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Some Things to Remember about Videogame Violence, and about Actual Violence.

THE OBVIOUS (but perhaps overlooked).

1. You don't get "xp" or "money" followed by a cool sound-effect and some HUD animations whenever you kill a person in real life. There is no reward. (CoD, Farcry 3)

2. If you think it would be "easy" or "cool" to kill another person you've probably been playing way too much video games, and watching way too many television shows and films. Nor is it somehow cool to kill another by use of choreographed flashiness (Assassin’s Creed), it’s just insane.

3. There's no "cool" camera angle when you kill a person. There's nothing glorious about it. You're stuck in your own body the entire time, and the blood is fully on your hands. (Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed)

4. Soldiers aren't cool either. They're merely proxy-killers for a bunch of cynical men in suits playing greedy power games with the world. Perhaps they're brave, but they're brave only because they've been told by a sociopath in power that what they're doing is right. (CoD, Battlefield)

5. No person has the moral right to kill another person. Killing another person is like making the ultimate moral judgment- it's like saying "You're so wrong about what you're doing, and I'm so much more righteous than you, that you deserve to die for it,"- a moral absolute which we simply don't have access to despite what we trick ourselves into believing. Life is all we've got as people, and it's very possible we only get one shot at it. I'm not justifying barbaric behaviour, but killing should never be an option, even if the person you contemplate killing in punishment has killed another themselves. It should be reconciliation over erasure, and reintegration, inclusion, and rehabilitation over execution.

6. People in real life aren't faceless, dehumanised, drones, unlike in most videogames (Uncharted, many others)They all lead lives. Many of them have loved and lost, many of them have suffered. Many of them have many people they dearly love and care about, and all of them are highly complex people with their own rich (and enriching) store of experience, no matter how stupid they may seem.

7. Animals aren't there for us to exploit, expend, and utilise. They are living creatures too. Just because they're not as advanced as us doesn't mean their lives are somehow beholden to us. This is a fallacy inculcated in us by the profit motivated advertising of the food industry which tries to defend it's corner of the market. Nor do we need any kind of meat to survive. We have enormously complex minds, and with them we can reconceive how we live our lives- we can find better alternatives. In fact, meat isn't even good for us- we can acquire the nutrition it offers from many other sources minus the unhealthy stuff (i.e. high fat and salt content) Thus when animals become utile fodder in videogames (Farcry 3, Assassin's Creed 3), note that this is a exiguous and over-simplified representation of reality. This attitude is a hangover from 17th-19th century imperialism and colonialism which sowed the seeds for what we now know as capitalism and corporatism- both of which put money ahead of all other considerations. We see packaged meats in stores and it puts us at a mental, emotional distance from the slaughtering of the animal- we deceive ourselves like this, and we merely feed a burgeoning and cynical meat industry.

8. Needless to say then, in reality, you don't come back to life at a checkpoint if you or anyone else dies. (virtually all games)

9. Is there not something just a liiiitle bit unnerving about this thought?: There is a developer (or many) who possibly worked overtime, sitting at his or her computer rigorously programming and perfecting an extremely violent animation or sequence. Is that not just a little bit weird? I'm thinking about the fatalities in the most recent Mortal Kombat game, or the stealth kills in Manhunt, or the No Russian scene in CoD, and the list goes on. Is it not just a little bit deranged to work so hard and obsessively and fastidiously on such a thing? Sure it's their job but does that really make it any less weird? Animating carefully so all the entrails spill out from a body sheared in two by a spinning razor-bladed hat?; Programming and animating very carefully hundreds of civilians being gunned down?; Animating carefully suffocation with a plastic bag so that the victim convulses convincingly? Atop all this then, rewarding the player for these things? Seems weird to me.

Anyway, I mention all this just as a preface to a more in depth discussion. The above is intended to enumerate the ways that videogames represent violence, and how those ways obviously differ from reality. Cross-referencing them with, or keeping them in mind while you read the following blog will be useful. I'm sure there are more examples, (If you guys can think of more, pop them in the comments section) but those are the ones that stand out to me. Onto the more difficult stuff then.


