Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 13, 2010
 
Why is there so much virtual murder?

The US homicide rate is about 5 in 100,000 per year. While this is still considered as high compared to other countries with a similar standard of living, it nevertheless tells us that over 99.99% of Americans manage to get through a whole year without killing somebody. But when we move from the real world to the virtual worlds of video games, the numbers reverse. Unless you’re only playing the small games that came with Windows and some Facebook games, chances are that your recent video game activities had a good amount of virtual murder in them. Killing sentient beings in one form or another is the main activity in the majority of video games. Whenever I report on a video game without combat, I get comments declaring that to be too boring to play. Why is that, and what does it tell us about the ethics of people who play video games? Please understand this as an open question. I don’t want to “accuse” anybody, and I’m certainly myself part of the group of people who spends much of their free time killing virtual beings in computer games.

There are two different schools of thought on that matter. One point of view is that games aren’t real, and therefore a safe environment in which people can live out their inner aggression without causing any actual harm. Video games have even been credited with a reduction in crime by keeping unemployed young men busy stealing cars in GTA instead of on their own streets. The other point of view is that our preferences in virtual worlds, in which our acts have no or little negative consequences, reveals a lot about who we really are. If, when given free choice of virtual worlds and activities, we’d rather kill other people with headshots and then teabag them than try to do something creative or collaborative, then maybe we aren’t really all that nice and civilized as we might want to pretend. That doesn’t mean that “video games make people violent”, because most people are well able to distinguish virtual from real, and are aware of the negative consequences of real world violence. But it poses the question of whether we are violent and evil to start with, and are just clever enough to hide and suppress those feelings in the real world. A recent study suggested that 60% of young males would punch a coworker in the face if they could get away with it.

One frequently cited excuse for liking violent video games with lots of combat is the aspect of “risk”. If we pretend to be somebody else, we’d rather pretend to be somebody living a dangerous and adventurous life. But if that was the case, why is the violence in video games so one-sided, the player usually killing lots and lots of enemies, and dying only rarely himself? More soldiers survived World War II than died in it, thus on average every survivor killed less than one enemy over 6 years. In a WWII shooter a video gamer kills hundreds of enemy soldiers in the span of a few hours. Not only do our virtual characters die a lot less often than the computer-controlled enemies, the games are also usually designed in a way to minimize the penalty for dying. In a typical MMORPG the chances for you die on a typical solo quest are close to zero, and if you still manage to die, you’ll be back up to full strength within minutes. Violent video games are very little about risk to the player, and very much about *dishing out* violence. The “risk” is a video game is always just to have to play through the same content again, and it would be perfectly possible to have “risk” like that in a game where the player is something non-violent, like a fireman or astronaut.

An increasing number of video games is not only violent, but either casts the player in an evil role, or at least gives him the choice between being good or evil, with no negative consequences for choosing the latter. Again we have to ask ourselves what it tells about us if we choose to play an evil character, a thug rather than a hero. Virtual worlds theoretically allow us to be anything, but instead of choosing to be a hero, an astronaut, a fireman, a doctor, or an architect, we choose to be a car thief or contract killer. Bioware is apparently confident that if given the choice between good and evil in the quintessential good vs. evil drama of the Star Wars universe, around half of the players would rather be evil oppressors than the heroes trying to save the universe. Funny, I don’t remember half of the audience cheering for Darth Vader back in 1977 when I saw the first Star Wars movie.

Even if we say that evil acts in virtual worlds somehow “don’t count” as evil because pixels don’t suffer, the ethics of video games become more difficult in MMORPGs, where we interact through the virtual world with other real humans. If killing in virtual worlds isn’t evil, then is cheating evil? Is betrayal evil? Selfishness? Is robbing your guild bank an evil act, or just part of the game? How about botting and gold farming? Hacking? Ninja-looting or kill-stealing? Chat that is racist or gay-bashing? Begging and leeching? If evil didn’t exist in virtual worlds, then why are all the MMORPG bloggers so frequently complaining about other players behaving badly in their game? If morals didn’t exist in MMORPGs, you couldn’t even bash other players as “morons & slackers”, because such a judgment is based on a social standard of how informed, efficient, and hard-working other players are supposed to be. If I can “roleplay” a killer without that saying anything about my ethics, I could also be “roleplaying” a thief, traitor, racist, or lazy bum.

