I’m currently working on a game with a friend as a personal project of ours. It’s a top-down shooter where players control quad-copter drones equipped with various types of unique guns. Here are a few prototype designs I made and rendered in Blender.
Do violent video games cause violent behaviour in people?
The answer is as of yet unclear, and there is much ongoing debate as to whether video games increase aggressive tendencies or cause antisocial behaviour. It is hard to say that any study or research paper has conclusively answered that question. Perhaps the common anecdotal correlation between violent people and their playtime in violent games is actually the result of violent people being drawn to violent games, and not that the games cause the behaviour.
Let’s instead discuss why video games tend to be so violent. There’s no question that violence sells; just take a look at the global top selling games this week at vgchartz. At the time of writing, the top 10 selling games this week are:
Every single game listed above features fighting and/or killing as a core gameplay mechanic. The top seller on this list, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, features the roguish action hero protagonist Nathan Drake murder countless baddies in his adventures. Doom, coming in at second, is a game that is famous for its bloody violence and excessive gore.
Iowa State University professor Douglas Gentile is a developmental psychologist who has spent years studying the effect of violent video games on young children and adolescents. He theorises that violent games tap into a primal survival instinct that we as humans have for the most part left behind.
“There are two things that force us to pay attention,” Gentile says. “One is violence; the other is sex. Whenever either of those are present in our environment, they have survival value for us.”
In our modern society, violence has less of a significance in our lives than it did for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Video games could provide an outlet for experiencing those primal instincts within a safe environment.
Video games are about escapism into a world where a player can interact and do whatever they so choose. They allow gamers to experience and do things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, like explore fantasy worlds, drive a racing car, fight fantastical dragons, or go on a murderous rampage through a city. Violence is largely frowned upon by modern society, and so gamers can turn to video games as a way to live out those primal instincts that they can’t do in real life.
This is why Grand Theft Auto V is such an immensely popular success; the game essentially drops a player in a massive open-world city, and allows them to do whatever they want. This is where the concept of player agency comes in; GTAV isn’t really a violent game, but given the option to, most players will naturally want to do the things that are taboo in our society, without any real-life consequences.
You could conceivably spend the entire game playing golf and taking strolls on the beach, just as you could play as a psychotic murderer with no respect for red lights. GTAV could be called the perfect example of a game that gives the player full agency in a world of options with no consequences.
I took the time to collect some more data from the vgchartz archives, looking at the top 15 best selling games from 2006-2015, and counting how many of those 15 featured violence as a core feature.
I didn’t include the 2016 data in the graph because it’s not over yet, but so far, all but one of the 15 top selling games this year feature violence. The data reveals what could be considered an unsettling trend in video games towards more violent mechanics.It is important to note however that during 2006-2011 the Nintendo Wii and DS was at their peak in popularity, meaning that the charts were dominated by family-friendly titles such as Wii Sports and Nintendogs. Perhaps as graphics continue to get more realistic and immersive, the violence that we so love becomes that much more attractive. Or perhaps there’s a more complicated reason as to why games are becoming more violent in general.
Game developers and producers make these violent games for two reasons:
Developers want to make money and people pay money for violent games.
Developers are also gamers, and as such they make games that they enjoy.
That’s not to say, however, that in all cases game developers make their games violent for the sake of it. Rather, in most cases the violence is just a necessary feature to create the type of game that they are making. For any story or piece of interactive media, there has to be a conflict to engage the viewer, and violence is a common and simple way to create conflict.
Inevitably, as people get used to playing violent games, they will want to play more violent games in order to scratch that itch. The trend is that people who start playing violent games won’t stop, and people who already play violent games won’t go back to playing non-violent games. In this way, the number of people overall who are interested in buying and playing violent games increases, thus companies will create a supply to meet that demand.
The nature of video games as a media form is that they build off of past games, in mechanics, conventions, and themes. So when developers go to create games, they will tend to build experiences that are similar to what they know and love. As more and more violent games get played, more and more violent games will get made.