1. Violence begets Violence
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
The number in the title indicates that it is part of a series of articles separate from my other posts here.
To begin a hopefully long and useful series, we will briefly glance at the gigantic elephant in the tiny games room.
A peaceful oasis
The first game we released with Tale of Tales was The Endless Forest. It’s a multiplayer presentation of an idyllic forest inhabited by deer. To avoid behavior that wouldn’t fit our fantasy we decided not to include combat, competition or even chat. As a result The Endless Forest offers a relaxing experience of friendly contact between complete strangers.
This atmosphere of friendliness spills over into the website we set up for the players. This community has been extremely active and mostly self-governed for many years and is a haven for all. I don’t think that would have been the case if The Endless Forest contained violent interactions or competitive missions.
A rough environment
Much like there would be no art in a perfect world, The Endless Forest only makes sense in the context of a wider game community where bullying and harassment are rampant. And when we take a look at the kinds of games that are popular in these circles, it comes as no surprise to find a generous dose of antagonistic, aggressively competitive glorifications of violence and gore.
We don’t need theories about the correlation between violent games and violent behavior. Many players of violent and antagonistic games engage in violent and antagonistic behavior. Whether violent people are attracted to games or games arouse violent emotions is irrelevant. Anyone who has ever been attacked by a gamer lynch party knows that a certain number of people who play antagonistic and violent games are aggressive, intolerant, reactionary, misogynist, and so on.
A game industry that caters to such people is at least guilty of supplying the most horrible specimens of our societies with an excuse to feel good about themselves. But I believe it goes much further than that.
The game industry actively breeds a group of belligerent hooligans for profit. And the longer this process continues, the tighter the vicious circle becomes: only violent games sell well, so only those get made, so only violent people buy games, and so on.
A game industry that claims to support tolerance and respect is hypocritical as long as it produces and supports entertainment in which the wounding and killing of others is central to the amusement.
I’m sure that most game developers and publishers are not malicious. I don’t think they intend to provoke aggressive behavior or sexism in the real world. After all, “it’s only a game. It’s just a bit of fun.” And they can easily offload their responsibility onto each and every individual player of their games in an appropriation of the “guns don’t kill people” mentality of the American weapons lobby.
True enough, a gun does not cause murder by itself. But equally true is that the absence of a gun can prevent murder.
We can do better
I think game developers, as creative people, probably middle class, probably intellectuals, underestimate how unstable some members of their audience are, how isolated they live, how little access they have to education and broader culture, how little context to place these games in that are so important to their sense of self. We could help these people with entertainment that demonstrates the beauty of life, the value of non-violent interactions, how much better it feels to care than to hurt, how big and diverse the world is, and so on.
A game developer who claims to be a peaceful tolerant person while producing murder simulators is a hypocrite. I will not accuse them of being directly responsible for mass shootings and online harassment. But they are beyond a doubt guilty of neglecting to prevent such things.