Appeal of Destruction?

Sorry, I’ve got to post about the appeal of violence again, because it occurred to me that all the gear destruction videos (such as boiling a new iphone in coke) demonstrate a basic effect that can also be found in a lot of video games.

I wrote last time about killing in video games, and someone commented that sex and violence just deliver quick fun or satisfaction. There was also something about competition and being able to just take it to the extreme, killing.

Gear destruction may come from a number of factors, but one of them is simply the fun of blowing stuff up, the basic fun of rebellion, of breaking social codes without fearing repercussions. On top of that, you’re destroying something that other people hold dear, that other people devoted years to when they invented and developed it, that someone in an Asian sweatshop had to assemble, you’re destroying other people’s fun, the result of their work, and obliterating a cultural icon. That must be all kinds of fun to a lot of people, since those videos get millions of views.

It’s much like kicking over a sand castle, or setting ants on fire in front of other children. Gross antisocial behaviour in front of others.

As a game developer who tries to figure out why violence is the default in games, this immediately rings a bell. I guess just going and blowing shit up, ideally while your shocked parents are watching (remember the Strafe trailer?) is a source of immediate fun and satisfaction for certain people, which is precisely why games with destructible environments and games where you can kill chicken with watermelons let you do these things.

Is it too much to interpret wanton destruction as another act of competition taken to the extreme? “See what I do, I’m powerful, I’m cool, I’m unstoppable.” I mean, people don’t shoot an iphone out in the desert where no one watches. They film it and put it on youtube. Destruction in games? Hmm. Multiplayer, school yard, youtube again.

Games like Hatred are built around this principle – wanton destruction, killing completely innocent people in the street, and the more it breaks social behavioral codes, the more extreme and baseless the destruction, the better. Apparently.

The logical next step: Kindergarten Killer. You heard it here first.

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10 responses to “Appeal of Destruction?

  • gamesthatiplay

    Wow someone really did it. I guess the destruction just takes away from real life. Stuff we’d never do or see outside of movies. That’s why we watch movies to see things we can’t normally see.

    I was surprisingly captivated by the video and apparently 11 million people were too.

  • kneedeepinthedoomed

    Sure, IS videos for instance. They do get reported, of course. I hope they do, anyway, because I don’t watch those.

  • Spiney

    I wonder about this a lot myself.

    One thing that’s interesting about early Id games is that, at least Doom and Quake don’t have much moral ambiguity (Wolfenstein otoh…). You are merely defending yourself from beasts that have no conscience and only exist to kill you. Half Life does something similar, you are always running from the bad guys and are being guided by forces beyond your sphere of influence. Besides that, in Id’s early games there’s usually some comic relief to contextualize the violence. Like in Doom 3, the first game to actually feature human NPC’s you could kill all of them without repercussions. However, they instantly turned into skeletons, and you were left much more with the absurdity of the situation than the fact you just robbed a guy from his life. They were, quite literally, empty shells. And since it’s early in the game it sets the tone for everything that comes afterwards.

    I was struck when I read this on the Quadicted interview with American McGee

    Spirit: “Funny” is an adjective I would not have expected, could you elaborate what you consider funny in Quake?

    American: Well, that’s one of the things I remember most about making games at id while Romero was still around – a lot of laughter. We didn’t tune things to be realistic or gory for the sake of gore – but for laughter and enjoyment. “Gibs” weren’t disgusting chunks of charred human flesh – they were the battlefield equivalent of “Spam”, and the sound associated with them always resulted in laughter. Later, things got too serious. Grumpy space aliens wearing battle armor invaded the comical world of exploding Spam and screwed up the fun.

    That really resonates with me, most ‘hip’ FPS games have nothing of that.
    When you look at Rage the violence against other factions isn’t all that unambiguous anymore. Sure, some of them are obviously bad guys, trying to poison you. There’s the mutants, which will simply keep coming at you unless you kill them. But there’s the shrouded which are only ‘dehumanized’ by the masks they wear, that part of the game didn’t sit nearly as well with me. Rage also does iron sights for the first time. There is something that goes beyond merely pointing and slinging projectiles at each other once you start scoping and aiming for the head. It all becomes slightly unpleasant when you really start thinking of it. For multiplayer, there’s the bloodsport aspect. If you get killed in Unreal or Quake then respawning is instant, this really makes dying less of a violent act I think, as it becomes more of a sport than an act of killing. (on a sidenote, I think removing individual scores in team games is a brilliant idea).

    Besides that, the quote makes it pretty clear. These are DUDES games. They don’t feature much feminine aspects, and if they do, they are always portrayed as sex objects of some sort, or unattractive butch women. Frankly, there’s just a lot of macho culture involved into the violence aspect I think. Another thing that’s interesting is the portrayal of ‘terrorists’ in games post nine elevent. There’s very little justification for that, they are simply ‘the bad guys’.

    I think if games choose to be politically incorrect (which should be allowed to a degree, I think) then they should at least try to contextualize their violence in a way that is comical or non-agressive. Games like Hatred don’t do that.

    As for why competition, I think it boils down to power fantasies. In real life we are usually powerless in relation to the world around us, games allow us to be dominant, to be master of our surrounding in ways that we would like to be in real life. Destruction is perhaps the most powerful form of that, because unlike creation, it is instant and doesn’t require as much effort.

    Not sure where I’m going with this, but I do agree that cooperation is hugely undervalued in the classical game genres.

