Violence in games

Struggling with violence in games, and how I want to deal with it.

Since the Sandy Hook shootings I’ve played with the idea of reducing violence in my media. The worst music I listen to is LMFAO, which is sexist and stupid, but they have great bass lines. If they sang about shooting, I wouldn’t listen to it. Movies and tv are a mixed lot, but I don’t actually see that much violence, and when I do it is over the top, and often one side is advocating a stop to aggression (Naruto comes to mind). It may be that I just watch a lot of stuff, so the proportions are better.

Video games pose a problem. I don’t think that games make people violent, based on my experience and those of others around me. I played Dungeons and Dragons at a time when people thought we would go kill each other in steam tunnels. The actual game session is amazingly boring to non-players; if you didn’t have the audio, it would be like watching people working on an invisible puzzle together, but marking down notes and using grid paper as reference. I’ve also played many first person shooters, which are the obvious candidate for training people to be shooters.

Despite not believing that they are assisting people in murder, I wanted to give it a try, to see if I can get away from violence in video games. It isn’t easy.

There are genres that make it easy, like puzzles or racing simulations (though even those have popular titles that are laden with violence). When I look at my own favorites, it seems like the repetitive mini-game in each of them is to hit something with a sword. That isn’t great. And I am trying to figure out why. Is it conflict? Do we just naturally share stories that have people in danger?

I haven’t been exposed to real violence in years, and I feel like it fades from memory, the thrill and pain involved in suffering from or observing a human receive physical trauma. Maybe violence in media is a way that humans retain a cultural memory of just how bad things can get.

Regardless, I am troubled, because I have an opportunity to invest in violent games, or do something else. I am starting a new RPG campaign, using a system that seems to lean on violent encounters. At the same time, I will soon have a laptop that can play Guild Wars 2, a game that I’ve been excited to play for years, and which is basically grinding through violent acts for hours with friends online. I wanted to play because I am working so much it is useful to have a grindy and entertaining distraction to decompress before sleep. Now I am not so sure.

I am a gamer. The materials and processes that have emerged in my life time makes it easier than ever to create interactive stories for people. I love it. I want Clover to enjoy and learn from them. But I have a lot more thinking to do while I figure out how I want to be exposed to violence, and what it says about the stories we share.

Nonviolent feedback

We have got to stop the negative feedback loops in free software. I am going to start.

In the last year I’ve gotten to know people who make some of the software I use. I love their work, and them for doing it. It makes my life, and the world, better for it. And as I get closer to their work, following mailing lists, bug trackers and internet noise, I realize just how hard it is to do what they do.

Software isn’t supposed to satisfy everyone, it is impossible, and that is an obvious conclusion, but you wouldn’t guess it from the reactions folks share when they are exposed to software. Another obvious, and perhaps even less occurring thought, is how it feels to create something and subsequently have it verbally torn apart publicly.

I know how it feels to rage on a missing feature. And to my great shame I’ve threatened to stop using software because some evil and faceless developer is attacking me personally (sorry folks who make Firefox for Android, I really do appreciate your work!). It puts me in a weird place where I can see why people say what they say (well, to a certain point), but also how casual violent and uncaring we can be in our criticism.

For my part, I am going to try to stop giving unhelpful criticism. I don’t want to hurt anyone, and if I can, I want to raise them up, so they can accomplish more for all of us; it is easy to do since I use free software. I am going to take my frustration and vent it to finding bug trackers, and giving real constructive feedback. And I am going to accept replies from developers and designers with a grain of salt, because they are likely being bombarded by less kind correspondence.

And as a bonus, I am going to suggest to others to do the same, so we have less folks swaying popular opinion with noxious attitudes, and more people helping all this software become the best it can be.