Why do we play violent video games and what is their charm?

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Video games have always been fun. We’ve all played at least one video game. There are many video games that are regarded as “classics”, such as Pac-Man, Super Mario, or Bomberman. But even those “innocent” video games have something in common and that is violence. Violent video games have always been fun to play and we can not deny it.

Violence in video games has always existed and will always do. Why? Because there is just something about it that we can not define. Even these classics are violent in their own way: Pac-Man eats everything in its path, Mario smashes and kills all sorts of things, and Bomberman…well, I think it is pretty clear what Bomberman does, right? Nowadays, video games have started to reach incredible levels of violence. From shooting people to decapitation, from thrashing to pure torture, violence prevails in a wide variety of video games.

But why? Why do we like them? What makes them so interesting? Can’t we play games such as Tetris? It is pretty fun in its own way, but…still, kind of boring. Why do we love shooting simulators or any kind of violence within a virtual reality?

In this article, I am going to explore a little bit of this curious realm of “violent video games” and try to figure out why we like them and why we truly love them.

Violence? I’m in!

Everybody has a violent video game that is just awesome to play. And that is because it is violent. A few examples would be Grand Theft Auto (GTA), Counter-Strike, Mortal Kombat, and Assassin’s Creed. There is something about that excess of violence: shooting people, cutting them, or silently killing them.

Maybe we like them because we know it is not real. Of course, if you were to think about shooting people on the streets right now, in real life, you couldn’t even bring out a gun in public. And that is because you just cannot do it, your own consciousness does not want you to do it, apart from the fact that the authorities would not approve it. You just…cannot. And that is ok, it is perfect. Nobody should do such a thing, we are humans, after all right. Or are we?

Honestly, the truth behind this obscure pleasure for violence has something to do with us. I mean, with the animal within us. That monster that, over thousands of years, has become tamed, silent, and civilized. There are some people who still have that vivid instinct of hurting people, whether it is for fun or with a solid argument (such as getting on their nerves), to the point that it can be fatal. Those people, however, are referred to as psychopaths, so we can say that they are not mentally stable. They are not healthy, not “human”. But we, the civilized people, have managed to control this instinct to the point that it feels like it does not exist. However, it is still there, we just do not know it. When we play violent video games, this strange instinct reveals itself.

Ask no questions

The perfect example of a video game that shows exactly what violence in video games means is Hotline Miami. It is one of my favourite video games for many reasons, but mostly for its story and theme.

The main idea behind Hotline Miami is violence. “Do you like hurting people?”, the most famous line of the game and, at the same time, one of the most profound that has ever been in a video game. And the game knows how to ask this question in the most subtle way possible. Maybe you will not even notice or you may just not care. What matters is that it is hypnotizing.

The gameplay is simple: you receive phone calls that order you to go to a location and kill people. Then you go there, you put on your mask and you do your job. Simple, right? At first, I thought this game was just pointless. Violence everywhere, stains of blood on every spot of the room…you just ask yourself: who plays this game?!

Well, I have to say that it grips you and never lets you go. It becomes a non-stop, brutal action that reduces any sort of rational thinking to 0. You cannot think during the gameplay. Only when the dialogue kicks in and it asks you some good questions regarding violence, you start thinking straight. The game continues with these killing sprees until the end and then you ask yourself “What was it all about?”. Or maybe you will not.

All in all…this is what we are.

You see, the game is very well-structured: most of the time, you will just kill people and then listen to the tiny bits of dialogue that are spread all over the game. You do not have much time to think, you only have time to kill. In the end, you will probably not ask yourself any sort of questions regarding the story or the message of the game. You will exit the game, shut down the computer, and be satisfied by the adrenaline and excitement that the game gave you. But this way, it means that the game won. It delivered the message: we love violence. If you do not take a step back and look at the bigger picture, then the game and its violence prevail over you.

So, violence has something to do with us, with ourselves. We can not run from it. A short example: if right now a car accident were to happen, I am sure you and all the people around the incident would immediately rush to see what happened. The big questions: “Who got hurt?” “Did someone die?’’. Of course, you would be horrified or totally uninterested in this event. “The death of people is not something that brings happiness” you would say. And it is correct. But, it is not about happiness, it is about the morbid curiosity that attracts us. We like violence, it makes us curious. “Violent video games? Of course, why not? It is fun!”. Yes, it is. We play violent video games because they are fun and that is a fact. We cannot run from our instincts and there are some moments when they slip through the cracks and we do not even notice. But they are there and will forever be.

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