Making peace with violence
By Rahul Chacko
18th July 2012 12:17 PM
Truth be told, I should be locked away deep in the bowels of a maximum security prison somewhere, with no visiting hours and no chance of parole. Or at least, that would be the case if I was judged on the exploits of the characters I have controlled in my games, rather than the lovable pacifist I am in real life.
What can I say? I, like many others of my gender, have a predilection for violent games, and I’ve played my fair share over the past 20 or so years. It doesn’t hurt that there’s never a shortage of violent games in the market, too. Even before I was born, we had games like Death Race, where the objective was to run down pedestrians and earn points for vehicular manslaughter. We’re talking over two decades before Carmageddon used that same theme to great effect.
When Mortal Kombat (MK) was first released in 1992, as a fighting game, it felt somewhat inferior to its competitors like Street Fighter. The movement seemed more rigid, and subtlety was not a quality it recognised. However, where Street Fighter had a bright comic feel to it, MK went the other way, with characters spraying copious amounts of blood on every hit. The jewel in its crown was undoubtedly the gruesome ‘fatalities’, which allowed you to dispatch your defeated enemies in creatively gory ways. I loved them, even though I never had the patience to mug up the long string of commands that you needed to enter to bring the pain. Result — MK was the game that most people were talking about around that time.
However, this does suggest that one not take too many life lessons from video games, since you’d probably get the idea that violence is the best solution to problems. Argument with your boss? Tiger uppercut! Waiter brings you the wrong order? Piledriver time! Peanut butter jar won’t open? Smack it! Okay, that one might actually work.
There’s something primal about violence that seems to make it an attractive means of conflict resolution for a lot of us. Thankfully, the line between fantasy and reality is one that’s quite visible to me, and I have no problem blowing up people and property onscreen, and then being a peace monger once I log off.
Of late, though, I have been finding it a bit one-note. I love games that give you other options for dealing with things. One of my favourite games of the 2000s, Mirror’s Edge, allowed me to play through the entire story without shooting or killing any of the enemies, despite being a fast-paced action game. Whenever I’m in an RPG these days, I make sure to keep my persuasion/speech skills high, so I can talk my way out of trouble most times, and only reach for my boomstick as a last resort. In fact, at the end of Witcher 2, when I caught up with the primary antagonist of the game, he explained his motives, and when I was given a choice whether to fight him or not, I elected not to. That was one of my major gripes with Skyrim — practically everyone you meet outside the city walls gives you no option but fight or flight. So by the time you’re a good way into the game, you’ve already depopulated about half the world.
While I don’t mind the occasional session of mindless action, like in the Serious Sam games, I’d like it if more games took the effort to make the primary mechanic something other than ‘destroy stuff’. With the proliferation of first-person shooters in the market today, things may be looking grim in that regard, but then I play an indie browser game like Rambo: Last Blood, where you control the ghost of Rambo, and you have to hug the ghosts of your victims to make peace with yourself, and I hold out some small hope.
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