If you talk to video gamers, it isn’t as if they had no ethics or moral standards at all. But if question them about what they consider okay and not okay as behavior in a game, you end up with set of ethics rules which sounds rather twisted if applied to real life, and which changes from game to game, and even sometimes from player to player. Part of that is actually hard-coded into the games, or enforced by the game companies: Excessive violence is okay, but if you say “fuck” the chat-filter censors that out. Blizzard’s customer service won’t intervene if somebody ninja-loots or robs your guild bank (unless it was a hacker), but the GMs now patrol Goldshire to prevent people from having cybersex there.

Another aspect is how technological advances in video game graphics make virtual murder appear more “realistic” over time. The violence of Space Invaders is highly abstract, but the violence in Dragon Age: Origins is very visual and gory. Apparently EA thinks that players will find it funny when a dialogue after a fight shows them splattered with gore, instead of them feeling any revulsion. Isn’t there a danger of us numbing towards the images of violence because of this? If we just spent several hours decapitating people in a video game, does the video of jihadists decapitating a hostage on the news later that day still provoke the same horror in us? A game is said to be good if it “immersive”, but is a virtual world full of excessive violence and murder really something we should be immersed in? And is all that virtual evil really as harmless as we think it is?

Rarely have I written a post with so many question marks in it, and although you might find the questions leading, they are nevertheless open questions to which I invite you to find your own answer. The main question however is not whether virtual murder is “evil”, but why virtual violence is so predominant in video games, except for casual games and children games. I recently asked why there are no games about blood elf porn, and now I ask why there are so many games about blood and violence, and so few games without it. Even if you consider virtual murder to be harmless, the question why there is so much of it is still valid.
Comments:
Why do some movies have violence and why do we like them?

Entertainment. Through the media, whether it be games or movies, we are participating in an adventure more exciting than our mundane lives.

It's the action and excitement that is so outside our normal everyday experience that we find appealing rather than some affinity for the violent act.

Video game heroes (or villians) live more exciting lives because of the violence.

I think that describes why the "average" and well adjusted person finds appealing in these games.

Now in some individuals, the fantasy provides an outlet for violent tendencies that already exist within the person. The game/movie simply provides them an outlet to express those feelings.

That, in itself, is not an entirely bad thing provided they are satisfied with the fantasy.

The issue arises when the mentally unbalanced individual wants to progress from fantasy to reality.

These people are the 0.001% of individuals that commit the truly violent crimes. And while that's a minority, incidents like Columbine will forever taint the industry.
 
We buy it because we like it. And like sid67 says, we like it because it appears exciting. It's the idea of excitement we like, not the reality of it. Which explains that noone would want to buy the real WWII FPS where you walked around with no clue what was going on and shot randomly at people who you never knew whether you had hit or not.

And it's not the risk that appeals to us. We hate risk. It's the sense of danger. Like roller coasters. A theme park where 5% of the customers died or were seriously injured on the rides wouldn't enjoy very high popularity, but they still call the rides stuff like "Terror" and "Insane" to give us the feeling that we're really on the edge participating in these activities.

And the whole good/evil thing doesn't really count, does it? Darth Vader was the bad guy in Star Wars. He was more Lich King than Thrall, so to speak. And of course BioWare will not be making it clear to the players that they are bad people for choosing to play the "other" side in their MMOG, nor will they penalise them for it.

Ultimately, it's possibly down to such a simple thing as mechanics. In game terms, it's relatively easy to make a fun and compelling experience out of a series of violent encounters (killing, at least in video game mechanics terms it appears, is rather simple). Architecture is simply by its nature a rather slow process that appears to be much more difficult to condense into something playable.

And to be fair, the world is also full of popular "non-violent" video games, including surgeon games (Trauma Center). Not to mention the non-violent the Sims and SimCity.

And as to the difference between how you treat NPC:s and other players, isn't that distinction quite easy to draw? Yes, my toon is a killing machine and I may kill Bambi for fun in Grizzly Hills, but why would that bar me from complaining if you're rude to me?
 
I think that to make games exciting they exist in a world that is harsher and more action packed than ours.

Life and death conflict appeals to something slightly primal in us.

It also exists in games because it is something you can't/won't do in the real world.
A driving sim where you drive safely and stop at the traffic light? may as well just go for a drive. A basketball game where the players can't dunk and miss most of their shots?

Games offer an opportunity to go outside our normal experience. Why are half the shows on TV crime shows (mostly murder investigations)?

You are right that games do seem highly focused on violence. I think that is because its a part of life that most of us fortunately have very limited experience with. But because it is very physical we can engage with it mentally/imagination/sub-consciously?

