An Unpleasant Truth
A few years ago I was listening to talk radio presenter Nick Ferrari discussing violence in video games. It’s a perennial subject that often fills the phone in schedules. Nick is in his mid-fifties, is not a gamer and struggles to understand its appeal. While talking to a caller, the conversation continuously came round to the fact that killing plays such an integral role in so many games. The caller did their best to highlight the other aspects of gaming, such as the challenge of attaining achievements, the development of new skills and the social dimension. To which Mr Ferrari simply said “so why not play chess?” which also offers all of the above. Now I considered this to be a good question at the time. Then recently I purchased a game that stated as a selling point that it contained absolutely no violence, which brought this subject back to mind.
Obviously not all games are centred on killing. However let us proceed on the understanding that a sizeable portion do. Pick any premium title FPS then take a moment to consider its attractions. I’m sure such things as personal achievement, bragging rights and an adrenaline rush, come to mind. I’m sure catharsis and letting off steam also play a part. However, is there not an elephant in the room? And would not that said pachyderm be violence? It is a very emotive point. The moment that term is introduced into the equation, people will naturally start to backpedal. We are modern gamers. We are reconstructed, renaissance men and women. We are no longer knuckle trailing cellar dwellers. We’re well rounded, fully functional, emotionally connected human beings. As such, do we really wish to admit to a facet of our nature that is considered taboo?
Well most of us don’t. So we will spin as much bullshit as possible to avoid being linked to this aspect of gaming. Perhaps it would help if I admitted a few things, that possibly a lot of gamers do to a greater or lesser degree. When playing an FPS, I frequently give vent to the less seemly aspects of my personality. For example, I become extremely angry if things do not go my way, or if I am “one shotted” by some gaming savant. Furthermore I relish not just the defeat of an enemy but the very act of violence itself that is used; the more extreme and outrageous the better. Rational behaviour goes out the window and I become a potty mouthed, ill tempered, boiling cauldron of emotions. I revel in the exhilaration of this state. There is nothing like adrenaline and strong emotions to make you feel alive.
Gaming often inspires a broad spectrum of emotional responses. Be it the touchy-feely warmth of social gameplay, or throwing a complete fit because you got beat at Mario Kart once again. But it is the FPS that affords you the opportunity to act in a manner that you normally would never countenance, that elicits the strongest response. Society runs on a strict set of rules and a requirement that the public adheres to them. Unlike some people, I am happy to accept that everybody has the capacity to behave in the opposite fashion. These negative facets of our personality may well be baggage from our evolutionary past, but they cannot be ignored. I am not in any way endorsing that we should embrace these passions and allow them to govern our lives, but I do feel it is important that we at least acknowledge them.
At times gaming has shown me some of the less pleasant facets of my own nature. However rather than encourage these traits, I believe that gaming allows me to identify them, manage them and even purge them. Now I know a lot of people will reject this notion, as it offends their moral sensibilities to admit that within every human being a monster lurks. Yet has history not shown us that the most heinous crimes that we’ve committed against each other have frequently been carried out by regular people such as you and me? Therefore I believe it beneficial that gaming can provide a conduit for the channelling of aggression in a positive manner, in the same way that sports can.