In The Aesthetics of Disappearance (1991), Paul Virilio, a French cultural theorist, discusses the notion of the "biorhythms of experience". He brings this notion up in relation to how the media, or our television viewing brings us in contact with reality, but a reality which is not the same as our own. However, we take this televisual reality as being representative of actual reality- as communicating actual reality to us. Virilio refutes this, and rightly claims that biorhythmically, the televisual experience bears no resemblance to actual experience of the events taking place on screen. Not only are the items we view heavily edited and constructed by highly selective processes, but they are also spatially and temporally remote from our experience. We come to psychologically associate the "reality" of these events with the comfort of our couches in our homes as we watch television. The "biorhythms" are entirely separate- comfort and security instead of fear and panic and pain. This extends to works of fiction too, be they games, films, or television shows. If they are live-action, they represent in a lot of cases a kind of Baudrillardian hyper-reality, which can often supplant our own reality in the sense that we come to think the world works like it does in the movies- the assumptions the movie makes about people, about the world, and about reality. That or they serve to make our ideologically constructed society look normal by contrast, when in actuality it is a entity constructed towards the ends of a particular group of people in power- a distortion of reality propagated as somehow "natural" and "real" when other more inclusive orders of society are certainly possible. We are caught in a box defined by language and its carefully selected and prescribed definitions, which are disseminated through diffuse institutionalisation. It's all really about perception and how it's controlled by those in power to achieve a desired political and economic outcome. But I think I'm digressing a tad.

Concerning games then, in a lot of ways they're closer to actual biorhythms of experience than films and television, a point I'll elaborate on further down. However they shouldn't be mistaken for such biorhythms - a threat which looms as games become more accurate in their portrayal of reality. Particularly the graphics / physics technology drive and virtual reality. Unlike a film, games give you an avatar which you directly control, and which you can use to instantly influence causation within the game world. In the case of a third person game, the biorhythms and the width of the experiential field is greater, and therefore cannot represent anything close to human experience. This is unless of course you're a massive egotist / narcissist /sociopath who sees and conceives themselves in the third person.

First person games come closer, but ultimately, you're not "there". You don't feel for example, the wind or the air against your skin, and the ground of the game under your feet. You aren't pumping adrenaline the way you would be if you were involved in a fire-fight the intensity of which you see in a videogame. You aren't properly "present" in that game, you are spatially and temporally distant from its events. No matter how you to influence the chain of causality within the game, you are remote from it in nearly every conceivable way. Thus it's important to think about and compare shooting someone in real life, with doing the same in a game. Sure, when you press R2 or the right trigger or the left mouse button, what results is a gun discharging and a dude dying - it's a direct, intentional causal chain (to say nothing of the gun replica controllers in this blog’s picture). However, the experience is simply not the same when like I said, you're not "there". Safe at home on your couch or your bed, your biorhythms are completely different. You're comfortable, the game is rewarding you, you come back to life if you die, and thus it's with ease that you mow down hundreds of people. In real life, firing off a gun and killing a dude is also a direct causal chain, but the physical, mental, and emotional circumstances are entirely different. You are more than likely panicking, fearing for your life, and hopefully, seriously dreading having to kill someone and the trauma that will accompany that. If not the latter point, I feel like the media has perhaps conditioned you a little bit too much.

Of course games aren't real, and as we all know what is happening on screen isn't actually happening. However, the implicit goal of videogames is to achieve fidelity with reality to the point that game experiences are truly vicarious experiences. This carries the ever burgeoning assumption among gamers that games are somehow getting closer to reality, and that the best representative of this growth is graphics. Gamers should be wary of falling into the trap of thinking a game is vicariously accurate just because the production values of the game are high and the graphics / physics are advanced.

The reason I'm ultimately writing this is because of a fear I have. As I've mentioned games are becoming more and more realistic. That is their unstated, but implicit goal, and it has been for the last decade, and dare I say it, perhaps even from their inception. With this comes some complex problems, and the danger that videogame reality could supplant actual reality. I mean this in the sense that we could come to accept a simulated, highly contrived reality as 100% representative of actual reality the more convincing it becomes. Thankfully, very few of us have had to experience a combat situation or have been embroiled in a school shooting or a massacre of any kind, but this also means that we lack the experience. All we really need in a game to convince us of the reality is a surface representation- a graphical representation. If the graphics start to very closely resemble our own reality, they have the potential to become highly influential on our own consciousnesses and perceptions. Deny this if you want, but many people judge things based on surfaces, particularly in this era of advertisement saturation, social networking, and consumerism. Add my point above about influencing causation with the tactile press of a button, and also the impending introduction of virtual reality with the oculus rift, and you should begin to see how impactful games could become on our culture and our perceptions of reality.