As Gevlon would say our "Ape sub-routines" involved lots more violence back in pre-civilized times. Maybe the Ape part of the male brain just likes the idea of hitting stuff?
 
An interesting note is that generally players are much happier when they have a reason for killing things.

Having seen the Cataclysm starting areas, a lot of work has gone into the storytelling to say "THIS is why you're killing 10 foozles".
 
From studies I've read, playing video games of a certain type, leads to seeking out video games of the same type (violent vs non-violent).

Also, we distinguish from play and reality (unless you have some sort of mental imbalance or disturbance), meaning that we don't translate violence from play into violence in reality.

Studies have also shown that venting anger simply prolongs the anger, and can actually lead to people being more likely to lash out at someone.

So in the end, playing a violent videogame for "release" does not actually help keep us from going over the edge. Instead, it would be better to play a non-violent game to help deal with anger, since venting anger with violent video games leads to a dependence on that sort of venting.
 
Assuming you believe in evolutionary theory your questions are not very hard to answer. (Otherwise it can be arbitrarily difficult or easy to answer).

Humans, especially, the male version, did primarily two things during their main period of their evolution: Hunting & Gathering and kill each other. When hunting, the guy who is best at killing things is the one with the most social prestige. Chances for reproduction were greatest for him, as women wanted to have sex with him most. Those societies where women didn't want that, were worse at hunting and killing. Thus, they tended to be out-reproduced by the others.

It is important that the vast majority of men did not like the actual act of killing. It is dangerous and a lot of work. Evolution also made them differentiate drastically between *us* and *them*. *Them* you could kill. *Us* you shall love. Culture is responsible for teaching that difference. Nowadays everybody is considered *us*. There are no *them*. Not an easy task.

Games evolved as training when there was no current need to kill anything. Thus we love games when we are bored. In fact, todays work can be considered a modern game.

Consequently, almost all games that humans ever invented included elimination of an opposing force. Chess is once a again a prime example. And even in those game that consist of mere collection of points (e.g. soccer), you talk about the winner and a defeated team. The choice of words is indistinguishable from war or hunting.

In addition to games, humans evolved to like stories, because stories teach you things that often turn out useful later on. That's why we are so good at remembering stories in contrast to e.g. numbers. MMORPGs combine games and stories about war and hunting. They also include gathering, that is collecting e.g. epics.

Some humans love leading and strategizing, too. Since too many cooks aren't good for the meal, humans that turn out to be bad at strategizing very fast dislike it. But those who turn out to be good at it just love it.

Of course this is just a comment and not a scientific paper ;)
 
@sid67 and Oscar, but WHY is violence so prevalent?

I think a heroes life could be exciting without the violence.

The question is, if the gameplay can be engaging enough. I think it would be more an issue of mechanics.

One of my son's favorite games is Rescue Heroes on the GBA. The game is a Man vs. Nature type game, with the "bad guys" being fire, that he uses water to put out. The stage goals are to rescue all the survivors.

The game is a bit simple, but could easily be upgraded, mechanics-wise, to be as fun as other side- scrollers out there.
 
http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html

I found this myths article, while searching up stuff. Check it out (they cite their references at the bottom of the page).
 
It's the general lack of empathy I guess. A good experiment would be to introduce a game with realistic or even exaggerated death and suffering. Using state of the art graphics and physics to create realistic violence is only half of the picture, as no sensible game would portray agonizing enemies (unless they're hell spawn that obviously deserve a horrible death). You blast thousand of enemies, they blast you back sometimes, it's really just fast food for some primitive part of our brains. That's why game and movie violence is so delicious. But, see, here's the difference, an action movie packed with explosions and gunning is very different from a horror movie that depicts the victim's suffering in details. Certainly not everyone can stomach the latter. Games make it even worse by putting you in the shoes of the one causing the suffering. I reckon a game that tries to achieve that would be viewed as an abomination and merely playing it would be socially unacceptable.

On a side not I can't help but remind myself of one particular youtube video about a washing machine that self-destructs because the owners put a brick in the spinning barrel. Why was a video about violently tossing around washing machine flagged as inappropriate? Did people somehow empathize with the "agony" of a home appliance?
 
Humans, especially, the male version, did primarily two things during their main period of their evolution: Hunting & Gathering and kill each other. When hunting, the guy who is best at killing things is the one with the most social prestige. Chances for reproduction were greatest for him, as women wanted to have sex with him most.

