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Killing tropes in context of the wider culture

Natalja Varaskiene

April 29, 2015

11 Min Read

Killing tropes


Computer games have become a very strongly defined part of our media and pop culture as a whole. Looking back we can clearly see how games developed and integrated in to our lives together with the consumer electronics. The dependency of computer games on hardware made a very prominent link with progression of computers and computer devices , in many ways becoming a new category of media and entertainment in it’s own right. Games followed the growth of computer hardware resources or in some cases such as video graphic adapters dictated new currents and trends. The rule of, ‘’With possibilities grow demands and with demand grow possibilities’’, applied and all the rest was just a snowball effect. If we look at the timeline of computer games we can clearly see the dependencies and in certain ways over lapses of common trends. This is very prominent in hand-held device and later handset (mobile phone) industries.

As the public interest grew and from computer geeks games started to gain ground amidst the public and especially children, some rules had to be applied. Sherry Turkle in his “Video Games and Young Players, 1984”  notion of the fact that children learn through playing became a worrisome in many cases of computer game violence. But let’s admit that those exact games with violence and blood splattering all over and just basic vandalism took hold of the hearts and minds of many gamers and is just pure fun way to let out some steam. For as long as the borders between reality and the game a clear and basic moral principles have been well formed and established there is no harm in kicking the hell out of monsters, killing few zombies with a chainsaw and other acts of harmless destruction. Those particular games we will take a close look at and exploit certain aspects of as design tropes.

[2]Tropes in a virtual world are very common phenomenon. A trope itself is an idea that has been used so often and so consistently in the gameplay that it has become accepted as a norm or even as a rule. Of course some of the tropes become very useful and easy to remember as well as predictable. For example, any regular PC player will try to use same basic movement controls template(W,A,S,D, Space) as he has been using those in most of the previous PC games.

Not all game tropes are innocuous as this one. Many of them were started a long time ago with the very first computer games when the interface was not as advanced as in their modern counterparts, it has been done so, more than 20 years ago and firmly imprinted in our interaction as an default behavior in the virtual game. When you were in the game world and let’s say you had a gun then the next thing you see, for example, are zombies extending their hands and coming right at you, without thinking something along the lines of :  ”ha, maybe they just wants a friendly hug…”,  you open fire and shoot him down straight away. Because in the game its a trope to kill what ever moves and sometimes doesn't. This is how you interact in a first person shooter - you shoot things that’s all and for doing exactly that you are getting virtual rewards and bonuses. If we put that kind of behaviour versus real live it most definitely will not be acceptable by civilised society and treated as unacceptable act of violence and a crime. End result, you will be punished.

There has been a lot of talk in regard of computer game violence and it’s impact on the targeted audience. However it has remained at least from the design point view the most common form of conflict in the virtual world and sometimes is expressed as overcoming the obstacle. As the creator of Bioshock Ken Levine puts it -[5]“Main mechanics you have a gun, you have a weapon, enemies and a conflict coming right at you and as it turns out as human being were instinctively attracted to these simple extremes

In many games such as Quake, Doom and many other first person shooters Killing is a way to solve the problem. So it is nothing more but a problem solution approach to the task of advancing or becoming the best. Mostly the targets are viewed as being more of an obstacle that’s all, however in some of the games it can also be a part of the narrative and go hand in hand with a very basic viewpoint that good always trumps against evil, be it monsters, forces of darkness or a local cop dealing with gang members. And from that based on the design of the game killing gets more elaborate and complexity of it grows to keep the player in his thinking cap and on his toes.

In this way all the interaction and mechanics of the games also followed the trend of problem solution approach based on the tools you are given. Sometimes they don’t make sense but who are we to judge especially when you can solve your ‘problems’-kill with an exploding office furniture as in[1] In GoldenEye (1997) and several of the later James Bond-themed games where every piece of scenery could not only be destroyed, but would explode under heavy gunfire, often in a massive fireball that would injure the player and send foes flying. Even seemingly non-explosive items like office tables and bushes exhibited this strange behavior. And due to the way explosions work in the game, unloading a mag into a file cabinet or a crate could result in explosions which were peculiarly more fiery than concussive, and had the astounding ability to last for a full ten seconds.

In Quake buttons had to be pressed by shooting at them and of course the rocket launcher jump that allowed more advanced or should I say skillful players to jump up extreme heights or distances by shooting in to the ground and using the wave of the explosion as a physics augmentation, In my case the things didn’t work out that way and most of the time resulted in suicide by shooting myself in a foot with a rocket. Of Course really worth the mention is Gordon Freeman's iconic crowbar for dealing with breakable objects in Half Life. Almost the entire game is littered with large, breakable crate-like boxes, which often contain cool stuff such as ammo and health powerups.

Although tropes remain tropes their physics, visuals and complexity has grown exponentially. In my opinion no one particular trope has seen more of those changes and graphics “awesomeness” than the killing trope. For example lets look at first person shooters and how they evolved over the years. Maze War 1973 has been considered as the very first FPS and frankly was just a bunch of vertical and horizontal lines, black and white and you had  eyeballs for enemies and sounds that well, reminded me of the sounds I used to make when I was a kid: (Pew….Pew…. Pshhhh…). So you shout out a funny looking rocked it hits the enemy more than few shots needed to kill it. No fancy graphics just fluffy particles to indicate a kill. However this game became a predecessor of many others to follow. The next game that has really set the course for FPS was Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein 3D to follow. Not much needs explaining in regards to these two as now killing has become more graphical and fun turned from the abstract to more realistic as well as took a form of Nazi Soldiers. This process involves many aspects : more realistic looking killing brings stronger opinions from society and it affects future projects sometimes in negative way.Some games(Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto) ware banned because of high level of violence.  From the other side, the designers goal is to make the look and feel of the game close to reality, make audience feel and empathize. The mastery to keep balance between those two makes the game fun and entertaining.


Killing became an art and a sport and the witness to that are the gaming world wide olympic games, countless online gameplay videos and whole communities of gamers with their clans, leaders and recognition. If we compare the Maze War and the latest Battlefield you might not find many similarities but for one baseline action - the action of killing i.e. killing trope.


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[5]On the PBS series "Game/Show," host Jamin Warren discusses why the act of killing is such a fundamental game mechanic in video games from Mario Bros. to Grand Theft Auto,by Anthony Domanico ,12 March 2015



[6]Designing Games for Ethics: Models, Techniques and Frameworks: Models ...

edited by Schrier, Karen


[7]Chris Crawford on Game Design, By Chris Crawford


[8]The Cultural Study of Games: More Than Just Games

by Matthew Southern


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