Sunday, August 29, 2010

Violence, part 2: What it is

I want to make the case that no art can be successful without violence, but to do that I will have to address the obvious and countless counter-examples you already have floating around in your head.  Like many things I've talked about on this blog, a lot of confusion can be mitigated if we take a hard look at how we define violence.

Most people's definitions of violence, I presume, would involve one person hurting another person, which I agree is violent.  However, things get trickier when you start breaking that down.  Is it a violent act if you unintentionally hurt someone?  If it's not, then is it a violent act if it is unintentional, but the victim feels it is intentional?  What about passive-aggressive behavior, where intention is purposely hidden?  Does violence include hurting someone's feelings?  You can go on and on with questions like these that will all be good debate starters in a room with more than three people.

So instead of debating, I'm just going to tell you what I mean by violence, and recognize that it is most likely not what you mean by violence.  However, I believe if you accept my definition for the time being, that you'll be able to not only understand my case better, but also might become more hopeful regarding the future of games as art.

I propose we think of violence as any time two or more objects collide.  Specifically, when two or more objects attempt to exist in the same place at the same time.  This, I believe, is fairly non-controversial, though it does--and is intended--to allow more things into the "violent" category than many people would ordinarily.  Let's think about some of these things that would fit this definition, but not most people's definition.

Closest to humanity, we can think of debate as something that is violent--when two ideas want to exist in the same "space" at the same time.  Debate begins when two or more people realize that to accept the other's idea would mean rejecting their own, for whatever reason.  While many people may allow that debate often leads to violence, some may not see the debate itself as violent.  Under my definition, it would be classified as violent even if it never results in physical violence; in fact, even if it's done in the most cordial way imaginable.

On the extreme end of things, our ability to see results from massive violence happening in front of us all the time--this would be the photons bouncing off of other atoms and subsequently smashing into our eyeballs.  In contrast to debate, I believe most people would have a very hard to accepting this as violence because it has such a desirable outcome.  In fact, it seems to contradict the first definition that was proposed--except in rare cases, no one is hurt by photons hitting their retinas.  However, not only would this be considered violence under my definition, it would even have to be called physical violence, which is almost unanimously described currently with bad connotations.

This observation that photons hitting retinas can be considered violence leads us directly into the next installment, where we will look at both why violence occurs and how violence can be manipulated for both good and bad ends.  Hopefully by the end of the next installment, you will see that violence in itself is not necessarily bad, and in fact is responsible for tremendous good.  A growing concern of this series will be on the reaction to violence, not the violence itself, as a key indicator to whether the violence was "good" or "bad."

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