Thus we need to wait for a time span which is significant in terms of evolution, several generations in fact, to "repair" the "evolutionary error" of young males applying the hunter mentality of violence to video games? If you think that success at killing things in video games will make women have sex with you, you are in for a big disappointment. This is an evolutionary dead end.
 
Thus we need to wait for a time span which is significant in terms of evolution, several generations in fact, to "repair" the "evolutionary error" of young males applying the hunter mentality of violence to video games?

Evolution can be judged, but you asked for an explanation not a judgement. That's the explanation. Like it or not.

About the future: Evolution still works (woman breast size is steadily increasing in the west), but it is quite weak. We will either eliminate ourselves or transform into cyborgs (that some of us already are) long before (traditional) evolution will have changed us much.


If you think that success at killing things in video games will make women have sex with you, you are in for a big disappointment. This is an evolutionary dead end.

Erm.. strawman?
 
Ooh, videogame violence. Such a juicy topic :D

Quick sum up of the main reasons for violence being a major part of game design:
1) Life and death is a very clear game mechanic. It speaks very strongly to us, and it's the basis for all games.

2) We have always been facinated by these life/death situations. Look at most old historic texts, myths and legends: Its about people on the edge of life in death, which prevail or fail due to heroism or too few virtues.

3) It's not just any type of violence, it's one specific type of violence: murder. Just like in movies and books, we can deal with antagonists that kills others (for good or evil reasons) and do so without blinking. However, other types of violence - such as rape, does not hold the same position. That indicates it's not really about violence as we understand it IRL, but a action/survival mechanism that exist only in the fictional realm.

@Pangoria Fallstar
The studies that have shown increase in aggression while playing violent video games, have never been able to link this to increase in aggressive behaviour.
The entire media violence debate is a fallacy based on moral panic and poorly designed experiments.

@Nils
It's not a question about believing in evolutionary theory, but if you believe in the pseudoscience known as "evolutionary psychology" who works very hard to link current behaviour with perceived ideas about stoneage life. (By all means, it have some very good contributions, but most of the things that makes it through the media is so methodologically weak I would have failed undergrads for presenting it...)
 
Pangoria Fallstar, I meant to attempt to address that in my comment, but as always it wasn't very clear. I think that the answer is simply that it's easier from a game mechanics point of view. Violence and killing can be portrayed in a lot of different settings and in a lot of different ways and game designers will probably just take the shortest route to big sales. If it requires more thinking to design (and sell) an architecture game then they'll stay away from that.

Or so I thought until just now that I wrote this. But I have to admit that there is something strangely compelling with the whole killing thing. It's sickening sometimes, and anything but "realistic", but still. I mean, who really thinks that Modern Warfare 2 would have sold as much if all the guns in the game were different kinds of water pistol? And there are special rewards in MGS for completing the game by just using stun guns and non-lethal takedowns, but does anyone really choose those paths on a first playthrough?

On the other hand, I really don't buy Nils' old "we're all still cavemen" routine if nothing else because we're *not* all still cavemen. And female breast size increasing is not a result of evolution, it's chemically induced. ;)

So why? I think the other explanations offered here are good, better than most you read in papers and articles discussing this. Yes, I'll fall back to that starting position: it's the sense of danger that does it. The sense that you *can* die at any time. That gives us that entertainment, that stimulus we're looking for. Adrenaline, dopamine, whatever.

Intereting.
 
On the other hand, I really don't buy Nils' old "we're all still cavemen" routine if nothing else because we're *not* all still cavemen

Culturally we are not, but our brain is still weird this way. If you disagree please tell me another theory for the existence of the human brain. Why we are so good at guessing what other people are guessing or why our brain is so sood at detecting motion amidst trees, but fails at artificial stuff, like this

By the way: A very good book I would recomment to anybody interested is How the mind works by Steven Pinker.
 
Erm.. strawman?

Erm.. deliberately misunderstanding my point?

If you argue that young males like video game violence because evolution taught them that violence leads to sex, you must allow me to point out that this isn't the case for video game violence. Thus I think your evolutionary explanation is wrong, because there is no evolutionary reason to play violent video games.
 

If you argue that young males like video game violence because evolution taught them that violence leads to sex, you must allow me to point out that this isn't the case for video game violence. Thus I think your evolutionary explanation is wrong, because there is no evolutionary reason to play violent video games.


Running danger of commentiong too much again, but I think you asked for a replay.

Men that were good at hunting and liked to do it, reproduced better then those who were not or didn't like it, because women selected these men. Societies that did not have such women were ourreproduced by other societies.

