By title alone, this is easily the most fundamentalist Roman Catholic thing I will ever write, and seeing as I am far from a fundamentalist, it embitters me to pander to such a blatant extreme. However, before you start waving the torches and pitchforks, assuming you’ll find a Floridan lawyer briefs-down-to-ankles in my basement and brown marks on my cheek, realize that this is an article exploring a darker side of something we do so haplessly. Yes, a majority of video games out there are violent, and they’re mostly fun when we’ve achieved the glorious climax of this violence. It comes to a point that we release ourselves from moral judgment and concentrate instead on a sense of hubris – we are doing the exact opposite of productivity. However, is this necessarily so bad?
Quests? @$%* That!
Don’t believe me? Have you actually played modern Grand Theft Auto series? I love the game as much I can. It’s not the best game ever, but it’s actually still pretty fun and it holds the title of pioneer of games that unabashedly explores the criminal lifestyle; you earn peanuts-for-money putting your genitals, general well-being, and social status on the line. However, that’s not nearly as fun as you could be having with the game. If you don’t believe me, steal a car, run over a cop, and keep doing it until there are too many choppers raining bullets on you for you to be able to blink without taking one to the temple. You can also commit such acts of idiocy like diving head first into a chemical plant smokestack and watching yourself curl into a ball and die.
Yes, it’s more fun doing the things in Grand Theft Auto that you aren’t supposed to do than it is to do the things you are supposed to do – take your friends out for fun, go on dates, and maybe earn a sour dollar by killing a total stranger. However, it’s not always to do; sometimes it becomes a downright chore. If the choices remain between dragging your quirky girlfriend to subpar bowling and pool minigames I’d rather be playing on the Wii and hiring hookers, killing in dark alleys, stealing their money, and watching as the cops hopelessly try to arrive at the scene on time, I say the choice is clear.
Granted, you are punished for committing heinous crimes with the wanted-star rating system, but can you imagine how mindlessly boring the game would be if it didn’t have that? The point about assaulting people and cops is the knowledge that they will eventually fight back. The point in killing that hooker is that you aren’t supposed to get away with it. Why would you bother paying her if there wasn’t some risk involved in shooting her to get the money back? The wanted rating is the reward. Of course, you could have a more realistic law system, but if you’ve ever played Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced, you know how frustrating it would be if you had to get stopped and ticketed every time you jaywalked.
Dead Rising is another example. Sure, you could do your whole bread-and-butter journalist act, or you can find out how much fun it is to kill zombies with whatever is lying around in a nearly desolate mall. Hey, we’ve all dreamed about being locked in a mall after hours; think about all the candy and food we can steal, the mannequins we can vandelize, the damage we can cause, and if you haven’t dreamed of this already or aren’t dreaming of it now, check your pulse.
The idea behind sandbox gaming and freedom is this: if you give someone a gun loaded with untraceable bullets, chances are they will find some use for them. It’s at least a good laugh to do something that people would normally look down on because in this case, you can press a button and it no longer matters – your progress is erased and you don’t have to deal with a quarter century of prison or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Check Your Moral Compass, You Murderous Psycho
Just as it doesn’t matter as it is all data, you’re free not to question your actions in a linear game. They may or may not be human, but they are emanating real-life creatures. Have you ever counted the lives of Goombas you’ve taken in Super Mario Bros.? How about the number of mythical and possibly endangered species you’ve hunted down and killed in Legend of Zelda, not to mention the souls you’ve disturbed? How many wild creatures have you captured in Pokémon games? How often do you steal in Final Fantasy with no punishment? Sure, we are presented with a polarized view of good and evil, but we often neglect to realize that morality isn’t down to binary: to kill or not to kill.
Look, for example, at the Super Mario universe. The plot is typically the same: Bowser kidnaps your girlfriend, and you must go and rescue her. How do you do this? You rampage through an entire kingdom of misfit mushrooms and truculent tortoises and looting money caches. This is beginning to sound like Grand Theft Auto, isn’t it? Sure, the Goombas are trying to kill you, but how? Walking in a straight line towards you. Sure, you could opt to jump over them, but why do that when you can crush them beneath your feet or shoot the poached shell of a turtle to wipe them out? You’re even rewarded with an extra life if you kill eight of them without having to touch the ground.
I’m not done. You finally reach Bowser, and you are tasked with fighting him. Granted, he does have the physical upper hand against Mario, but how do you eventually settle things? You usually throw him into a pit of molten lava. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I had a girlfriend and she’s kidnapped by someone clearly stronger than me, my answer isn’t to go on a flower-powered (read: drug-induced) rampage against creatures of lesser thought and throw the jerk-face face-first into a molten pit. I’m pretty sure that will land me first-degree murder charges and cruel treatment of animals in real life, not to mention the countless PETA protesters sitting on my lawn.
One of the reasons I haven’t joined my country’s military is because I personally have a problem putting myself in a situation where killing another person seems like a viable choice. In a normal life where one does not serve in war, it’s quite normal for a man not to take another man’s life. If I don’t have to fight and kill, I’m not going to volunteer. Of course, I’m not calling military heroes a bunch of sanguine murderers; I realize that soldiers are important to the institution of any country. I am saying, however, that why put yourself in that position unless absolutely necessary if your skills are better served otherwise? I can’t be the only person who thinks that.
