Bloodlust

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.

- Elysium

Comments

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.

This is truly inspired prose that provoked a knowing chuckle as I immediately identified this as a scene from Civilization.

As much as I abhor violence in real life, I love it in my video games. Blood, guts, explosions. I love it all! You, my friend, are not alone.

Elysium wrote:

just like Victoria's Secret catalogs sustain that secret side of men that think they could totally hang with a super-model.

What?! Are you saying Adriana Lima and I aren't going to make sweet, sweet love on the beach at our private villa?

Amen.

Where the line here gets interesting is in how and when defines "children."

I state up front I am an actual paying and voting (they don't hand out cards to carry) Libertarian, and so my interest in legislation is way past "not" and all the way through to "militantly not". But where does one, just as a parent, know where to draw a line. My daughter has walked in on me in full bloodlust of God of War, and I've acted like she'd caught me watching german porn.

But what about when she's 9? 12? 16? At what point will I not be protective, but rather inclusive. Right now we can play Katamari together, and that's a blast. And she takes giggly joy in rolling up angels and fairies and fish and cats.

The answer, as with everything in parenting, is an unsatisfying "well that's your call and it's different for every kid." But to me, it's where the rubber meets the road.

Copingsaw wrote:

This is truly inspired prose that provoked a knowing chuckle as I immediately identified this as a scene from Civilization.

Yes, it may not be the honorable thing to do, but it is very satisfying to drive your Panzer column over Pikemen and into town!

3 Cheers. Well said.

I will also stand up and willingly add my voice at this meeting. but....

for some reason, i've created some artifical borders which i refuse to cross. I like the video violence sure, but i like the fantasy video violence (not 'elf' fantasy, though that's good too, just the 'not real' fantasy). In particular, i do not purchase nor play modern military simulations. no 'america's army' nor battlefield 2. no GRAW. almost no clancy (tho i have played the first splinter cell). but...

i loved call of duty, and i'm enjoying CoD2, so 'historical recreations' are exempt. because history is fantasy, right?

but what about games like the new hitman, or condemned? they seem really interesting, but don't they draw some of their thrill from their very contemporary and 'real-world' settings? what does that mean?

come to think of it, I've never played a gta game either. something has kept me away.

but violence in oblivion? bring it on. prey? yes please.

does anyone else have similar artificial borders?

Great article Elysium, I agree wholeheartedly on every point. And I might add, it's the first time a front-page article forced enough laughter out of me that cubemates had to investigate.

I think within the next 10 years, we'll reach a point where the gore becomes photorealistic and is being acted out by AI that are emotive enough to step bridge the gap in that uncanny valley, and that's when the real conversation about censorship will begin. (For good or for ill..)

Until that time, I'll enjoy crushing the great unwashed in Civ4, sniping some random terrorist in GRAW and creating an interstellar humanitarian (alienitarian?) crisis as I wipe out the "Greatest Generation" of elite warriors in Halo 2. Why? Because it's fun!

what does that mean?

Nothing more than watching Die Hard or CSI. Making your own boundaries is key, and defining for yourself where the line lies is fine.

But what about when she's 9? 12? 16? At what point will I not be protective, but rather inclusive. Right now we can play Katamari together, and that's a blast. And she takes giggly joy in rolling up angels and fairies and fish and cats.

We started our son in on Asheron's Call at age 6. Try getting your daughter a WoW account and bring her into the guild. Let everyone know who she is, and she can spend her time fishing and bopping wolves on the nose until they fall asleep, or even trying to find new ways to run up the nearby mountain, regardless of monsters. It's pretty fun, actually. Naturally, you need to watch her every move, but I think she'd like being a Tauren.

Wonderful article, I'm tempted to reinstall Civ4 just so I can bomb some pikemen.

dasmo wrote:

I like the video violence sure, but i like the fantasy video violence (not 'elf' fantasy, though that's good too, just the 'not real' fantasy). In particular, i do not purchase nor play modern military simulations. no 'america's army' nor battlefield 2. no GRAW. almost no clancy (tho i have played the first splinter cell). but...

i loved call of duty, and i'm enjoying CoD2, so 'historical recreations' are exempt. because history is fantasy, right?

