Ramblings on violence in games

It all started with a blog post

Violent video games and kids

of a 13-year old girl’s school essay on violence and games. A very good and informed piece of writing.
I always find it interesting that the critique of violence in games almost always comes from people who don’t play computer games themselves and sometimes never have played one at all. Who don’t know what a shooter is about and never have played one. And interestingly also are completely ignorant of the huge sector of non-violent games like Animal Crossing, Sim City, The Sims (1+2), Wii Sports (oh let me correct that, the boxing part is quite violent), Zoo Tycoon, Rollercoaster and more.
As much as I understand their worries about something they don’t understand, it is actually not a good thing to be informed by the splatter press only. Often journalists writing for the mainstream press about “killergames” do not play themselves either.
Imagine talking about books and never having read one.

A Nintendo DS is quite a cheap way to find out what video games are really about. For starters I recommend Animal Crossing, Another Code, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (if you always dreamed of being a lawyer), Trauma Center (if you always wanted to be a doctor), Nintendogs (if you always wanted a dog, but never have time to have a real one), Cooking Mama (if you love cooking) and naturally Zelda (the icon), which is heavy on sword fighting and the only game in this list were you use a weapon at all. These are all best selling Nintendo games. And even if Trauma Center has a lot of gore (probably), I haven’t played it even the thought of a scalpel makes me shiver, it is not about killing, but about healing.
A lot of games with killing use ancient weaponry and one-on-one combat, because they are Haensel-and-Gretel stories. There is a EVIL, which the hero (male or female) on her journey from child to adult has to conquer. In German literature this is called Entwicklungsroman.
There are stories like this in every culture. Illiad and Odysee of the greek, Beowulf, Arthur legends, Nibelungen. The Mahābhārata seems to have a lot of this too, but since I haven’t actually read it (even if it is on my reading list), I cannot really say something about it.
But I actually would like to play a game set in this kind of classic Indian literature. It may be easier for somebody, who doesn’t have an Indian cultural background, to understand all the layers of these huge ancient texts in the context of a game. Is somebody working on this ? Since the Indian game industry is thriving I have high hopes to play something like this soon.
And maybe we can rebrand games as way to understand other cultures. There is a lot to be learned by playing Japanese games, games from countries, which were once behind the iron curtain and the difference between European games, UK games and US games (subtle, but interesting). Games (as any media or art form) always reflect the societies they were made in. So what do FPS say about us ?

For German speaking people, who want to know more about media and violence I recommend this book F.Rötzer : Virtuelle Welten – reale Gewalt. For parents looking for guidance (in German too) maybe this T.Feibel : Killerspiele im Kinderzimmer. Was wir über Computer und Gewalt wissen müssen or this T. Hartmann : Schluss mit dem Gewalt-Tabu! may help.
But just reading about does not help. You must have played a video game to understand how video games work. For a PC Zoo Tycoon 2 or the Sims are easy and interesting starting points, which are now in the sales aisle and quite cheap. Shooter normally need a fair amount of skill to master, so starting there is a bad idea.