Are you a violent person? Do you have a lust for blood? We’re sure the answer is ‘no’, but even the most timid gamer has felt the withering, snobbish gaze of someone who equates your enthusiasm for first-person shooters with the repressed desire to inflict pain.
We know that the sensationalism is groundless, that no school shooting has ever been prodded along by exposure to Counter-Strike, but your denials and refutations can never be entirely convincing. The uncomfortable fact is, videogames have an unhealthy obsession with bloodshed. To some degree, a love of videogames demands a love of violence.
One of the most common replies to such accusations is the idea that decades of Super Mario Bros. have failed to birth generations of high-jumping turtle killers. The presumed intent is to show how virtual violence has no affect on nascent minds, and that gamers are perfectly capable of distinguishing between the two realities they inhabit. However, what it also illustrates is just how central violence is to almost all videogames, however innocuous the presentation. Unless it’s puzzle-based or a simulation, almost every videogame, no matter who it’s aimed at, features violence as your principal means of interacting with the world. If the old adage that ‘violence solves nothing’ was literally true, then videogames would consist of nothing but racing sims and Tetris clones, and the Mushroom Kingdom would be brimming over with lethargic reptiles.
Few people see this as a problem. Even the nuttiest anti-games campaigner brands only the most explicit titles as sick filth, and blindly ignores the mountains of corpses at the feet of Crash Bandicoot or Ratchet & Clank – Mario and Sonic have blood on their hands, and they know it. Perhaps, then, the ubiquity of violence says more about human nature than it does about the nature of videogames.
“I’d argue that we’re conditioned so much to not respond violently to situations that our flight/fight/fuck response is attracted to events in videogames that allow you to just cut loose,” says Chris Avellone, creative director at Obsidian Entertainment, and an RPG veteran whose career spans Planescape: Torment and Fallout. “In games, you can punch your boss or throw him out a window rather than meekly sitting there and nodding.
If you gave me the power to shoot red energy bolts from my hands that could hurl cars and people around, with the magical side effect of it causing absolutely no consequences or harm to any living thing, I’d want that power. I’d use it on the freeway every day. Or if you gave me a fully functioning lightsaber and told me that whenever I hit someone with it they would explode into colourful Lego bricks with a kitchen bell sound, I’d want to do that, too.”