If CoD=fanstasy due to the timeline, then the same could be said for GRAW and BF2.

Hi CannibalCrowley--
I suppose i'm being flip by saying history=fantasy. but honestly, i'm not sure what i mean. i simply have a . . . reaction to games that involves anything resembling modern military 'reality'. I guess it's just my problem.

elysium: it doesn't seem the same to me as passively watching csi or such. as you said yourself: '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.'
There is something different about gaming. and it's the difference that draws me in, again and again. you are not just seeing these things, and you are also not truly experiencing them--it seems most akin to a dream state, where you are taking on actions, and fervently engaging with entities, all of which are completely strange. but parallel to that absence of familiarity is a persuasive layer of intention that can't be ignored. you wrote a fp post earlier about the new kind of expression that personal online representation elicits, and i think there is something similar going on with games. the history of thought is filled with retrospective acknowledgement of the very real change that different (and often mundane) technologies have made upon the idea and expression of what it means to be conscious. games are more than games. historians will argue in a couple decades over what they are, but it is certainly another parallel leap. the needle jumps. it doesn't change the record, but it certainly moves things into a new groove.

what i'm struggling with (pertinant to this post!) is what it means for me personally that i refuse to play certain games involving realistic depictions of modern violence. i am certianly not against violence in games, and i certainly enjoyed and identified with this post of yours.

it strikes me that i should perhaps move this kind of talk into the forums. i'll look into that...

ah! this is the 'forums' (for fp posts). lol. sorry i didn't grok that during my period of lurking!

Elysium wrote:

I do all kinds of things as an adult that children don't and shouldn't get to do.

Name some!
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Copingsaw wrote:

This is truly inspired prose that provoked a knowing chuckle as I immediately identified this as a scene from Civilization.

Ha! I was exactly the same.
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rabbit wrote:

I state up front I am an actual paying and voting (they don't hand out cards to carry) Libertarian

They used to at least. I have one.

Great article, Elysium. Violent videogames, especially mindless ones involving little plot and much zombie killing, provide a much cathartic experience in this stressful world.

rabbit wrote:

My daughter has walked in on me in full ... german porn.
But what about when she's 9? 12? 16? At what point will I not be protective, but rather inclusive.

Dude, that's just... wrong.

You had to realize that was OoCT when you typed it

I use my games to do things I would rather not do in real life, like jumping from high buildings without a parachute, running into walls with a car, or shoot people in the face with a shotgun and teabag them afterwards. Those things in real life would not only stain my jewerly, they would also be highly frowned upon.

Also, my violent video games are a great outlet for agression. I hardly ever get aggressive in real life, and I believe that is partly because I play violent video games.

Good article, and tonight I will let some archers meet the tip of an ICBM.

Like most here, I love my video game violence. Why did I get such a charge out of blowing my opponents into gobs of gore and red mist in UT2k4? I'm not sure.. I've never been a violent person but I just loved the insta-gib variation - one shot and SPLAT!

But like dasmo, I prefer my violence to be in a fantasy setting. Whether it's aliens and plasma rifles or orcs and long swords, the bloodier the better.

But I've never enjoyed games like the GTA series and Postal etc. It's just too close to what I see on the evening news every night. I do make the same exception of WWII games but though I've played games like SplinterCell, I avoid terrorist related games for the same reason as above.

I play games to escape reality, and shooting terrorists just seems like wallowing in it instead. Though I can understand how some might get a certain sense of satisfaction from it.

Aside from all that, I do also prefer there be some point to my excessive slaughter... and though I have enjoyed being the badguy in certain games (Dungeon Keeper anyone?), I almost always prefer to be on the side of Light if given a choice.. to have some sense of rightness to the killing.

Did anyone else think this essay was initially heading towards the "pikeman beats tank" curse of Civ?