But why do we want games to be realistic? I realise there are many unrealistic, stylised games out there - from the cartoony to the surreal. However, it seems pretty obvious to me that it's the games which LOOK REAL that really get the wows from the collective gaming audience. Think Uncharted, Gran Turismo, or Crysis. Whenever a new game comes along that pushes the envelope in terms of realistic graphics, people are all over it, and it’s understandable, given how rich and complex physical reality is. However, people aren't as wowed by more stylised and unreal graphics that are equally if not more impressive in terms of creativity and imagination on the part of the designers. What we have to be vigilant about is that our fascination with realistic graphics doesn't get the better of us. We have to make sure that when games achieve a graphical fidelity that is truly coincident with reality, that we don't take those games as necessarily representative of our reality as it is. Just because a game looks like our reality, does not mean it obeys the same laws, and it certainly doesn't mean we can behave in real life the way we do in these hyper-realistic game worlds. Graphics then, are not, and will never be enough to cover and represent fully, our world. These days, most of these impressive "graphical realities" are populated with characters behaving like mindless idiots with shallow ideas of everything. Violence within these hyper-realistic worlds is portrayed a certain way (the way I've been discussing above) and certainly is not consistent with the facts of violence within our own reality. The scope of this blog extends only to violence, but it's easy to see how these things might apply to other things represented within these game worlds- cultural things from female expectations and stereotypes, as well as ideals of masculinity to racial stereotypes, and dodgy, and dangerously broad and inconsiderate philosophies and politics. These assumptions and preconceptions, along with the "realistic" game world, are thus considered also to be as "real" as that world, which needless to say is highly dangerous.

(Continued in the comments section. I've just about hit the limit)

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-Gespenst-1934d ago

This all comes back to the state of the games industry. As the user Zerocrossing in this blog( pointed out a few weeks back, the triple-A drive that predominates these days directly contributes to the broadness and shallowness of game appeal. With so much money being pumped into the games, it's too much of a risk to experiment in new territory, for there's no guarantee that such a novel idea will perform well on the market. This is an attitude that is plaguing games these days, and it allows devs to churn out games with super-broad appeal- games that lack sophistication and merely feed into consumer conservatism. Developers make games that satisfy and confirm completely consumers' expectations and preconceptions about what videogames are, and video-games’ development as a medium to be taken seriously becomes arrested. Instead of challenging cultural and social structures and assumptions then, games also feed into sedimented and antiquated ideas with an accessible and far too easily digested broadness, conceivably dumbing down their audience over a large span of time. It's the same with films.

Connected to this is the graphics and technology drive that's characterised the games industry for so long now. Graphics and visuals operate on a surface level and when they're the main event (at least implicitly), deeper issues, concerns and problems can be eschewed, and a culture of people who judge based on surfaces (or have been culturally weaned on such an attitude by economic and political conditions)can be roped in with ease. The juvenile preoccupation with technology then, feeds into this graphical fascination. Gamers become fixated on fetishised issues of optimal performance and graphical perfection. These things obviously work also to arrest games' development as a medium with something to say. You also see software and hardware developers pandering to other mass cultural trends such as social networking and connectivity, all of which operate on shallow, surface levels, and in order to reach such a broad audience, you need to make broad games.

-Gespenst-1934d ago

Thus the market for videogames is inundated with stupid and violent games, which nevertheless are highly advanced in the graphical and technological departments, and become impactful upon perceptions and upon reality in that way. On the surface they appear impressive and realistic, while underneath they are severely underdeveloped. (There's probably a good analogy for that somewhere.) Games have a reached a point where they need a reality check, and the mindless escapism that characterises the medium needs to be counterbalanced or tempered by more sophistication and complexity. Mindless games are far too prevalent and this can only spell disaster for our culture and I think having such a counterbalance of sophistication can work to really assert the "unreality" of said mindless titles - can work to remind us just how ridiculous and juvenile a lot of these games are - and we can thereafter enjoy them with a strong critical aegis and without the fear of them fostering a toxic culture.

At this point, as a closing remark, I think it's important that I mention that I'm not putting forward the typical fox news neo-con soccer mom "videogames (alone) cause violence" argument. It's a fatuous and reactionary argument with next to no evidence. What I'm concerned with here, is how videogames, as a rapidly growing cultural presence, can impact upon culture, and how they might become impactful enough to distort our understanding of reality, IN CONJUNCTION WITH multiple other cultural artefacts. For example, blockbuster films, television shows, and the media with all its reactionary political biases, not to mention socio-economic conditions across different places. No one can deny the central tenet of materialist philosophy - that humans influence their environment and the environment shapes US as humans - and in fact, I think most people subscribe to it. A lot of people seem to fail to understand how this operates at the level of culture however, and I hope this blog has elucidated that somewhat, for culture is our modus operandi as humans, it's how we relate to the world and build reality. We're limited in our perspectives (even at the literal level owing to the horizons around our very sense of sight) and so we need to write narratives to explain our existence and to give ourselves meaning. The point is to write the most inclusive, fair, considerate, and intersubjective narratives we can, and enshrine them in culture, and nearly everything we produce has a role to play in this, no matter how small. Do videogames cause violence then? The answer is that it will never and could never be that simple. Games do however operate within a larger cultural context, particularly today, and if a person has a culture inculcated in them in which simulated violence in the form I’ve been discussing is as ubiquitous as it is, it could certainly have an impact on how they think about violence and how they conceive of it. I’d go as far to say that a person immersed uncritically in this culture, when placed in a scenario of violence or argument, might be more inclined to use violence based on the assumptions they’ve internalised.