    • kneedeepinthedoomed

      Thanks for the comment. Power fantasies might be close, but that’s also an outcome of our culture. A thousand years ago, when you wanted power fantasy, you could go hunting. That’s actually still an option in the USA now, although maybe not for city kids…

      Makes me remember the bison hunters who just killed as many as they could. There are old photos showing massive piles of bison skulls. They were just left to rot… and the interesting thing is, the white men did that. The natives only took what they could eat.

      I would contest the description of Quake’s monsters. You could argue that they only exist to be killed. It’s their only purpose in “life” – they wait for the player to come along and frag them. It’s not self defense at all. The player enters the game with the plan to kill all the monsters (collect all kills in the scoreboard, ie conscious “genocide”.) Like you say, it’s that slightly immature dudebro idea of “hey, let’s just shoot things to chunky bits.” That has its place, but as the designers mature, you get things like iron sights and headshots, like you rightly said, and that just doesn’t work the same way anymore.

      I agree that politically incorrect games should be allowed to exist, satire and subversion are an important part of counterculture… but yes, they should be recognizable as such. I will say I am in favour of censorship when it comes to unreflected games like Hatred, though. You’ll have to weigh free speech (which doesn’t mean the same in Germany compared to the US, anyway) against social concerns.

      And yeah, Quake and Doom were harmless compared to newer games where you just have to kill all the ragheads because they’re terrorists. Orders of magnitude more harmless.

      I just wish big developers would stop repeating this “dude” gameplay in games that are too mature for that by now. A little bit of critical thinking can be a good thing.

  • motorsep

    Lol, you guys have a way too much free time to sit there and think about meaning of video games πŸ˜›

    I don’t like Postal/Hatret/etc. I am not a huge fan of games where all characters are “people” (although Deus Ex HR was good) or the game takes place in modern times (hello CoD series). But I never had any issue enjoying Rage, Crysis series, etc. Gore is just a drop in the mixture of what makes those games fun for me.

    Games have always been a wonder place where I can see/experience something that isn’t possible in real-world (unless one goes to a war somewhere around the globe, but that’s not fun at all).

  • motorsep

    Killing for killing sake isn’t interesting. Take for example Bulletstorm. I really hated that game. All you had to do was go from A to B and kills as many (if not all) as you could, as violent as you could. I only got so far in the game and uninstalled.

    Same goes for old school games like Quake, Doom, etc. and their moder remakes (new ROTT, new Shadow Warrior, etc.) All you do there is really just killing. There are no puzzles, and no actual exploration as let’s say in RAGE (although not whole a lot of puzzles there). When I started with Phaeton, I wanted it to be hardcore old school. Eventually, after replaying old games I decided not to do that cos it was boring.

    AAA games I play have plenty stuff to offer besides killing (some more and some less). Most recent games I played include RAGE, Crysis series, Darksiders series (although not a FPS), Wolf TNO, Gears of War on PC (this one wasn’t as exciting as I anticipated because of that exact reason of moving from A to B and killing all), Dishonored, Deus Ex HR, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, Diablo 3 (although I never finished it as I don’t like grinding), Portal 2 (gotta kill there too, ha πŸ˜‰ ). I still find Doom 3 and RoE to be very decent games (replayed it recently as R&D project since I use Doom 3 engine; I didn’t kill a single NPC there because it just doesn’t occur to me to kill NPCs unless there is a necessity).

    I never needed some weird mechanics to enjoy games. Don’t have time/interest to play sudoku inside a game to unlock something. Neither do I have any interest in building stuff in Minecraft – I can do that in real-world with Lego, wood, 3D print, or build another game with survival element and enjoy it better πŸ™‚

    Violence is a part of human nature, so I don’t see why people get bent out of shape on virtual violence. Better annihilate virtual foes (for whatever reason that may be) than inflict some pain in real-life (unless protecting your/your family’s life). That’s one thing doesn’t sit well with me is what Hatred does – it seems to be so _boring_ just killing AI (whether they are innocent or not in the context of the story, if there is any) that doesn’t resist a single bit.

    Anyhow, as in real-life, you gotta do what you gotta do – if in a game you are in the shoes of someone who has to stay alive for a bigger purpose (to save family, loved one, nation, world, etc.) and to do so you have to destroy someone and something else, then that’s what you gotta do. If in real-life, you get attacked by some bad people, you aren’t gonna offer them to find another mechanics, so to speak, to avoid physicality. You will (despite that you might reply to me you won’t) have your self-preservation instinct on at 200% and will do what it takes to get out of it πŸ™‚

    A lot of people play games to get that adrenaline spike. Destruction and being threatened to cease your existence is what delivers such thing. Building houses and having ponies doesn’t πŸ™‚

    There are games that are aimed to have you build cities, and whatnot. So if someone doesn’t like violence, they play those kind of games. That’s what we have genres for (or a mixture of those, with one or two components dominating in the mix). Wouldn’t it be boring to have only Quakes or only Sims around? I bet it would.

  • motorsep

    Btw, commenting on “Makes me remember the bison hunters who just killed as many as they could. There are old photos showing massive piles of bison skulls. They were just left to rot… and the interesting thing is, the white men did that. The natives only took what they could eat.”

    That wasn’t done out of some power fantasy. It was done deliberately to destroy Native Americans, since their life heavily depended on bison.

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