Violence in games

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.

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting

I try to record my thoughts on current events, so I can look back and see what I was thinking. Human psychology convinces me that I will have various things affecting my thoughts and behavior, and I would like to make decisions with the most data I can.

It isn’t easy.

Today there was a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut. 26 people died, 6 adults and 20 children, aged 5 to 10.

I understand those facts, but I don’t think I can reconcile them. When I first heard about the shooting, I felt something strange, like a dull thud in my chest, or more like the vibrations from a thud across the room. And because I have to be alert when I am with Clover, I realized what it was: I was systematically turning off my feelings, a selective shock.

Now, so many hours later, I am starting to think about it, and the tears are flowing.

I feel bad when anyone dies outside of a peaceful, natural death. My mind spins around existence, and what it is like to be a flame snuffed out with any kind of violence. It is in my mind when I leave the house, when I find myself in dangerous situations, or when I avoid them by wide margins of potential, as I have been recently.

I don’t know if it is a parental thing to live for your child, but that is certainly how I play the game. Suddenly, nearly anything is possible, as long as it is in the service of Clover’s comfort and psychological well-being. And while that gives me a particular strength and resolve, it also opens up a vulnerability, exposes a nerve that I never had before meeting this new human.

I want to say that my heart goes out to the families and victims, but I don’t know if I can afford that. My heart is in shock, my panic held barely at bay. My mind looks for distractions, but I can’t find any motivation.

In time I hope that my emotions will work themselves out, and I can cycle through the peptides that compel me to cling to my child. There is work to be done, and while I don’t think anything is going to fill the hole made today, my hope is that this will be seen as a catalyst for change, to help steer humans in a less violent direction.