handled violence the best." There was a hypocritical air about, as was mentioned in the article. Why should Joel and the others be so unnecessarily violent and kill others without even the slightest care? If it's because of the violent world they live in, then why do they go out of their way to save someone (in a very violent way)? Is it because they 'care'? That's the contradiction and hypocrisy. If someone is criminal minded like Joel, at the ending scene, you wouldn't expect him to care the slightest about sacrificing Ellie, especially if her sacrifice would bring an end to the reason why the world they live in became the way it is.
Seeing how much interest and success this game achieved, I don't expect these types of games to disappear anytime soon. I only hope there would be enough alternatives for the next generation to those looking for something with a different quality.

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