This past September I decided that I needed to put aside the implements of virtual destruction and spend the month playing games that didn’t emphasize violence. Specifically, the goal was to go an entire calendar month avoiding games where “acting as an agent of violence is not the main focus”. If you’re asking why anyone would want to do that, my intentions are recorded in a blog post titled Giving Peace a Chance. While I met that challenge in every aspect, I can’t help but feel I missed some of the experiment’s potential.
So I went an entire calendar month without playing a violent video game. Woo. If it sounds boring, that’s because it was! But I say that in reference to the experiment itself and not about the games I ended up playing. In fact, this turned out to be a great opportunity to rediscover some of the titles in my library. Kerbal Space Program still manages to take command of my imagination as I launch crews of space frogs on missions of great peril. Inevitably, one mission leads to another as I’m led to rescue each crew from the dire straits I put them in. It’s a vicious cycle that’s uniquely rewarding. SimGolf strikes a wonderful balance between creative design elements and light business management. Your objective is to become the best golf superintendent ever by crafting challenging and fun golf courses for your temperamental patrons. And when your patrons get to complaining too much, it’s okay to build an absolutely diabolical course as retribution. Mean, yes; but not violent! OpenRCT2 breathes new life into an old classic and proves Chris Sawyer’s theme park management game is just as addicting now as it was fourteen years ago. Trials Evolution combines motorcycles and implausible obstacle courses into a punishing proving ground for your gaming reflexes. The Dig. Planet Coaster. Forza. Cities: Skylines. 80 Days. I could go on. There are too many games to list here. Many are simple to dive into and have flexible time investments. Play for fifteen minutes or two hours. Creative problem solving can be just as therapeutic as blowing up hordes of evil space aliens!
Though I rediscovered many great genres and games, I feel like I missed some of this experiment’s potential. Specifically, I missed an opportunity to make any kind of meaningful observation about violence in video games. There will always be a segment of gaming that thrives on virtual violence, but what about the other games? What about games that present gameplay alternatives to violence, or at the very least offer a non-lethal path through a violent setting? Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored are two notable franchises which give players a way to complete the game without committing a lethal action.
Freedom in game design makes me want to explore whether or not it’s possible to play otherwise violent games as a pacifist. The game may not have been designed with pacifism in mind, but it’s not a question of intent. It’s a question of what you can get away with. For example; The day Call of Duty: Black Ops was released a gamer posted a video of themselves playing through an entire mission and only firing two bullets (language warning). Surely there have to be other games where I can do this! DOOM is all about creative ways to blow up demons, but is it possible to sprint through a level and make progress without firing a shot? Winning a round of an online shooter usually means shooting lots of people, but some also give points for playing a support role such as a medic. How feasible is it to be a team healer in Battlefield, focusing only on reviving fallen teammates? Just Cause 2 and 3 thrive as chaos; can the game handle people who don’t break the rules? Will the game let me take control of an occupied vehicle and drive it peacefully from one side of an island to the other? This video below indicates the chances of that happening are very slim:
When it all comes down to it, video games are just a collection of virtual systems designed to function a certain way. Simulated violence is integral to some of those systems. In others, it’s optional. Sometimes it’s a completely unintentional side effect. From time to time I wonder if gamers have been conditioned to go along with anything that’s entertaining, regardless of moral values (or the lack of them). But the important part in all if this is that we as gamers do have a choice. Violent or not. Bloody or not. Play along with the system or try to break it. My non-violent September has led me to start planning another experiment of virtual pacifism to take place in 2017. I’ll incorporate some actual scientific methods into this next experiment and try to gauge if my behavior or attitudes change measurably depending on what kind of games I play. My wife has been volunteered to assist me as an impartial observer and record keeper for this grand trial. My only expectation is that this is going to be a fun experience. In the end, isn’t that what gaming is all about?