Violence Shouldn't Be This Easy - Apozem Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Violence Shouldn't Be This Easy

Alright, so I recently read an absolutely fantastic blog from GIO newcomer LittleBigDaddy (points for a clever name, by the way). In it, which you can and should read here, he described how one statistic made him stop and rethink violence in video games. An online service kept track of his kills in Halo for a year. The total number ended up somewhere over 16,000.

Over the course of almost a year of Halo, three months of which I lacked an Internet connection, I have killed 16, 291 representations of a living being. I have killed the entire population of high school...seven times and then some. I have personally ended the lives of almost a fifth of my hometown. In other words, I have killed a lot of people in that video game, and there's probably another two thousand unaccounted for. This made me take pause for a moment, reflecting on the industry I love so much in contrast to the thousands of virtual avatars whose lives I have ended so happy.

That's a lot of people. Most gamers don't keep track of how many people they've killed over their time with a controller, but you have to wonder just how high the number climbs. Would it be higher for someone who plays Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty? What about Battlefield or Uncharted? How many bodies have hit the floor before the credits roll?

Now, let me back up a little. I'm not saying violent video games are bad. Remember, I'm the one who watches Sin City and plays Grand Theft Auto. I'm pretty sure whatever remained of my right to a moral high ground was lost when I dropped a live hand grenade into Liberty City rush hour traffic just for the fun of it. I enjoy violent video games.

One of the reasons I like playing such gory games is because they don't bother me in the slightest. Whether it's a good thing to be that desensitized... well, that's an issue for another day. However, the more I thought about it the more I felt like there was a greater reason why violence in video games and movies didn't bother me. It's not just desensitization (although that's part of it), there's a deeper factor at play.

To understand that deeper factor at play, you have to understand how I play video games. Call me too literal, but I have never been able to truly "lose myself" in a video game. True immersion has always been tantalizingly out of reach for me. Certain games come close (Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption come to mind), but I have never consciously bought into a game's fiction. In some corner of my mind, there's always that secure knowledge that the game is above all not real.

By logical extension, that means that the people in video games aren't real. Obvious, but you'd be surprised how easily people lose track of that simple fact. Players become attached to certain characters and feel a deep connection to them as if that character was a real person. They're not. No one in a video game is real.

If this thing was real, I wouldn't leave the house. Ever.

That's why I'm so unfazed by the buckets of gore that cover some games. There's always that comforting knowledge in the back of my mind that the people I'm slaughtering are not real. They are simply moving targets, bits of pixels programmed to pull the trigger when they see you.

Reality is completely different. In the real world, killing a person is completely unacceptable. That person has hopes, dreams, fears, personal quirks, a family, and a history. Think about that. To kill a real person is to commit the gravest of crimes because you're not just shooting a target; you're ripping a hole in the lives of everyone connected to them.

After attending more funerals than I'd ever care to, I can personally attest that the people there feel that hole all too painfully. No matter how great the reasons for killing someone sound in theory, they are worth less than nothing when you see the victim's parents standing over their coffin. Killing a real person is completely, totally, and utterly inhuman. I know that's a little dark, but it's true.

I think the best example of the "real-unreal" dichotomy is exemplified by my attitude toward Grand Theft Auto IV and the television show 1000 Ways to Die. GTA needs no introduction; it's a really fun open-world crime epic. It's also an incredibly bloody game that lets you go on killing sprees against random pedestrians and the police. It's violent, offensive, and revels in hilarious deaths. It's a lot of fun.

1000 Ways to Die is a Spike TV show that relates the various gruesome ways in which people have died. And while most (read: all) of the deaths seem exaggerated, they are still meant to be portrayed as darkly humorous or ironic. Basically, people's deaths are packaged for your entertainment.

I have to say, I can't stand 1000 Ways to Die. It's just too morbid and graphic. Coming from the guy who plays Grand Theft Auto for fun, that probably sounds hypocritical. However, I just can't force myself to enjoy a television show about the deaths of real people. Even if that death is patently exaggerated or partially untrue, the fact remains that there's a real person out there who really died. You can bet that their parents don't think their kid's death is funny.

Grand Theft Auto, on the other hand, killed nobody during its development. Thousands of virtual bits of pixels may have been ended under Niko Bellic's bullets, but not a single real person got shot. No real people were hurt, so it's OK to blow up cars with a rocket launcher for fun. It's like shooting dummies.

I guess that's a good thing. Means I'm still sane and can tell the difference between reality and video games, a very important skill. That's why even though I play GTA every day, I still obey all the traffic laws and refrain from starting interstate police chases. I know life isn't a video game. That distinction makes all the difference.

What do you think? Do violent video games bother you at all? Have you felt them affecting your behavior at all? Please tell me you all aren't fans of 1000 Ways to Die either.

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