Experience Points: Violent Games Help Us
After reading up on US Vice President Joe Biden’s recent remarks, regarding statements he made that violent games should have some form of sin tax, I was a tad flabbergasted. For this purpose, I wanted to bring to the fore the idea that games, even violent ones, can be a catalyst for positive change in people’s outlooks rather than violent de-sensitising media for the masses. The hard truth is that games are an easy victim of the violence debate. This is because of their content and the misconstrued priorities of politicians and public figures who demonise games as a scapegoat tactic for facing the larger issues at hand, like actually dealing with gun control in the US.
There are so many games with violent content, like BioShock Infinite and Spec Ops: The Line as two diverse examples, that use violence as a means to examining the human condition. Yes, I will agree that it is unavoidable to not say that there are games which glorify violence, but every major medium does this to some extreme. However, in every major medium, like TV and film, violent content can be used to frame a narrative which explores greatly expansive themes and emotional dilemmas. In turn, violence can be a catalyst for change in the mindset of the viewer, or gamer if you are playing a game.
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The most recent example, I can use from my own experience, would have to be BioShock Infinite. The game is not shy with violence and after a few moments of world building in the game, Booker engages in an ever rising escalation of violence that caters to the FPS-driven nature of game, and the adrenaline fuelled action. But the violence serves another purpose as a narrative counterpoint later on and is used to make sense of Booker as a character, and a definable person. Violence is a great way to demonstrate human flaws, vulnerability and weakness. It is something so entrenched in the human psyche and culture in general, that it is inseparable from what makes us human. When games can tap into the human psyche through violence, strong statements about society can be made to great effect.
This is not to say that there aren’t games which glorify violence. Many military FPS games do glorify violence, but from my perspective violence in these types of games always feels ‘unreal’. I think this has a whole lot to do with being able to tell the difference between the extreme representation of violence that many military shooters embrace that involves an arcade influenced sensibility in the depiction of violence, and the usage of violence in other games as means for exploration of the human psyche. I am not denying that violent games can be hard hitting and gruesome in many instances. This is unavoidable, as there is no true standard for violence across the board.
But I feel it comes to down to people playing games and their perception of reality. Where school massacres and school shootings are concerned, mental instability in the shooters themselves has far great implications than actual violent videogames, and freely available access to guns is the bigger issue at hand here. Games use violence in a more direct and interactive way than any other medium and can tackle violence in interesting ways, and can help us to talk about bigger issues. Whether violent games should be taxed in some way is trivial, and baseless at best.