Since the creation of violent video games, many parents have been blaming developers for rotting their child’s mind with graphic imagery.
The argument that violent video games cause violence in real life is now being applied to the mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado amidst similar arguments for gun control. There was even a planned burning of violent games in Southington, Conn.
Even though the burning never took place, the discussion has reached such prominence that Vice President Joe Biden invited game developers and other high profile members of the gaming industry to come to Congress to discuss what should be done about the issue, and whether or not it is one.
Members of the gaming press were divided on whether or not to go to the meeting at all. Kris Graft of Gamasutra felt that the meeting should simply be avoided and that going would validate any blame on the industry.
He was swiftly rebutted by Casey Lynch of IGN. “You suggest that participation implies some level of guilt and forces us into a defensive position, but our refusal to cooperate makes us appear that we have no defense to offer our accusers,” Lynch said, as he made a case that developers should at least be part of the discussion.
The meeting turned out to be a farce. It is largely agreed by sites such as Venture Beat and IGN that the video game industry was asked to the table as a rhetorical tool by the Democratic Party to refute the NRA’s claims after the Newtown shooting. Inviting industry leaders lets the administration say that they considered all options and that all parties were given a fair share.
While this meeting was more of an “Alice in Wonderland-style tea party,” as Venture Beat commented, rather than a legitimate in depth discussion, it succeeded in starting a conversation on what games are and why they are violent.
The reason why games are violent is not very complex at all. In a virtual space, there has been a limited number of ways to interact with avatars of other players, especially in way that people understand. Killing is the easiest to understand in that it’s very simple and has intrinsic relations to power.
It is easy for many people to understand that what they are holding is a gun, and if they point it at someone and fire, they die, and because they died and you lived, you gain power over them. That is the base concept behind games such as “Call of Duty” and “Borderlands.”
Even though games have changed dramatically over the last decade, this concept remains a trope of nearly all video games. Even games like “Angry Birds,” which reached very high levels of popularity on the iPhone and Android marketplace, functions on the idea that “If you kill X, then you are better than X,” except now there is a Y; your friends.
By associating a rating system to the game, which is describing how well you killed the pigs, you can associate that with your friends’ scores and say “I have killed X, I am better than X. But I did that better than Y, therefore I am better than Y.” This allows us, as gamers, to bring our power fantasies into the real world, even if we don’t realize it at first.
But I feel that the “killing formula” is not what games need to be, and I don’t think that all games can continue this trend for much longer and remain innovative. It won’t be long until we have killed players in every way imaginable, so we need a new formula. I think games like “Journey,” on the PlayStation Network, is going to comprise a large part in the future of how games are played.
“Journey” was not combative, had no strictly described story, no dialogue, friends list, leaderboard, invitation system, protagonist, antagonist or even health bar. But the game has since been nominated for hundreds of awards and even a Grammy for its musical score.
Players were playing multiplayer with other completely random strangers and going on a journey together in a bleak and desolate, but beautiful, desert in pursuit of a light on the horizon. The game is hard to describe and requires a hands-on experience to understand it.
The popularity of “Journey” leads me to believe that even gamers want to change the formula of what a game is and why it’s fun. And while many can’t name the “it factor” in “Journey,” I feel that it holds the secret to changing the basics of modern gameplay and moving away from the violence in today’s gaming culture.
By: Sean Burke