There’s no denying the astronomical rise in popularity of video games over the past decade.  Last year, 18 of my 21 students knew and were able to converse about video games, be it consoles, PCs, or on their mobile devices.  A 2014 report from the Entertainment Software Association showed that nearly 60 percent of adults play video games.  If you’re still not convinced, reflect on the fact that Bungie spent nearly 500 million dollars on marketing alone for Destiny.  However, this popularity has not been welcomed by all.  There has been major controversy about the violence in certain games.  Some state that these games are too violent for young children and can either desensitize them to violence or influence them to commit violence.  Prominent politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, have lobbied for bills banning the sale of certain games to minors.

This article is not defending violent video games nor is it condemning them.  I’m not qualified to make such claims, I’m just a happy consumer.  Rather, this article is an exploration of why I enjoy playing them.

Before I can list my reasons, it’s important to understand the distinction between violent games.  There are three major kinds of violent games: First-person shooters (FPS), gory third-person games, and “total freedom games”.  First-person shooters are games such as Halo or Call of Duty.  These games are in first person mode, which means you can only see your hands instead of your entire body.  These games are divided into two kinds: one where the enemies are non-human (aliens or zombies) and one where your enemies are humans. Gory third-person are games such as God of War or Gears of War.  In these games, you control a person and brutally dispatch enemies with a heavy dose of graphic violence.  Lastly, total freedom games are games like Grand Theft Auto or Just Cause.  These games give the player a sandbox (large open world) and absolute freedom.

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First-person shooters are fun because they’re another version of the childhood game of Tag.  You join a group of friends and try to tag them before they tag you.  Except instead of one person being “it” and chasing people, everyone is “it” and has a gun.  Yes, there is strategy involved and you can choose different guns and grenades, but the real goal is to get someone before they get you.  Even though the games call them “kills” and reward you for “killstreaks” (killing a number of players in a row without dying), I’ve never viewed them as anything more than points.   Murder or killing implies the permanence of death.  But in first-person shooters, death has no consequence.  You respawn onto the battlefield within seconds of being killed.  For example, when I was playing through Halo 3 with a friend, I would routinely run out onto the battlefield and intentionally die when I was low on ammunition.  Because I knew that whenever he was in a safe place, I would respawn next to him with all my ammunition restored.  Just like how being “it” in Tag doesn’t really matter because you can go tag someone else, dying in first-person shooters doesn’t matter because you’ll respawn back into the game in a few seconds.

First-person shooters are also enjoyable because you can cooperate or compete with friends.   This is why cooperative zombie games, like Left 4 Dead and zombie mode in Call of Duty are so popular.  It’s a blast to work together as a team against a never-ending horde of enemies and see how long you can last.  In college, my roommate and I had a long running rivalry with two other people in the dorm over who could get to the highest level in the zombie mode in Call of Duty Black Ops.  It’s also fun to cooperate with friends to overcome challenges.  Staying up until four in the morning with my roommate to beat Halo 3 on Legendary difficulty was a great deal of fun and time well spent.

Gory third person games are fun because they provide a catharsis unmatched in most games.  This is because most of the time you are facing enemies who are either much larger or more powerful than you are.  In God of War you are fighting massive creatures from Greek myth and even the gods themselves.  These enemies are often significantly larger than you and there’s an immense satisfaction in bringing them down.  Check out the video for proof.

 

There’s also a strange sense of gratification that comes from the excessive gore in these games.  This, however, depends on your level of maturity and is not a very lasting feeling.  For me, it faded once I exited high school.  When I was in high school, I loved the God of War franchise.  It combined my fascination of Greek mythology with incredible action.  It never got tiresome to rip a beast’s arm off and beat him to death with it, or to tackle a minotaur and shove my blade down his throat.  I could sit there for hours pulverizing gods, demi-gods, and monsters until my fingers hurt.  I purchased the most recent game, God of War: Ascension, after I had graduated from college.  It didn’t cause nearly the same feelings in me as when I played the games years earlier.  I think it’s because I was older and more mature.  I wanted more relatable characters.  It became more important to know why characters are doing things, rather than what they are doing.  Kratos (the main character) was simply a really angry man, who killed things because he was really angry.  That may have appealed to my younger self, but it doesn’t anymore.

Total freedom games are entertaining because they offer amoral anarchic fun.  There are no consequences to your actions, not even death.  In Grand Theft Auto, you can be blown up, shot, stabbed, and run over by a semi-truck and it doesn’t matter.  You’ll just walk out of the hospital after a loading screen.  These games provide a wonderful feeling of liberation.  It just feels so darn good to blow through red lights or punch some jerk who made a snide comment.  These games are especially fun for children and teenagers because they’re surrounded by rules.  Their parents and school constantly tell them what to do and how to act.  As a result, there’s great joy in playing a game that hands you the reins.  Watch this Just Cause 3 video to see what joys total freedom can lead to.

Violent video games are fun either as a great cooperative activity with friends, as an extension of childhood games, or an escapist fantasy from your daily life.  First-person shooters are a blast because it’s a fun activity to do with friends.  Third-person shooters offer an incredible catharsis because of its epic boss battles and excessive gore.  Total freedom games offer a wonderful escape from reality.  Feel free to comment your reasons below.

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