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.
THE NOT SO OBVIOUS.
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)