Since their beginning, video games have incorporated at least some form of violence. Space Invaders had players blowing up aliens, Thousands of goombas have been stomped to death since Super Mario Brothers was released in 1985, and the casualties from all our assorted shooters number in the millions at the very least. We gamers deal with so much death and destruction, and yet aren’t phased by it in the slightest. Even new gamers can jump into the fury of a game like Battlefield 4 and not be the slightest bit bothered by carnage going on all around them. At first glance, it would appear that players of violent games are a very disturbed lot. Something that some critics genre would love non-gamers to believe. Indeed, if we aren’t all sociopaths, how could we possibly abide all the wanton savagery we delve into as we play our shooters, fighters, and adventure games that have us take down entire armies in all kinds of creative and even gruesome ways? Well to put it bluntly, they’re games. The things we do in games are different and have an entirely different meaning behind them. How is this possible? It has to do with a concept known as “play space” (not my term btw).
To start, “Play Space” is defined as the space within which play takes place (a soccer field for example). Appropriate behavior within a play space is defined by the rules of its game or form of play, and such behavior is often not necessarily appropriate outside of that space. For example, it’s perfectly fine for a football player to tackle a ball carrier during a football game, but outside of that game, tackling anyone carrying a ball is more than likely going to get you in some sort of trouble. What about trash talk? If you’ve ever played cards or a board game with friends/family, then you know that while in the heat of the game you can get away with saying things that would require some serious explanation at just about any other time. Games and sports allow us to say and do things that we would normally not even be capable of, much less even consider, in a safe and acceptable way, and video games are no different.
Like cards or sports, video games create a clearly defined space in which different sorts of behaviors are considered acceptable, with the only real difference being what video games enable/ask us to do within their space. Within the space video game, “killing” an enemy player’s avatar is just as acceptable as passing a rival car in a race . Both actions are the same in that they bring the player closer to fulfilling the objective of the game. This is what we do when we play, we use “acceptable” actions to the best of our ability in order to achieve the game’s objective.The employment of violence doesn’t change this.
Be it a multiplayer shooter, an action-adventure, or even something as seemingly benign as any Mario game, the violent acts found in each is used as a means to achieve the objective. And since this is a game we’re talking about (again with it’s own set of rules and expected behavior), those actions are not seen by the player as horrific or ghastly. Just as a crushed goomba means there’s on less obstacle between us and the end of a level in Super Mario Bros., a “kill” in a game like Halo means we’re that much closer to winning a match. That’s all such actions mean to a player. and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Violence in the real world is a more than just a serious matter and should always be met with the proper amount of horror, revulsion, and sadness it demands. That being said, a gamer’s lack of such reactions to the violence in video games doesn’t mean that they’re disturbed individuals who have lost their sense of decency. Rather, it means is that they see it for what it is: a means deemed acceptable within the games they play to accomplish the objectives of those games.
To put it a bit more simply: We’re not disturbed by the violence in the games we play because we know what it is and, more than that, we know what it’s for.