Thus, men tend to like conflict and consider it very satisfying to prevail.
Full stop.

The reasoning is not that boys think that playing computer games makes them attractive. They know that it doesn't. Women like social prestige and playing video games is very bad at creating social prestige.

The boys brain is wird in a way that worked in an environment that our species spent most of their time evolving in.
As another example, boys also like social prestige. Not because they think that this will get them more sex, but because social prestige in general worked very well for reproduction. Thus, the brain uses a shortcut. This one still worked nowadays - if there were no birth control :)

Just like you don't enjoy sex, because you want more children, boys enjoy prevailing in a conflict not because that gives them more children, but because in the past those boys who enjoyed and prevailed in conflict reproduced
- even if they didn't even want more children at all. In the absense of birth control their sex drive made them beget children if beautiful women wanted to have sex with them.
 
the pseudoscience known as "evolutionary psychology" who works very hard to link current behaviour with perceived ideas about stoneage life.
...
most of the things that makes it through the media is so methodologically weak I would have failed undergrads for presenting it.


Amen. I don't know who is worse, the people who claim that Darwin was wrong and there was no evolution, or the people who claim that Darwin's evolutionary theory can explain every modern phenomenon.

Sorry, stone age behavior does *not* get imprinted in people's brains making them do evolutionary foolish things like playing violent video games. That is a blatant misrepresentation of the theory of evolution and has no basis whatsoever in respectable science.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Sorry, stone age behavior does *not* get imprinted in people's brains making them do evolutionary foolish things like playing violent video games.

One more comment before I need to make a break before Tobold thinks I overtake his blog again :)

Why is the majority of content on the web porn? Why do men pay real money (not just a little) to access it?

Because the devine soul makes men like too look at porn?

Why? I do not say that everything we do is a direct consequence of the dynamic environment that ancestors lived in, but I do say that indirectly it always is. That is nothing else than evolutionary theory. It only becomes tricky when you venture into details.

On the other hand, I hope you do not think that ET is correct, but somehow doesn't apply to the your brain (?).
 
Evolution only added more complex layers to the brain, the core ("reptilian") remained unchanged, more or less kept in check by the other layers but still a factor to be reckoned with. Human = in essence a violent animal.
 
Apart from recommending reading "civilization and its discontents", homo homini lupus? :D

As we spend most of our time agressed by our modern life, and must refrain all the time from punching our neighbours and stealing their wifes, it's no surprise to me we vent our frustrations in video games :)

What i wonder is, is there a link between the aggression inherent to (most) mmorpg, and the fact that women seems sub represented in the population playing them?

like eliminating competitors was a primarly masculine thingie ... :D
 
Why is the majority of content on the web porn?

What does that have to do with anything? What you are saying here is "male sexual behavior is directed by evolutionary sexual instincts, therefore male video game habits must be directed by the same evolutionary sexual instincts". That is obviously nonsense. Humanity has evolved far beyond the stone age, and you can't just explain all modern phenomena with some primal sex instinct and evolution.

And it is not because one guy writes a pseudo-scientific bestseller designed to be sold to a maximum number of gullible people who like sensationalist stories about primal instincts that this becomes actual science. If I link you the book that "proves" that 9/11 was a secret CIA plot, does that make it true?
 
"Humanity has evolved far beyond the stone age, and you can't just explain all modern phenomena with some primal sex instinct and evolution."

why not? agression being sublimated in a virtual world isn't an evolution from duels, war, and direct IRL male competition?

But i shall point out i'm not speaking about the stone age, of which we know nearly nothing. Clearly Freud's works (in my sphere of interests) are more based on greek / roman mythos, which are perfectly documented, and the basis for "modern" civilization :)
 
Yeah sure. Do you try to argue or insult me, Tobold?

You asked for an explanation for why so many games incorporate violence.

1) Violence was a defining part of our evolution.
2) The difference between a human 10.000 years ago and today is hardly even visibile, though there certainly are some differences.

To claim that evolution played no role in how we treat violence is absurd, in my opinion.

Funnily, I cannot see my own comment where I linked that book. Nor do I see that you deleted it. Strange.

Whatever. May I ask you, Tobold:
What is your answer to the question you asked? Do you have an opinion?
 
I think the fakeness is important. The "people" we kill are nothing like real people, nor do they scream in pain when we shoot them. There is very little "reality."

This applies less to animals, it's much easier to code a realistic animal since they tend to look the same to us and are harder to relate to. In many games you have to kill wild wolves, and in some (like the xbox version of Baldur's Gate) the wolf cries and whines and it is so realistic it is disturbing. I and quite a few other dog people I know really hate the killing wolves quests and avoid them. In this case it is the opposite, it is too realistic.

