Think of the Children

It’s interesting that I have never had a problem with video game violence, considering how sensitive I’m of seeing real blood and injuries in still images and videos. Even fictional violence in movies has made me look away, like that of, say, RoboCop’s at the time, although not so much anymore as an adult. Okay, of movies of late the Saw series has made me fast-forward some over the top scenes, but otherwise, I’m starting to be cool with almost all kinds of (fictional) movies.

In regard of actual violence, I’m actually so appalled by it that it gets me even in such an abstract form as thermal imagining camera footage that one encounters in the media from time to time, in which barely recognizable, pixelated human silhouettes get shot into pieces. It’s indeed not the graphical representation of violence in itself, but the mere idea – the belief, even if false – that someone is actually getting hurt that makes my guts shiver.

So when dealing with simulated violence like such found in video games, there’s not even a slightest chance that the object of the make-believe cruelty is real, sentient being, in contrast to movie/video footage violence (cartoons etc. aside), which leaves always the door open regarding that question – at least in theory. A case in point is the cult movie Faces of Death which contains real and fictional acts of violence mixed together in a fairly ambiguous fashion.

It’s pretty given that violence has always been part of video games in one form or another, if we consider violence as an act of disintegrating an opponent, what it basically is. However, if we determine the official birth of video game violence as the moment when the mainstream media got interested and “concerned” about it, I believe it was Doom that first raised some serious headlines back in 1993. In many senses, Doom was a perfect storm: a revolutionary ray-casting technology, killer playability, and, of course, unprecedented graphical violence.

Yes, there’s no denying the splattering blood, exploding bodies and the controversy that followed the game did have very much to do with the success of Doom. I remember reading reviews that made a big deal of the violence, making it clear that Doom was definitely not for kids, which wasn’t something a video game reviewer had a chance to say so often back then.

This is interesting, because while the concern regarding the violence in Doom surely was sincere to a certain extent, there was at the same time an underpinning sense of pride that came across. That finally video games were able to depict violence in such detail that it could actually harm the psyche of a kid growing up, which was, of course, a bit alarmistic sentiment considering how abstract and blocky Doom was. In addition, the pride stemmed as well from the fact that the mainstream media finally acknowledged the existence of video games, even if in somewhat unfavorable light. And video games and gamers have always craved for acknowledgment if anything from the “outside world”, which Doom provided plenty of back then, thanks to the violent nature of it.

Above resonates actually with the case in which an Iraq veteran allegedly suffered from flashbacks through playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Of course, in principle, it’s a terrible thing that a man loses his marbles that way, but as a gamer, it brings me some strange pride that a video game can have that kind of an effect on someone. As if the reality is finally starting to intertwine with the simulation, which is the goal of the whole video game project, isn’t it?

All in all, video game violence, for me, is simply a sophisticated continuation for childhood play and games in which toy soldiers got blown up by firecrackers, or mutilated in some other way. It’s just very difficult to see anything more to it.

As I stated in my thesis in Chapter 4.2, there really is no ethical dimension whatsoever in simulated violence, as long as the analog is a non-sentient being.