On Violence in Video Games (A Rant)

E3 2015 has come and gone, and there were a lot of really cool surprises that shocked and awed a lot of gamers.  One of the big things that really took me by surprise was the fact that Fallout 4 is going to be ready this year.  Announcing a hugely anticipated game and releasing it the same year isn’t something that happens too often anymore.  Usually, a studio will announce a game, then 2 to 3 years later, they’ll release it.  But this is not at all the point of my article today.  What I want to talk about is the blow back from certain groups saying games like Fallout 4 and Doom 4 are “too violent”, and violence in video games in general.  This is a rant, and a kind of directionless one at that.  So I apologize in advance.

Ever since I was a kid, I tended to gravitate towards games that were more fantastic and whimsical in nature.  I’ve never been one to really enjoy a video game because it was “realistic”.  I want to suspend belief and have fun imagining a world unlike our own.  There are a few exceptions to this, sure, but for the most part, I’d rather play a game about a plucky plumber, a powerful robot boy, or a ragtag band of friends who are taking on an evil empire.  The games I grew up with were not violent. I was never interested in games that showed a lot of blood and guts, and my game choices reflect that.  I’m replaying Skyrim currently, and I can decapitate my enemies with a well placed ax to the noggin stem.  This is kind of a neat little feature, but I wouldn’t miss it if it were omitted from the game entirely.  I don’t need blood to enjoy a game.  The bottom line is: I don’t really care for gratuitous violence in video games. I don’t play violent games often, if at all.

I know plenty of well adjusted adults, men and women, who play violent video games, and have been playing violent video games since they were children.  For them, it’s cathartic, and I understand that.  After a hard day dealing with asshats at work or watching kids shows all day because you can’t very well watch Orphan Black with your toddler in the room, you get a bit of relief by blowing the heads off of Nazis, bandits, or whatever people are blowing heads off of these days.  I’d rather get lost in the mountains or explore ruins in some fantasy world, but to each his own, right?  I don’t see ANY of my friends who play violent games act out violently or aggressively towards other people or themselves.  They understand that it’s fantasy, and that sawing off someones arm with a battle ax isn’t socially acceptable.

One of the problems with violent games, and really violent media in general, that it may have a negative impact on younger children.  Kids shouldn’t be playing games that are targeted at older audiences.  That doesn’t mean game designers and developers should tone down the violence for kids; it means PARENTS need to fucking monitor what their kids play.  My mom watched movies before we were aloud to.  I was incredibly excited about Batman Returns back in 199whateveryearitcameout, but my mom rented the movie, taped the parts she thought were acceptable, and left out a lot of the crazy violence that she didn’t want us to see (like The Penguin biting the shit out of one dude’s nose). My mom made sure she knew what kinds of media we were viewing and experiencing, and that’s what a parent is supposed to do.  Sure, she couldn’t completely control what happened at a friend’s house, but she sure as shit controlled that at home and taught us right from wrong.  We live in a world where parents don’t let their kids outside in the neighborhood to play, because THAT’S DANGEROUS! But it’s certainly okay to plop little 7 year old Jimmy in front of the TV to play Call of Duty all day.  That makes complete sense. (Not really)  What the hell happened?  I guess I just don’t have the authority or experience to really comment on it…I’m not a parent.  Whatever.

Fast forward to E3 2015.  Bethesda unveils both Doom 4 and Fallout 4.  The world goes nuts.  Gamers, male and female, are incredibly excited for the next entries in their favorite series.  These games offer what gamers want, great gameplay, awesome established backstory and lore, and gratuitous violence.  Fallout and Doom both have a very long history of gory visuals, and players love it.  At this point, social media personality Anita Sarkeesan spoke out against glorifying violence in these types of games.

I’m NOT going to talk about ANYTHING OTHER than her stance on violence.  Do I think she plays video games? Yes. I don’t care what anyone says, if you don’t care about video games or play them, you don’t extensively cover them.  Do I agree with some of her points?  Yes. Yes I do. I think there are some representation issues in media.  I also think it’s been getting a bit better.  Do I agree with everything she says? Absolutely not. Do I think she stole money from Kickstarter backers and ripped off artists?  I honestly don’t know, and I haven’t ever really wanted to open that can of worms. I haven’t watched every bit of material Sarkeesan has released, and I haven’t read everything on the Feminist Frequency website, so some of my impressions here are assumptions.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on gender representation or the effects of violence in media.  I also am familiar with the “I’m a white dude, but my female friends told me their experiences so I’m an expert on this stuff” attitude.  I’m not trying to do that here.  From what I understand, according to some of Sarkeesan’s criticisms of the film Mad Max: Fury Road, violence is inherently male.

This kind of bugs me.  I though feminism was about letting women do what they want to do?  Do women want to do “bad ass guy violence” stuff?  They are aloud to.  Do women want to have their hands in less violent activities, such as building, creating, storytelling, etc?  They are aloud to.  It’s about equality.  It seems to me that Sarkeesan is not a fan of violence, and because of her position in social media, she feels the need to speak out against it.  It’s almost as if she’s shoehorning the issue of violence into feminism.  The movie didn’t show any excessive violence toward women.  The games that Bethesda showcased don’t glorify violence towards women.

I served with plenty of soldiers in the Army, who were women, that would take offense to the notion that violence is inherently masculine.  They take part in just as many violent activities in THE REAL WORLD as men do, and in a lot of cases, they relish it just as the male soldiers do.  My understanding of the situation and the comments she’s made against violence seem just as backwards as the train of thought stating “Men fight in wars, women stay at home and wait for them.”

I had a group of friends in high school who were incredibly into slasher flicks.  They loved watching people get torn up in gory, grotesque, violence.  I also had friends who were grossed out by that sort of thing and weren’t interested in watching it at all.  The group of friends who loved those movies?  Girls.  All of them.  My friends, myself included, who couldn’t watch that stuff because it was too gross?  Boys.  Yup.  How did those girls grow up?  They seem happy, successful, and well adjusted.  If any of them are murderous, rampaging psychopaths, they hide it incredibly well.

My point is that violence and appreciation of violence as a fantasy isn’t gendered and games shouldn’t be censored because people are offended by violence.  I don’t play overly violent video games, and I still have plenty to play.  Do I avoid games like Mortal Kombat because of the gratuitous violence?  You bet I do, because it just doesn’t interest me and it kind of grosses me out.  I’m not going to begrudge other gamers who enjoy that sort of thing just because I don’t like it.  The problem is that while there are real world social issues that need to be questioned, people have become almost overly sensitive to things that challenge their views of right and wrong.  They want to lump everything into black and white “right” and “wrong” categories, rather than objectively look at a situation or piece of media and critically analyze it from every angle.

For those of you turned off by political statements in gaming, I apologize.  This isn’t going to be a regular thing.  I really think that I’m not the right person to be talking about this sort of thing, and I just wanted to get this off my chest.  Regularly scheduled positive gaming content will resume.





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