Friday, September 5, 2014

Press A To Kill

Video games and violence.  Now there's two subjects you've probably never seen correlated.  I'm being facetious because yes, we've all seen this argument time and again.  I know I know, "Please not another article about how video games are unfairly victimized for violence in contrast to other mediums."  Relax, I'm not here to tell you the obvious.  Rather I will flat out say that yes, the vast majority of video games are violent.  You usually kill a lot of stuff in video games.  What I want to do with this post though, is talk about why we kill stuff in video games.  And why violence in video games is so prevalent.  And how all of that is actually... a good thing.  Now step into your local time machine, because it's time to go back to the past.

The very reason you are able to exist today, is because your ancestors were really violent.  Not necessarily for fun, rather for survival.  I'm talking about caveman and cavewoman times here.  The cavepeople who were successful killers, that is, successful at hunting and killing game, were able to eat and propagate.  The cavepeople who were not good at killing, thus not good at hunting, didn't survive the leaner times where plant based food was scarce.  So that means that the motivation to kill, and the reward for doing so, became an exponential evolutionary cycle.  Inevitably this predatory subroutine became hardcoded into our basal ganglia, and successfully acting upon the deadly instinct excites the ventral tegmental in accordance.  The programming is simple; killing begets food, food begets propagation, propagation begets DNA passes Go collects 200 chromosomes.

Unfortunately that's not all there is to our desire to kill.  There's an uglier side besides mere survival that's actually rooted in tribalism.   In order to survive, our cavepeople ancestors formed tribes.  There's safety and power in numbers after all.  So what are modern countries then, but huge tribes of modern cavepeople?  Assuming the reader lives in a civilized nation with relatively low crime statistics; the very reason you are able to do so is because of past violence and killing.  Don't take my word for it, research the history of any country and you will find malice and death in its origin.  Those who could take, took, and they took by deadly force.  Once taken, they now use deadly force still to keep what they've claimed.  It's true in modern military times, and it was true in sticks and stones times.  People have always killed to keep what they think is theirs.  Violence then, within the human mind, represents strength.  The strength to hold onto territory for the better of the tribe.  And the longer the tribe lasts, the better the chance of status quo survival.  Once again, an avenue of positive reinforcement for violence in the human brain.

Hunting and tribalism are still not the only reasons for our base desire to kill.  The final reason I propose is one of much darker purpose.  It's rooted in a need to establish superiority against perceived threats of inferiority.  To kill a man is to defeat a man?  That's the thought process that seems to motivate many murderers.  Homicides kindled by feelings of vengeance, pure anger, and even fear are nothing new.  When one believes society is beating them down, one might snap and attack society at random (or hopefully just play Manhunt).  Fundamentally many serial killers and spree killers do so as a futile attempt, a means to overcome a deeply rooted inferiority complex.  This homicidal act is not rooted in survivalism, it is rooted rather in mere pride.  Thankfully the vast majority of us are able to overcome these sporadic malevolent urges of wrath and go about our day unaffected.  And the good news is, as video games get better at simulating murder, actual real life murder is declining.  Politicians are starting to notice this, even when they think of the children.

Knowing how deeply rooted violence and killing are in our mortal human essence, it comes as no surprise that murder in video games is so common.  Even something as sweet and innocent as a Kirby game has copious amounts of cotton candy coated death.  Thusly the concept of player induced taking of lives runs the gamut from Mario Goomba squashing to GTA prostitute slaying.  Simply put; it feels good to kill things in video games, because ancient programming in deep parts of our brain tingles our dopamine dispensers happily every single time we do.  Despite humans having been to space and creating the internet, we all still have a bit of cavepeople in us.  Hence the massive sales of Monster Hunter and Minecraft.  Two games that focus on the most basic aspects of hunting and survival.  Not to mention why boutique survival games like Don't Starve and Lost In Blue sell.  Our modern lives have glossed over the ugly parts of being human, but video games will always allow us to virtualize the primal urges.  Ugga kill, Ugga happy.

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