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    PlanetQuake | Features | Articles | The End Of Violence
   

The End Of Violence
(with apologies to Wim Wenders)
  — by Murray Christian

Now, I don't want to turn Planetquake into a philosophical discussion board but when those with powerful opinions are describing your pass time as a threat to the "social fabric" often enough I fear there is little other option.

Instead of writing this completely as an essay (anachronism of a format that it is) I think it's better to tell the story about how I came to have my unusual ideas about computer game violence.


Violence and the Community

Late last year, as part of my University degree, I had to do a sociological case study on the subject of self identity and community. The community I chose was, as intended, close to home and one that I experienced regularly.

I picked the community that had developed around Quake and Quake II in Perth, Western Australia.

It's quite a thing to try and explain online persona to the computer illiterate. I basically had to describe Quake II from the ground up - names, PPMs, LANs, what you see and how others see you etc. It's also quite a thing to try and describe how most of the normal cues for identity are irrelevant in Quake II, how this isn't chat or a MUD (the main origins of most public impressions about internet life, if you don't count bomb making and porn)...

I did ok, my tutor said he was looking at another world .. which is good. But the main point of concern was that peppered through the study were references to what he saw as the violence of the game -

    frag, a slang word for kill dating back to the Vietnam war (or earlier) used in the scoring system

    gib, bloody pieces of corpse that result from sufficient damage to a player's "body".

He thought it was a severe oversight to neglect the interplay between violence and community in this situation. I was forced to ask myself why this hadn't occurred to me.

Then I realised it HAD occurred to me, but I already dismissed it as irrelevant. These games were not violent, simple as that.


Desensitisation?

How could I possibly think that Quake II (and games of that ilk) are not in any way violent? I'm still not sure exactly, but I believe it's true and hopefully I can explain it here.

Quake II does not even represent violence in its graphics as far as I'm concerned. From what I had seen in my research, interviews etc the images that appear on the screen that could be classified as violent by many become merely parts of the game to players. Excitement at a gib spray or any other kind of game event is not excitement at violence but at the functioning of the game. A great display of skill, competitiveness, luck and a freak occurrence of game physics will usually produce the most enjoyment / laughter / excitement.

The fact that these moments are created by blasting to pieces other players, who are often "wearing' human effigies, is completely immaterial. It is merely part of the game.

To some this idea will be "desensitisation" at its worst. But I think to say that requires two assumptions:

  1. that the definition of violence stays the same with us at all times
  2. that we must react to violence in exactly the same way at all times, namely with horror/revulsion/disgust etc.
And it seems by reading in the media (the Readers Digest article for example) that both the definition of violence and our "proper" reaction to it have been decided for us.

To answer the desensitisation argument I say this; those people who, when they see Quake II or whatever, see violence and are repelled will not play it, and are likely to wonder at the psychology of those who do.

Those who see no moral qualms with blasting computer graphics into bloody bits will do so if they enjoy the game. But those who are horrified or disinterested in the game will have something in their life of similar recreational or escapist value to them, which gives them what Quake gives so many people in a different way.

And in between too many forget that, just as in the movies, all the gore in the world will not save a bad game.


Pop Psychology

The next thing that usually gets mentioned is the problem of children, their perceived "delicate" nature and potential amorality if they are not kept in check. I'm no expert on child psychology but it seems that those who cry foul at the perceived violence of games are doing too much reading of people and very little understanding of them.

The child that "gets into" a game disturbs their parents not because the child is enjoying something they shouldn't but because the parents and the child are not seeing the same thing when they look at the game. (I also always argue that most of the problems between parents and children occur because parents see their offspring as "children" and not just small people, if you know what I mean).

I worry that people are too busy becoming dime store pop-psychologists and semioticians to actually try and understand the way other people experience things differently, preferring that explanations for differences or behaviour be handed to us on a populist platter to some real insight or conversing.

In this case what we end up with is a lot of damnation for games and gamers from outside by people who really don't like most games from the outset.

It's true that I can't say exactly what the effects of games on people are but I definitely believe that to call them violent, according to a popular understanding of the term, is wrong and far from the whole story. I think if the detractors were to actually observe gamers of all ages for a time and actually be one as well they would likely come to the same conclusion.

But Semioticians and Psychologists observing from a distance would only see the language and images of violence when it is actually people enjoying very different things about it.

People say if the games didnít have the violent imagery then they wouldnít sell. This may be true but it doesnít make the games violent or the people who play them. And long after the imagery is put into the background the game remains, for a long time if it is good enough.

I donít know how well Iíve explained this, but I hope it is food for thought, and I do have an email address...


[ Murray's case study on the Quake community in Australia which was mentioned in this article is now available online here. ]

-- Murray Christian aka [PnC]Muzman




If you want to try your hand at writing an article or editorial, send it to gestalt@planetquake.com. All contributions are welcome.


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