Thinking: Violence and games

Ok, now it suddenly became a lot more posts these two last days – I guess I realized it’s fun to post often rather then post only when you feel you *have* to.

So, lately, I’ve been hearing signs from oh-so-worried very-old-people that video games “makes our streets more violent” and blah blah blah. I’ve always been annoyed with that sort of un-based bullshit. Based on the Swedish ungdomsstyrelse (can translate to “council of youth”), they state that “Among the high-active gamers 24 percent states that they never drink alcohol, which can be compared to the 19 percent among those that never game”. And, following a tautology ((p^(p->q))->q), or “alcohol and ‘alcohol leads to violence’ combined leads to violence”, must mean that gamers are less likely to drink, and thus commit to violence.

Anyway, just the other day, a (yet again very very old) man in a debate-article first gives an example in a Swedish TV-show when a husband shoots his wife with a gun in front of their common child, and then the child watches his mother slowly die – and then states video-games are extreme! And, with the exception of the Manhunt-games, I can’t find any single example that covers death to be even near “extreme” such a scene. It all sounds like prejudices. But, fact is, it *is* a lot of killing in games – an maybe that’s what he meant to say. It’s hard finding a FPS, a RTS or even an RPG that’s not very violent. And the violence scares potential customers away from the whole medium. So why are games so violent?

I thought about that since I read that text last morning, and I think I’ve got an answer now: Games – as opposed to movies, music or even theatre – are about doing things. And with the usual roles of a “hero” and a “villain”, it quickly comes down to fighting. Which means violence. Or War. Even though very few conflicts is solved by violence today in real life, it’s what’s most usual in our virtual world. But how can you do a game that’s about a struggle without involving over-the-top, provoking, violence?

I think the answer is that you put the challenge somewhere else. The fighting is, after all, only intended to challenge you. The platformer is the easiest to make non-violent: Let the environment be the opponent, and the challenge to overcome obstacles in it. RPGs can be shifted from fighting mobs to convince, bribe, debate with or blackmail people to gain information or favours to reach your goal, that instead of “beating the living crap out of a giant monster” can be “uncover the truth about X”. The FPS and C&C-style RTS might be the hardest one to do without feeling unnatural. They tend to be about war, after all. First thing should be to, instead of many opponents that are dumb or weak have a few that’s strong and smart. That every opponent is a challenge in itself. From there, instead of gory death-animations we could have a ghost flying to the sky (pikmin-style) or burning up (Starcraft’s Zealots). The gore is, after all, there to be satisfying, but there can be other effects that’s just as satisfying without demanding rag-dolls and gore. And, as an option to the obvious killing, you can capture, disable or tranquillize the opponents.

The graphics can do a lot to justify these non-gory ideas that would just sound silly in our minds. More cartoony, or non-realistic, graphics with some colour would make it reasonable. The risk here is that some may go “amagad, kids-game!”, and you’ve lost, so just enough cartoony to not make it seem like intended photo-realism.

And in case non-violent solutions doesn’t work: There’s no need to exaggerate it – some people won’t get that sense of humour and will use it as an example of how bad our industry is.

Edit: Forgot this motivation why “reaching new audiences” is important (beside the potential profit-increase): Less gamers means less potential developers, which means less competition, which means stagnation or worse games then if this issue is solved.

Edit2: Source for the quote about youngsters and alcohol: http://www.ungdomsstyrelsen.se/ad2/user_documents/unga_och_natverkskulturer.pdf

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