However, why don’t we think about that poor, cute turtle we intentionally crush to harvest its shell as a projectile for more cute creatures? Why don’t we think about taking that sword to the bats and the rats? We actually crave capturing the cute woodland creatures and forcing them into cross-species mortal battle, and we pride ourselves on rare things we’ve successfully stolen. In real life, however, I wouldn’t be caught dead walking out of the deli with an unpaid candybar in my pocket.
If I Stop Playing, Will That Save My Soul?
The obvious question to ask now is why is this healthy or good for society? Simple – we need to pretend every now and again. Imagination is the mother of diversity – the gears in my head don’t tick the same way they tick in your head, and that’s exactly why we form bonds as a society. The way I tackle a problem will differ from the way you tackle a problem, and eventually, one of us comes up with the best solution.
This is also an excellent form of stress-relief, and I use that term generously. It’s not only stress that is relieved. It answers questions in a contained environment that won’t normally be answered in a real-life situation. Sure, we can imagine it just the same with the examples given, but in video games, nearly everything is interactive. We may never be soldiers out of fear of killing, and we may never save the world, but in a video game, we can do whatever we want given the right disc or cartridge. The bonus of this is that once we turn off the cartridge, we don’t have the responsibility of saying why we did what we did. It is the ultimate sandbox – when we’re done, we dust off and go back to math equations and social banter.
Finally, the whole chaos factor in a video game plays out as a giant cosmic joke, something English majors love to refer to as satire. That’s right, this sort of thing exists in almost everyone’s hearts, and that’s what makes it so accessible and funny. Video games are not life simulators; they’re interactive jokes.
Take, for example, Grand Theft Auto IV. You can be shot in the spine by a member of the LCPD, dive off a huge building, and sleep with more prostitutes than you can count with your shoes on. However, no matter what, you can bribe the cops or homeland security after going on rampages, you can wake up in the hospital after being crushed by gravity or subway train, and you will never pick up an STD or be fleeced for a few more dollars than your initial price. In fact, if you shoot the hooker, no pimp will chase after you – a cop or two, but that’s easily evaded by going about 200 feet away from the dark alley you need to be in to have sex with the prostitute and stick around while the cops scratch their rears.
Games are hardly real, but they exist in that shady area of morality that is laughable to explore. If you pointed a rocket launcher at a baby carriage in real life, you’d get looks as though you had a swastika carved on your forehead. If you simply add on “in Grand Theft Auto” to the end of that statement, you will probably still get funny looks, but those looks will turn to laughter at the whole thought of someone thinking about what would happen if you did that. Of course, there are going to be some cases where parents don’t want to raise their children and keep firearms lying around unlocked in the house, but the millions of gamers out there can hardly be blamed for the handful that can’t tell the moral difference between turning on Virtua Cop or Doom and bringing your daddy’s firearm into high school for a rampage.
Let’s face it, causing trouble has been a long-proven way of having fun, and if you don’t believe that; read the book of Job, or watch an episode of Dennis the Menace. It lets us break out of character and doldrums to do something nobody would ever accept in a real situation without consequence.
Bonus Appendix: The Exceptions
Now, I know it’s typically in bad form to end an article after its conclusion, but this information – though pertinent – is nearly insignificant. Most generalizations have their exceptions. Even if it is in bad form, I’m one to say “screw the rules” and go with it anyway, so if I’ve made my point and that’s all you care about, nobody’s putting a gun to your temple and forcing you to read on.
There are a number of games where your morals are not compromised for fun. Yes, not every enjoyable game in the world has you murdering innocent creatures or people. In some games, you are the hero, and anyone who questions you is a moron.
In Sonic the Hedgehog, you’re a genetically superior woodland creature set to preserve home, friend, and family against the maniacal Dr. Eggman Robotnik from his cruel experiments in robotics. In fact, every time you “kill” an enemy, you’re rescuing a tiny animal from the clutches of an active robotic prison. Even if you do fight the sinister Robotnik once in a while, you never kill him, and you give him plenty of opportunity to escape and reform in his ways. No wonder those games have been so difficult – you’re doing the right thing from start to finish.
Arguably, you can say the same thing about Mega Man – you are a robot designed to destroy war weapons used for world domination. Sure, it does ring uncomfortably familiar to today’s “weapons of mass destruction” search in the Middle East, as a number of these Robot Masters are utilitarian in purpose as much as they are weapons, but Mega Man was made in a simpler time and we can hardly blame him. Besides, Dr. Albert Wily is both a known thief and an overall douche – and loyal to the First Law of Robotics, you never kill the idiot, though the same cannot be said about one of his later robots.
Harvest Moon does not have a trace of immorality, except maybe for some mischief that can be done by repeatedly giving rocks to your local friends. In real life, of course, if someone continued giving me rocks, I’d just smile and nod, thinking he were special. However, in so many instances, I was afraid a rival invited me into a hot air balloon to push me off, or that someone might vandalize my farm. No, there’s no hint of immorality there. Okay, maybe you can read your girlfriend’s diary when she’s not looking, but that’s a slap on the wrist.
No, on second thought, you can get divorced in the game, but that’s only if you’re a total buttwad and you deserve it.
So, no, not every game is evil, and here are three perfectly good examples of wholesome games that are fun.
~ Setsuna Setsunai