I hate war, violence, and even avoid killing bugs and insects. But damn it, I love to play war games. A rich contradiction that my wife wishes didn’t exist. She probably wishes that I passed on the violent video games, TV shows, and movies, and concentrated any violent tendencies on bugs, snakes, and varmints in the real world. I once chased a harmless snake away from the house rather than kill it, much to her consternation.
I recently bought Battlefield 1, which is a rated-M video game that is an immersive World War I combat simulation: infantry, armor, biplanes, etc. I have only played a little of the beginning of the campaign story, but it is fantastic. First person, gritty, bloody, realistic for a video game. There’s no point trying to claim that I’m only playing it for the historical authenticity.
I have long played a number of war simulation video games. I have been a fan of the Total War series, from the original Shogun up through Napoleon. (Steam tells you how many hours you have played each game, which is uh, enlightening.) The Total War games are mostly strategy, nation-building games, with battles played out in 3D and real-time. But you’re just a general floating above the battlefield, directing your side, not burying shovels into the necks of the enemy. I’ve played almost every iteration of Civilization too, although the wars in that game are more like moving pieces around a game board than anything realistic.
At the same time, I’m horrified by real life violence. I don’t watch actual violent videos. I am saddened by every military conflict that flares around the globe. I’m enraged by police abuse of unarmed citizens and the murder of police officers. I’m disturbed by the murder and mistreatment of civilians in war zones. We’re slowly reducing real-life violence both within and between nations and I’m all for ramping up those efforts.
There’s a difference between make-believe video game wars and the real thing. Ask any soldier who comes off duty and relaxes with a session of hyper-realistic Call of Duty. He (most likely a he) will get PTSD from the former but not from the latter. People who have killed someone else suffer psychological damage, but virtually no one who has ever killed a video game character has (although we feel bad about losing cute ones like Yoshi). Consciously and subconsciously, our brains know the difference.
And that difference between reality and make-believe is where the contradiction dissolves. Playing games is completely separate from reality. Young children will ‘play’ death, school, and other things that are new and mysterious to them so that they can learn it and grow familiar with it. It doesn’t mean that 3-year old Susie will have a lifelong obsession with death and will blow up small forest animals in high school. If you are now worried about hypothetical Susie, then check out Killing Monsters by comics writer Gerard Jones.
But where does the bloodthirstiness come from? In most cases, I bet it is testicle ownership and the associated testosterone. Yes, Susie may have her toys ‘die’ to explore the concept, but she probably doesn’t enjoy it with the same vigor as Andy, who marks up the hell out of his toys by smashing them together repeatedly to simulate fiery, explosive deaths. It’s that sex difference that makes males fight, rob, rape, murder, hurt themselves intentionally for laughs, revel at bad weather, and generally shorten the life expectancy and IQ of themselves and the people around them. (It doesn’t matter how smart, self-aware, peaceful or gentle a fully-mature human male is, I guarantee you there is at least one scar or injury on his body from doing something that was stupid/avoidable/risky and that lacked any common sense. I am a pencil-necked bookworm and I have several.)
So, now that I’ve explained all that and made myself feel better, I’m off to slaughter some pixels.