Carl the Longbowman leaned against the rampart, scratched dismissively at an area one would not manhandle in front of, say, the queen, and wiped the sweat off his furrowed and ill-cultured brow. He snorted, coughed, made a sound like a broken cappuccino machine (which would not be invented for several centuries), and spat something equal parts brown and green to the ground. He studied the mucus-lump projectile, poked it with his lamb-skin boot, and seemed unusually pleased with himself. It was, until that moment, the most interesting thing that had happened to him across the ten hour stretch of lookout duty. Beneath and behind him the feculent city at large bustled with shady trade as the stink of human and animal waste wafted up from the streets. Carl fingered his longbow, the greatest military advance yet made by his burgeoning and promising civilization.
It was at that moment, as Carl the Longbowman swelled with cultural pride at the advanced technology represented by his wooden weapon that sixteen German Panzer Tanks burst through the distant treeline supported by five battalions of Cavalry, four cannons, and a rather incongruous man wielding a wooden club who had lived roughly six thousand years now. Carl had time to fire his technologically impressive longbow once, and succeeded only in briefly injuring a startled cow before it was run under two tons of tank tread. Moments later, and in the last brief second of his life, Carl was floating through the air, surrounded by several tons of incongruously floating, jagged rock that had been blown along with him from the rampart, equal parts surprised by the explosion and that his legs were now somewhere over thataway. Elysium the Vile had quite suddenly declared war!
That's how I like to play Civilization, as a courier of staggering destructive force, devastating inferior cultures under the boot heel of overwhelming modern military might. As I lay waste to unsuspecting cities guarded by garrisons roughly as intimidating as a cloudy day or an army of adorable kittens, there is a sinister part of my soul that I usually pretend doesn't exist urging me to bloody virtual genocide. It is the part of me that loves violent video games.
I realize there's an entire portion of Civilization IV that's devoted to the intricate decisions of whether to build a market or a cathedral in towns as strategically interesting as a place like Omaha, and that I should be concerned at the ramifications of support and corruption and trade, but what I really want to do is fly stealth bombers over cultures that can only describe such technology in terms of polytheic deities and moral retribution.
I like to pretend that I am a cultured person, that I have elevated tastes, and I maintain that illusion whenever it is convenient and emotionally profitable. It is a familiar mask that I wear comfortably enough in private, despite the fact that I would be quickly exposed publicly as an unabashed intellectual poser. I may imagine an interest in hobnobbing with the academic elite, guffawing over modernist interpretations of sixteenth century metaphysical poetry, but were I to attend their parties I'm certain that I'd wear the wrong kind of suede elbow patch, or refer to things as ironic when they were merely coincidental. Besides, in reality, I'd much rather be firing projectile plumbing at deathmatch opponents, then readng John Donne prattle on about how being bitten by a flea is a lot like having illicit sex.
It turns out that, while I might want to seem like the kind of guy who is deeply cerebral, it sounds like a lot of work and what I really like is to do is shoot a virtual gun at a virtual something that bleeds. If there are realtime physics involved that allow me to impale my prey on something, then all the better. I know I'm not alone in this violent bloodlust, but I do feel fairly out-of-mainstream in admitting that I have even a passing interest in these reprehensible murder simulators.
For as many of these violent video games that seem to get sold in what many presume to be a conspiratory effort by the Illuminati or maybe Freemasons to sow unrest among citizens against their government officials in a secret and complex effort to consolidate their own shadow-power, you'd think more people would point out how fun virtual violence actually is. But, instead the defense of violent video games comes down to nebulous ideologies, protection of first amendment freedoms, and a whole bunch of gamers pretending they don't actually play and enjoy the visceral gore of digital violence for the fear that a co-worker or the pierced, dim-eyed adolescent behind the counter at Target might find out that you're "one of them".
Here's the thing. Video games are a great and benign medium for violence, which, I think it's just time to admit, human beings enjoy delivering in great Technicolor glory. These games activate those centers of the brain that seem to desire perverse and artificial violence that most of us have neither desire nor opportunity to achieve in anything like real life, just like Victoria's Secret catalogs sustain that secret side of men that think they could totally hang with a super-model.
I am, for the record, not advocating violent video games for children. I do all kinds of things as an adult that children don't and shouldn't get to do. While I don't choose to play violent video games in front of my two-year-old, I'm as interested in having that decision legislated as I am interested in having the Congress mandate where I can place electrical outlets, which I'm certain harm far more children per year than any Playstation 2 game.
But, this isn't about legislation, or even parental responsibilities. This is about finally admitting that, despite the perception of perversion in exploding aliens, combat simulations, or just beating a pretend guy with a pretend Louisville Slugger, violent video games are popular because they can be a lot of fun.
The interactive nature of games beg for conflict, and action as their dramatic methods. Games are rarely as well served by plot as they are pace. There will never be The Sun Also Rises or The Horse Whisperer video games, because the dynamics that drive other forms of art don't translate particularly well to the visual and interactive medium of games. It's taken me a long time to reconcile that the desires I have for other mediums, most usually movies and books, don't need to be wedged into a unique artform that should be explored through its own methods. It is no more appropriate to wait for the video game equivalent of Hamlet than it is to wait for the novel equivalent of the 1812 Overture.
So, I stand before you, ready to admit that I like violent video games, and despite my narcissistic desire to seem like a really smart guy, I don't even need those games to have a story, a plot, a point, a moral, a parable, or even an allegory. Give me cool enough weapons, dynamic environments, a cadre of shambling zombies to harass or an army of hapless henchmen to topple, and I'm ready to admit that violent video games make for a cathartic and much-loved release. Let there be great swaths of destruction left in my wake. The lamentations of my foes as they squirrel around through the carnage searching for their own spleens shall be as a symphony to my ears, and the rapid fire of plasma bolts shall be my leitmotif.
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.