A final exception I just discovered when playing Mass Effect 2 as renegade. When rescuing someone I had to kill scared civilians, this was after talking to them and knowing they weren't really a danger and there was another way out. Because they weren't just pixels but NPCs I just had a conversation with and started to identify with, I found killing them to be really disturbing and didn't like it, but of course I had to in order to get the renegade points.

So in many games there is killing, but in my experience the only games that work right at it make sure you do not feel anything for what you are killing. Once it starts becoming more realalistic it is just weird and not fun.
 
http://xkcd.com/775/
 
re: evolution. Some things are nature some nuture, but neither side of the argument can write the other off as "nonsense." Wiser scientists admit that a lot is still in the hypothesis stage. But there is quite a bit of evidence even though sometimes it's hard to tell if it's correlative or causative.

For the nature side I'd suggest picking up some books by Matt Ridley such as The Origins of Virtue.
 
Funnily, I cannot see my own comment where I linked that book. Nor do I see that you deleted it. Strange.

Blogger this week added an automatic comment spam filter. I just found two of your comments in there, and marked them as "not spam". I read your comments in my e-mail notification, so I thought they had been posted.

To claim that evolution played no role in how we treat violence is absurd, in my opinion.

Reread my question! I ask "why are there so few porn games, and so many violent games", and your response is "because of sex". If primal sexual instinct would be the reason, then we should have more sex games, not more violent games. How does your evolutionary sex theory explain the lack of porn in video games? You said yourself that the majority of content on the internet is porn, not violence, so why would that be different in a video game?
 
How does your evolutionary sex theory explain the lack of porn in video games? You said yourself that the majority of content on the internet is porn, not violence, so why would that be different in a video game?

Gevlon had a very nice theory about that lately. :)

But I think it is much easier:
MMORPGs are not photo realistic. 99% of porn is, because it is filmed.

Men sometimes like stylised porn (hentai etc), but most prefer the fotorealistic alternative :)
 
Violence is in the nature of a man. This is very well illustrated by behaviour of children. Until children are conditioned to society's norms, they enjoy all kinds of violent activities: torturing and killing small animals, fighting each other for toys, destroying various objects (tearing paper, breaking toys etc.)
As a side note, you can read Anthony Burgess' `Clockwork Orange' or Stanislav Lem's `Return from the Stars' for their insight of what could happen if someone tried to overcome human violent nature and make humans docile.
Being denied the violent behaviour in real life, humans seek it in games.
Try it yourself. Log in to WoW, find a mob that poses sufficient danger to your character, kill it. You will feel good for a moment or two.
 
Let me spend one of my limited comments on defending the book you .. critized harshly without reading.

And it is not because one guy writes a pseudo-scientific bestseller designed to be sold to a maximum number of gullible people who like sensationalist stories about primal instincts that this becomes actual science. If I link you the book that "proves" that 9/11 was a secret CIA plot, does that make it true?

This book almost won the Pulitzer Prize and won the LA Times Book prize in 1997. You will probably agree that these are respected prizes. (??).

Sure, maybe it is still a scam. But maybe, just maybe, you should have a look before you judge it the way you did.
 
I think the question is more why in this one specific form of entertainment is violence so dominant, compared to say movies or literature.

Personally, I think it is most definately the target market. Companies aim PRODUCTS (that is all games are) at a target demographic.

The vast majority of games' target demo is young males, and the games reflect this.

Of course, there ARE other types of gamers, and a suitably insignificant number of games to suit them.

Simple? ;)
 
ah, tobold, found the answer to your question : because "to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women", is better than porn.

Ofc, both are sublimated substitutes for IRL sex, imo :D
 
http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/war/new-'call-of-duty'-to-include-six-months-in-helmand-200911112219/

I feel this story has something to offer to the conversation.
 
Nice story, Gavin ;)

Of course there is a clear reason I prefer computer war games to war: That reason is that there are some important differences. Like, no permanent death, no wounds, no pain, being able to go for a piss .. etc ..

Everybody who argues that I shouldn't like virtual war, because I don't like to participate in real world war, suggests that I wouldn't know the difference.
This tells more about them than about me.

Besides, I dislike blood and slaughter also in computer games. As I wrote before: Humans like conflict and to prevail in existential situations. But they dislike the actual situation. Less than 1% of the population likes to watch blood and real pain on TV (or on PC). A disturbing number, but still a small minority.