In conclusion, games, as their industry burgeons, are becoming big players in culture formation and in the economy, and we therefore need to be watchful of how they play. Thanks for reading.

-Gespenst-1934d ago

(N.B. To save a lot of embarrassment I'd strongly, strongly encourage you to read the blog before commenting. Trust me, it'll be very obvious if you haven't. It'd be nice if the comments section could be populated by civil discussion, not knee-jerk reactionaries. If something bothers you about it halfway through, pleeease please just continue reading until the end, I implore you.)

fsfsxii1933d ago

Amazing blog. Seriously one of the best recently.

Regarding games, i think, people don't like leaving their comfort zone which is FPS as is today, the industry in the past was still a baby, not sure where its going and was still experimenting various things. As the current generation came by, i think the industry grew up, budgets becme bigger, costs of making games became bigger, publishers fear bankrupty. The majority of people want mindless action games with no substance.

Ok, i'm not here to talk about video games.
I'm gonna talk about entertainment in general.
LEts start with movies, as i see movies today, they all evolve around shooting. Murder, crimes, any other illegal act in real life. Is that what the majority of people asking for?? Are people THAT empty from the inside and their life is so boring that all we need is seeing dudes getting murdered, is watching a person dying fun?? Its getting very rare in every form of entertainment to see something different, almost like bigfoot.

LEts talk games, as i look at the past 6 or 7 years of the industry, i see that the FPS games are the norm.
In the PS2, GC era, it was the JRPGs that was the norm.
But the industry now is very stagnant and i doubt the FPS norm will ever go, same as the movie industry, all movies have been around killing and explosions ever since the 80's

Personally, i'm getting sick of everything. even games, rarely comes a game that doesn't evolve around killing.

You can easily spot that i didn't read your blog, but i did. But my short memory doesn't let me comment on every subject and matter you mentioned in your excellent blog.

Again, excellent blog. We need more blogs like these. Not the fanboy crap i wake up everyday on.

-Gespenst-1933d ago

Don't worry, I can tell you read it, and thanks for the kind words and insightful additions to the discussion. It is a question I often ponder- why do people WANT these violent games? I think the industry is partly to blame; they advertised relentlessly, got gamers into the idea, and found themselves a nice little corner in the market. But I think it's a two-way street. I think there probably IS something about violent games that appeals to the less critical among us. The gaming community is an angry one, and violent games let them blow off steam and make their anger feel justified- give it a channel to be released. The only problem is that too many of them don't stop to consider that there might be something wrong with what they're doing, and also that the way they're channelling their anger is simulated ultra-violence.

But yeah, I can tell you read it, don't worry. Responses such as "Stupid liberals...", "Games don't cause violence you idiot" etc. are dead giveaways that the blog hasn't been read.

fsfsxii1933d ago

Thank you :)
I thought you'd bombard me because i thought my reply was stupid. I think people love their blood pumping with action games.

Please do more this kind of blog, we need more

zerocrossing1933d ago (Edited 1933d ago )

Excellent blog.

It's certainly worth reiterating the fact that the "false reality" portrayed by games, can and does have an effect on how may people (especially youngsters) perceive actually reality. Great graphics do well to give the illusion of an accurate portrayal of "reality" but many game worlds and their inhabitants are hollow and void of "reason" and "complexity" and often portraying the hero or villains complete extremes of good and/or evil.

Over exaggerated violence in games which tout "realism" is also an issue, like you mentioned above if one was to kill a person in real life there would be no reward in the form of xp or the like, no fancy sound effects and no respawning, as far as we know for any certainty a death is absolute, and actual human life (or animal life) should never be considered equivalent to that of a bunch of pixels and vertices.

We should be very careful how and in what way we allow our views and ideals to shaped by games. But as long as we keep in mind that no matter how realistic a game appears it is still not representative of actual reality, then all should be well.

But once again, excellent blog.

PS. Thanks for referencing and linking my blog :)

-Gespenst-1933d ago

I believe we're on the EXACT same page with regards to this issue haha.

And no problem about the link. I found your blog very strongly argued and it basically gave better articulation to some of my own thoughts I'd been having. If people don't quite get my line of argument at that particular point (my prose can be a little bit inaccessible out of habit, but I'm working on it hehe), I'm sure they would if they read yours. It has such clarity. Keep up the good work friend!

zerocrossing1933d ago

Thanks! Will do.

Given the overall quality of your blog that praise means a lot, you keep doing what you're doing to mate!

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