Saturday, August 28, 2010

Violence, part 1: Introduction

The video game industry is well-known for its controversial violence, with legislators attempting new ways to tamp down on the graphic violence in flagship games just as they were fifteen years ago.  Meanwhile, I'm starting to feel this swelling undercurrent of concern from video game sympathizers that perhaps, maybe, video games have to be violent to be successful.  Though the history of video games is certainly pockmarked with wildly successful titles such as The Sims that at the very least do not feature violence as the main focus of the game, these successes have been more difficult to replicate than those involving mass murder. 

Reaction to this sentiment is usually one of two things: an acceptance that fuels the demand for ultraviolent games such as God of War or GTA, or a rejection that sees hope in games like Flower--games that may pale in comparison to the popularity of the other two titles, but offer the possibility of a fun, nonviolent game.  I believe both reactions to be misguided, though I sympathize with both sides.  On the one hand, I understand that the amount of prurient violence in the most talked-about video games makes the industry and the medium as a whole appear juvenile to the outside world--and to a large percentage of gamers, as well.  On the other hand, I also notice that nonviolent games such as Flower do seem to be missing some key element--that the lack of violence in Flower may play an underappreciated role in its relative unpopularity compared to GTA. 

Over the course of this series, I want to make the case that, indeed, video games must be violent to be successful both financially and artistically--but that this isn't as bad as it sounds at first.  The reason this idea shouldn't offend those who dream of a day when video games are taken as seriously as sculpture or music is that I believe no art is successful without violence.  I am going to take a good hard look at what violence is, the role it plays in our everyday lives as well as our favorite works of art, its various purposes, and how we can use this knowledge to make more compelling works of expression in the medium of video games.

In the next installment, I'm going to try to convince you that graphic, physical violence--the kind that makes Hillary Clinton say, "There oughta be a law..."--is only one expression of violence.  And in fact, I'm going to attempt to do more than that.  I'm going to try to convince you that violence is the engine of the entire universe.

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