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Essay about violence in video games.


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#1 Carolus Rex

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 05:05 PM

Hey everyone. For my english class i'v written a little essay and i though i'd share. The topic was violence in media and we have been discussing school shotings and gun control.

This is just first draft and i know there is some thing in need of a change. But here it is.

Why all the violence?

“Spacewar!” is one of the earliest known computer games. It has each player take control of one spaceship and trying to shoot the other players spaceship while circling a star with a gravitational pull in the centre. This was in 1962, and ever since we have stabbed, shot, bludgeoned and generally killed one another in every way imaginable. But why is this? Theories that are applicable to other media, like that violence sells, is by all means true. Although the big underlying reason is so much more complicated than that.

To understand why it seems like video games are inherently violent. We have to take a step back and define what a game is. A game is a system defined by a set of rules with one or multiple win states, meaning that the participants have to fulfill a set of requirements to win the game. Whether it’s to make your opponents run out money, calling their bluffs or score more points than they do by arranging letters into words. Games are always defined by a set of rules, and there is nothing inherently violent about this.

Traditional games seem to be able to avoid the topic altogether. We have games such as poker which test your ability to read emotion and your mathematical ability. Even sports such as American football, often criticized for its militaristic undertones with callouts such as “Shotgun”, pails in comparisons to Call of Duty’s ultraviolent “No Russian” mission.

Two things happen when you make the switch to video games. One that you of load the enforcement of rules onto the computer and the other are that the player gets an immediate visual representation of his actions consequences on screen. The latter is actually quite liberating, giving the developer an infinitely changeable canvas to represent his game onscreen. All you would have to do is draw it with any kind of graphics you would like. And there we have it; it is the down side to this change that makes it easier to make a games core mechanic centre around spatial simulation.

Ever since games where put on a screen, the easiest way to letting the player know the state of the game is to give him a visual representation. For example: Lowering the tax rates in Sim City. The player might have an idea that lowering taxes will encourage residential growth but not only will it take a long time before the state of the game changes, but the setting might also need to be toyed with to get a full understanding of the mechanic. Juxtapose this to jumping in Super Mario Brothers, you get an immediate visual representation of what you are trying to do. This means that video games that are designed around spatial simulation are much easier to make.

And it doesn’t stop there. Every single piece of in-put hardware that has been made for video games with the exception of a keyboard and mouse centres on facilitating input as directional data modified by states like jumping and shooting. Developers have gotten so good at making spatial simulations that there is even a sense of virtual movement as an aesthetic choice called kinaesthetic. Contrast that with, for example, our ability to systemize a simple conversation.

There is the industry standard dialog tree. Which is fine for role playing games with set narrative paths but do little do actually simulate a conversation any more than a choose-your-own-adventure book does. Then there is the level-up bar the something like The Sims uses. Level-up bars focuses more on the outcome rather than the act of conversation. This mechanic is similar to combat in table top role playing games, a dice roll that sidesteps meaningful simulation with the act of a pseudo random outcome. If it isn’t already apparent, it’s easier to make a game where you pummel a man to death than it is to make a game where you shake his hand and get to know him.

All our most popular video game genres like racing games, platforming games, shooters of every variety, sports games, fighting games and real time strategy games are all centred around mechanics that is about manipulating yourself or objects you control through space. Meanwhile, games that are more back-end heavy have taken more of a backseat, especially on home consoles.

Now why is this? As I stated before, violence sells and video games are targeted to a demographic of 18-35 year old straight white males who the “LONESOME HERO THAT SAVES THE WORLD THROUGH VOILENCE” storyline really resonates with. But these exacerbate the situation more than they are the actual cause of it. I’m arguing that is not that developers selectively choose violence out of all of the possible topics they could cover. Instead I posit that it is genuinely hard to systemize interactions on a computer, that not physical in nature, without making that system more obtuse to the player and too abstract to comprehend. Alternatively boiling it down to an insulting simply level-up bar that completely misses the point. Consequently games are more about special and physical conflict and as a result of that, violence pops up more thematically than in other media.

Violence isn’t chosen as a topic for video games because the developer necessarily wants to. It’s because that producing violent content is the path of least resistance. Technologically, aesthetically and financially. And this isn’t going to change. Mass markets are not going to shift towards complicated and abstract simulations. As long as violence sells violence is going to be produced, whether we like it or not. Hardware is still gear towards spatial simulation which is accessible to the consumer and convenient for developers.

The question that remains isn’t how we move on beyond spatial simulation. Rather it is how we deal with the fact that it is an increasingly permanent fixture in our medium.

Edited by Carolus Rex, 14 February 2013 - 05:08 PM.

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#2 pumpbusters

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 08:40 PM

This is coming from a game designer, I agree that violence has an incredibly powerful and quick feedback loop for the player, that said it does not mean it is the only way to give the player feedback from his/her actions. But there's no feasible way to force game designers to enter a new way to give feedback, the only thing to change that within video games is the markets reception of another genre over the standard FPS/shoot 'em up game. Well written though, but just be aware that shooters aren't the largest genre within gaming, first being action-adventure (some are violent yes) followed by sports, then finally shooters. Good luck on your English essay

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#3 Carolus Rex

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Posted 15 February 2013 - 01:36 AM

Thanks man. Appreciate the feedback. I will definantly take this into consideration.

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