Should WoW add real crying and realistically looking blood to the game I would quit instantly. And not because I cannot stand to see blood. Not at all. I have to in my job, ocasionally. I don't care about real blood all that much. But virtual blood (not just the usual red paint) makes me quit any game instantly.
 
@sid67 and Oscar, but WHY is violence so prevalent? I think a heroes life could be exciting without the violence.

A firefighter faces violence. A coast guard worker battling a storm to save someone faces violence. A mountain climber faces a violent death if they fall.

Violence exists in all kinds of things including dangers that have nothing to do with people at all.

So why is it prevalent in our stories? Because it represents conflict.

It's about story-telling. And conflict is a great plot element for any story. Arguably, conflict of some kind is a requirement for just about any story.

And certainly for any story where there is a "hero" involved.
 
On the other hand I think it's a global phenomena that a lot of people slow down in order to take peek at the accident scene......

Now THAT is disgusting...
 
MetaManu, if blogger allowed comment ratings I would rate you up there! Quoting Conan is WIN! :)
 
Interesting discussion. I agree that the real issue is why violence is so much prevalent in games than in other media. Sure, conflict is entertaining, but books and movies handle conflict in much more varied and sophisticated ways than games do.

And re whether killing in games is "evil," I think at a minimum it prevents a player from being completely immersed. No rational person would run around killing everything that moves, so games that involve murder have to assume that the player isn't emotionally engaged; i.e., he isn't treating NPCs as though they're real. That's one reason I was never able to get into Bioshock--the sheer amount of wanton slaughter forced me to emotionally distance myself from the story. If games are ever to emotionally engage us at the level books and movies do, the pointless killing has to go.
 
I don't feel like I'm being violent when I play a game like World of Warcraft or Dragon Age. "It's just a game," I rationalize. I don't think about murdering in real life despite my hours upon hours of taking one virtual life after another. But the way it is illustrated, it certainly is violent, isn't it?

I must be desesitized to violence.

On the other hand, I've seen some YouTube videos of violence not at the same level as murder and yet evoked an emotional response of me of repulsion and disgust. I didn't like seeing those videos. They made me feel bad. I can't imagine myself in either role (as the aggressor or as the victim) and the slightest thought of being in either person's shoes literally made me sick to my stomach.

I must not be *that* desensitized to violence.

So what's going on?

I think it's simply that I can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. If the action I took (e.g. killing another person in PVP) were linked to a real life consequence that I would consider unbearable, then the guilt I would experience would override any possible enjoyment I would otherwise derrive from the activity. This is why I can feel aboslute joy when I reached my 10,000th honorable kill and at the same time feel absolute repulsion and sadness when I happen to see a violent YouTube video.
 
Because its a lot easier to make people want to buy a game because it taps into their primal instincts/makes adrenaline flow like water than it is to make an interesting game that is based around something other than combat. For every Tetris there are 1000 games where you just kill to victory, and for every successful puzzle game like tetris there are probably 10000 of the later that are as successful.
 
humans as species are predators. oh yes we are. video games allow that predatory instinct to come out without causing real life harm, usually.

I never believed into greater internet dickwad theory. I rather prefer the explanation you mentioned - people letting lose with their already present unsavory tendencies because there is no fear of retribution.

for some people, it never goes beyond killing pixels and for others only playing against other real life opponents will do (think of it as paintball in virtual space)

but we all have a violent streak inside us. games make a great outlet. hard physical activity also works nicely. I prefer combination of the 2 myself.
 
@sid67, good points. I was assuming we were talking about violence of people to one another, instead of nature. Which is why I pointed out that conflict against nature could be done in an engaging way, which it is often not done.

@Daniel Silva: funny thing, I can't stand the sight of dead bodies. My wife watches all sorts of reality shows with real dead bodies, and I can't watch. But put a horror movie in front of me, and I'm laughing at the torture and piled up corpses, while munching on popcorn.

I think the biggest point here is that clearly, in a healthy mind, we clearly differentiate between reality, and fantasy.
 
I'm late to the discussion here, but I think people are largely over-thinking it.

A game requires some form of conflict -- that is, an obstruction that you have to overcome to get from point A to point B. This can take a lot of forms other than combat -- a jumping puzzle, a physics puzzle, a find-the-key puzzle -- but combat is one of the easiest to model in a video game environment. You just draw a line projecting out from your character model, and if it intersects another character model, dude gets shot.

