Sponsored By

It's Just A Game

Why is it that games can take the brunt of the blame for people who become violent, but we can't make games that explore the real world problems that are considered unspeakable? It's time to use the influence of our media to create change.

Shelly Warmuth, Blogger

July 28, 2011

10 Min Read

I was reading a fairly well-written article the other day about how the bomber/mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, claims to have used Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and World of Warcraft to prepare for his killing spree.  

I say fairly well-written because the author didn’t make any assumptions or knee-jerk claims; he merely reported it in Breivik’s own words, taken from his written manifesto. The manifesto doesn’t even make the claim that games are responsible for Breivik’s killing spree; World of Warcraft, he found, was a credible excuse for going “missing” for days and for foreign travel “to meet guild members.”  He used Modern Warfare 2, he says, to prepare for something he planned on doing anyway. 

It wasn’t so much the article that made me bristle; it was one response to the article. This person said ‘Games aren’t supposed to make us feel anything.  They’re just supposed to be fun and provide moments you can brag about to friends.’ *starts to nod head in agreement* Wait, What?!?  

We aren’t supposed to experience anything in games?  Isn’t that already the subject of greater debate?  How often do we discuss the end user experience?  

Every form of media seeks to make the person interacting with it feel something. People laugh, cry and feel along with the characters in a book.  Some of us cry during movies or television shows.  We cheer when the underdog wins the prize, no matter what the prize is.  We feel sick when the guy says the wrong thing and his wife walks out the door.  Some movies, like those of Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Pi, Black Swan) and Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket), can seriously scar a person for life.  Music can be uplifting, energetic, depressing, sad, and poignant.  

Games do all of these things, too.  Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions attempts to let us experience web-slinging and what it is like to look down over a city.  Silent Hill tries to get players to feel fear.  Sports games let us get in on the action.  Braid helps players to understand the feeling of regret.  I’d venture that most games make the player feel something, but it isn’t always purely escapist or “fun.”  

The real difference between the interactive media that is games and the more passive medias of movies, books and music, seems to be that games are the only media form that is not really allowed to explore hard-hitting subjects such as school shootings, mass murder, and the personal side of war.  

Perhaps this is  because we call them “games” and people “play” them?  Maybe people think games are trivial because the pervasive thought is that people play to escape and have fun.  But, it’s all fun and games until someone blows people up.  Only then are games considered influential.  

Some brave souls have attempted to break out of this mold and try to teach players to feel through play; to use an experiential quality to profoundly affect a viewpoint.  With Train, Brenda Brathwaite succeeded in touching people this way.  Once you learn the lesson, you don’t want to play again.  Granted, that doesn’t exactly make for a commercially successful game, but it will touch the part of the audience who become interested in the buzz and in the challenge of seeing if they can play it without feeling anything.  Danny Ledonne created the Super Columbine Massacre RPG in an attempt to put players in the shoes of Harris and Klebold and allow them to feel their way through the decisions and events that led up to that fateful day.  

People flock to theaters to see movies about taboo subjects.  There are movies that explore rape, war, getting away with murder, the events leading up to the murder of Jesus Christ, sexual deviance, drugs, and the Holocaust.  The outcry to exploring such difficult subjects in games, however, has been loud and searing.  We are reminded that games are an escape and “just for fun.”  We are told, although it is somewhat untrue, that games are for kids and our children shouldn’t be exposed to such subject matter.  Even our ratings system works against us.  R-rated and MA-rated movies are sold in stores and are available for rent.  But, if a game receives an adult rating, it is often censored or banned.  

So, we accept that we can’t make games about subjects that are considered ineffable and unspeakable.  Yet, games have the greatest ability to touch an audience.  Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is “only a game” and it’s pure fiction, but players have to experience a degree of what it is like to grow up in a gang neighborhood with corrupt police.  Games, such as Dead Space, dump us into a foreign environment and ask us to explore our way into an understanding of what happened there, making decisions based only on what we experience while in the game.  

We have the ability to touch players and to affect them in a real way.  We can affect them through play and even immerse them into an environment that lets them learn the message experientially.  We have even proven, time and time again, that we have the desire to do this.  It is time we turned the tables on the knee-jerk reaction that games affect our most violent offenders and, instead, show players how a sensory experience can change their view of the world.

Read more about:

Featured Blogs
Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like