Violent video games often get a lot of attention in the media. Personally, I think that they are a new-age media scapegoat.
It’s possible that in a specific subset of gamers, violent video games can strengthen violent tendencies; however, I believe this is a small and rare subset.
Based on various studies and personal experience, I believe a majority of gamers recognize violent video games for what they are. Fun fantasy adventures that belong solely in the land of fantasy.
Although people talk about the violence in games negatively, there are games that use it well as a social commentary. Two games that do just that are This War of Mine and Spec Ops: The Line.
Regardless, I wonder why so many games, including my favorites, employ violence in some fashion. I believe there are three reasons.
Playing a well-designed shooter, dungeon crawler, etc, is a ton of fun. I feel bad-ass mowing through waves of common enemies with ease. I also live for the thrill I get when I finally overcome a difficult boss.
Further, with shooters and dungeon crawlers, it’s clear whether or not I was the superior player in that instant. If I’m still standing while my enemy is dead/incapacitated, then I won. If not, then I’m a scrub who needs to get good.
Catharsis is another reason why violent games are so fun.
Catharsis is the theory that people can relieve built up stress and aggression through violent actions in a safer manner. I feel there’s more validity to catharsis than psychologists like to acknowledge.
Especially in my teen years, I often used violent video games to let off my overabundant frustration and teen angst. I would load into a few rounds of COD or Halo, usually with some buddies to let off steam.
After a few rounds, despite us initially having a bad day, we were invariably laughing, cracking jokes, and just enjoying life. Even homework seemed more bearable after we had a few rounds of a satisfying shooter together.
In all honesty, the primary target for most games are males between 16–24. This group is targeted because socially they are the most invested in games, and will have the interest, free time, and resources to more wholeheartedly engage with game content.
Because games have been targeted towards males, it makes sense to cater to their desires. Males generally prefer violent video games like COD or Halo, and thus we see a higher percentage of all games being in the vein due to a strong preference.
I also believe, but would need to confirm, violent video games feel more common than they are. The media has a strong role in influencing this common perception. They seem convinced violent video games are the only type that exists and are the devil incarnate.
I’m sure it would surprise them that there are entire genres where violence is minimal or non-existent. Unfortunately, the media benefits from creating click-bait articles and stories. It’s easiest to do by blaming violent video games for all the world’s woes.
The media paints an entire medium as bad to increase their ratings. A nuanced discussion of the pros and cons of violence in games wouldn’t garner nearly as many views, so we don’t see it.
I think we can all agree that violence in games sometimes goes too far, but this is an exception rather than the norm.
As I alluded to earlier, adding enemies I have to conquer in combat makes a game challenging and satisfying when I manage to beat them.
Additionally, there are sometimes where the violent mechanics themselves become a challenge. For example, in Bulletstorm, you are incentivized to come up with the most brutal combos possible.
The Hitman franchise is similar in spirit. Although you’re not necessarily rewarded for violence/mayhem, you are rewarded for smarter assassinations. This trend also holds true for the Assassin’s Creed franchise, especially in the later games.
In all of these cases, the violence isn’t simply a by-product of the story but becomes the challenge itself. Through trying to dispense the violence in the most strategic or carnage creating way, violence becomes a whole new level of challenge.
Violence certainly isn’t a requirement for a great game, but some form of challenge is. Violence presents a clear and easily sold pathway for a challenging game.
Violence also makes power progression unambiguous. When you’re mowing through waves of enemies or creating mass carnage, it’s clear that you’re bad-ass.
In closing, many males gravitate towards violent games. Because game companies still need to make money, they need to make products which maximize their return.
Violent video games, when done mildly right, tend to be a slam-dunk. Consequently, we will continue to see many of them for years to come.