Most games try to include several different type of obstacles, for variety, but combat is almost always one of them, just because it's simplest to implement. Consideration of the social/psychological implications of video game violence is rarely if ever part of the game design process.
 
To Rifflesby's comment, combat is one of the simplest modes of interaction to implement in video games. Combat is a simple premise on which more complex player procedures can be layered.

More generally though, and specifically to the ethical question here, this post reminded me of a book I read in the last year (as a grad student in Philosophy) that might offer some insight. One of the famous thought experiments of contemporary ethics is the "Trolley Problem." The basic setup goes like this:

Imagine that a family of four is crossing some train tracks in their minivan when it stalls on the tracks. Just then you hear a whistle signaling an oncoming train. As the conductor at the train station, you're perfectly safe, but you also have the power to save the family if you act fast. Before you lies a lever to switch the train onto the second track. The problem: there is a worker working on the second track and no way to warn him. He will die if you switch the tracks. What should you do?

A related, derivative version of this is the "Footbridge Problem." The premise is the same (endagered group of people stuck on train tracks) but in this case you find yourself on a footbridge over the tracks next to a large man. You're confident (and for the purposes of the problem assume) that by pushing him over the rail and onto the tracks you cans top the train, thus saving the family. What should you do?

These thought experiments are famous, rather infamous, for the way they throw ethical systems into sharp relief, perhaps to a fault. The connection I wanted to draw was one suggested in Experimental Ethics that part of the reason people respond the way they do to these two cases is underlying psychology that makes people empathize more with those in closer proximity (whether that be physically or socially). Our brains have evolved to make us feel worse about pushing a man to his death to save others than throwing a switch in a station far removed from the eventual result of the actions.

My suggestion is that video games are far more removed from a psychological standpoint than either of these cases. We don't see those who we interact with; at best we might hear their voices. We are therefore less disposed to give our actions towards them special moral consideration, at least at first blush. This isn't an argument to excuse the sort of pernicious behavior that often occurs in games and other online communities; perhaps, we should rise above our psychological dispositions. It does though suggest that whatever we should do, the moral culpability of Joe_Troll1337 is something less than Joe Smith in real life.
 
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Mathematical approach to violence in games requires some basic definitions.
A gameworld is a continuous, closed system of rules and objects, be it characters in an Empire ruled by a king or squares dropping down with a constant speed to form as many horizontal as possible. The world needs to contain the object and rules that the player can understand and use with reason. The gameworld has to contain all the answers to all ‘why’ questions.
A game is a simulation of a closed layer of a gameworld. All actions taken in a game can be measured. The game strictly defines how far a player can explore the world and all the actions he can take in that world. It is not a straight representation of the gameworld, but only a layer of it in a sense in which the SW Episode I racer is placed within the same gameworld as Jedi Knight. Both games use the same gameworld, but allow different types of interaction.
Two factors are key to good gameplay: Competition and sense of interaction.
While one can imagine a list of competitive games (racing, shooting targets, all sorts of sport competitions) it is usually time and inanimate object the player interacts with, not other sentient beings. Winning a race with a computer-driven racer has lower fun factor, as it allows less interaction with the opponent. You actually mostly interact with the track, and the time is your main opponent. Combat is hence the best in that it is competitive and at the same time allows maximum interaction with the opponent. You can observe the health bar dropping down and see the effect of your spell on the opponent – it is what causes combat relatively the most attractive. This is both valid in Single Player and MMO.
The fact, that games evolve towards more violence and towards the player having the choice of good/evil or simply being put as the evil is only caused by the fact, that combat is the ultimate competition and players need a diversity of opponents for the game to be more interesting. The game developers put the payer in the Evil role for more shock, but also because usually gameworld has only one or a small number of evil forces to destroy, and the rest is on the side of the hero. Player being the Evil of the gameworld automatically generates a large pool of opponents and numerous opportunities for combat while playing a do-gooder would cause to limit some of the interactions to non-combat interactions (dialogue mostly).
Dialogue in itself is a tool underestimated in most games, as it is almost as an opposite of combat. You have a very limited list of effects you can cause by dialogue, most of the time you cannot predict these effects and usually there is no time limit for the dialogue to finish, which makes it equivalent to turnbased. I actually wait for the day, when dialogue in a single Player game becomes RealTime and you have more power over the effects you can cause by speaking to NPCs, making this type of interaction superior to combat. There was an attempt to do this in Morrowind and Oblivion, gathering things to say in a list of options (bribe, persuade) disguised as random dialogue options, but that was not enough.
 
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