Violence in video games: a question of construction

Video games and violence go hand in hand! "In times of games such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Journey, The Talos Principle and Wanderersong, this is a hard to make claim. Games like Undertale even hold up the mirror to the player and confront him with the Consequences of thoughtless aggression – why this statement? In this article, we are not examining whether violent video games increase the aggression potential of their players or even make them a culprit – this has been refuted by so many long-term studies that the topic is hardly worth reading anymore we the basic construction of video games and show that the innumerable "violent" games are only partly as they are for marketing reasons. By the way, what we tell you here is by no means new: In game development, all of the following facts have been since the invention of Pong and have been a Discussed on various development sites and by well-known game developers – however, since they still have not gained a foothold in the ongoing discourse on violence in video games, it is important to us that you as a player understand why video games so often involve conflict. We ask you to be patient at this point, because for this purpose we go far and start far from the usual suspects like Call of Duty and Apex Legends.

The nature of the games – whether digital or analog
Anyone who is even close to the topic of game development has heard the lecture, but it is and remains important: Games only work because they are based on a fixed set of rules. This set of rules tells you what you can do within the game. Actions that are not covered by the rules are not available for the game: You can ignore the dice results in 'Don't get annoyed', but then you will no longer play the game. If you do not adhere to your movement restrictions in D&D or set your characters incorrectly on the battle map, you will encounter problems later in the game and who tries to open a portal to hell in Citys: Skylines will find out that an inner-city subway has an enormous resemblance to him the real hell remains denied. The huge advantage of video games is that all the calculations, the placement of the figures and the dice are done in the background. The enormous disadvantage, on the other hand, is that a video game is a lousy game partner if you long for ingenuity or improvisation. A round of taboo or a session Pathfinder or D&D will be very fluid, but will not offer the intellectual or verbal freedom that a human game master brings to the table. If you concentrate entirely on the advantages of a PC game, you will receive software such as the Football Manager 2020, Crusader Kings II or Dwarf Fortress: Hardly veiled and very formal Turing complete backend systems that would hardly be playable by hand. Even if games of this type are often affectionately referred to as "table simulators", they exactly meet the taste of many players. But what if you are one of the players who likes to see a visual representation of their actions in front of them? After all, you didn't buy your 1440p monitor to watch numbers grow.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/06/Doom_Momentum_01-pc-games.jpg" alt = "The most recent parts of the Doom series masterfully demonstrate that video games as a whole are always Develop more towards a kinetic ballet – and get better at it.
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The most recent parts of the Doom series masterfully demonstrate that video games as a whole are increasingly moving towards a kinetic ballet – and getting better at it.

Source: PC Games





The power of space
We have happy customers for you! There is another complete system that is made for video games and brings the numbers rattling down in the back to the foreground: the spatial representation! Do you remember that computers are good at rendering fixed rule systems to the player quickly and smoothly? The movement within a simulated room leaves no room for interpretation: either you are at a certain point in the room or not. Among the first video games of all time were "Bertie the Brain", a gigantic calculator which represents Tic-Tac-Toe (three wins) for the player and the compact home console classic Pong – a simplified tennis game. Both use spatial representation to bring the algorithms running in the background to the screen. Super Mario jumps, Sonic runs and Geralt wields his sword, but they all have in common that they represent the mechanics calculated by the game as a direct, visible action.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/06/Exanima_Physik_01-pc-games.jpg" alt = "The early access game Exanima uses the spatial representation skills of the PC to fight and to physically correctly represent the movement in space.
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The early access game Exanima uses the spatial representation skills of the PC to physically correctly represent fights and movements in space.

Source: PC Games




The room is the absolute, undefeated imperator of video games. Just imagine that with today's well-known consoles we are creating highly complex electronic devices that only exist to visualize movement within a simulated two or three-dimensional space. The construction of customized input devices is child's play. Get up, grab the controller next to your PC and take a closer look at the thing: You have an object in your hand that was only developed to enable you to implement spatially representable actions such as jumping, steering and shooting in video games facilitate. Even the GPU in your PC was explicitly developed for the detailed representation of three-dimensional spaces. Role-playing games, racing games, brawlers, shooters and platformers – no game can do without the spatial manipulation of the character of the player or the surrounding space.

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Another advantage of a crystal clear spatial representation is the independence that it gives the player. Even the notorious "empty open world games" are very popular because they give players the opportunity to choose their own path. If you compare this overwhelming focus on spatial representation with other game mechanics, such as conversation, the power of the room on the one hand and the limitations of the PC on the other become even clearer. Even conversation-intensive games like Baldurs Gate, Undertale and Life is Strange force the player to choose one of many pre-made answers. As complex and well-thought-out as the conversation options are, they remain multiple-choice trees that the player travels along. This is normal due to the basic limitations of a computer and one of the reasons why conversations are so rarely the core of a game. They convey the story of the game instead of engaging the player in real conversation and capturing them in front of the screen for days. The spatial component of a video game gives you freedom of play, not its story. At this point, you know for sure what we are aiming for: video games, due to their basic construction, are miserable conversation partners and excellent chess players and snipers.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/06/Running_with_rifles_ Control_01-pc-games.png" alt = "The small indie game Running with Rifles is not just about physical confrontation with gun violence, but also to control the room.
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The small indie game Running with Rifles is not only about physical confrontation with gun violence, but also about controlling the room.

Source: PC Games





The sword is more powerful than the feather

It is therefore difficult to systematically process concepts in a video game that cannot be represented physically or spatially. Conversely, this naturally results in the fact that modern and graphics-intensive games are more about physical or spatial conflicts – which leads to more frequent use of violent content than in other media. Of course, this does not invalidate all other reasons for the sale of violent video games. Even talkative and relational games like Dragon Age: Inquisition are marketed as exciting combat simulators and violence is sure to be well received especially by the 18 to 25 year old core audience. The whole reinforces the situation, but does not represent the original reason. The moment you decide to program a game in which you do not stamp your opponent in the ground, but start a conversation (which is not on conversation trees or based on the abstract hand waving of the Sims series) the number of necessary variables explodes. Developers do not necessarily want to create violent games, violence is simply the path of least resistance – in terms of technology, aesthetics and finance.

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We as developers and gamers can hardly move beyond the spatial representation, which is why the game industry as a whole practically shrugs and accepts this fact. Warren Spector, the game genius behind hits like Wing Commander, Deus Ex and Thief, actively use this phenomenon, which he described as a "space of opportunity". We quote: "Games create spaces of opportunity that link interesting problems with a background story, offer creative solutions and react to the player's actions with meaningful consequences." Spector's games are still considered masterpieces of spatial representation today, which often involve violence but do not make it the central theme.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/06/Stellaris_Backend_01-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Very backend-intensive games like Stellaris mainly leave the player on tables and colored spots The visualization of fights loosens the whole thing up.
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Very backend-intensive games like Stellaris mainly let the player stare at tables and colored spots. The visualization of fights loosens the whole thing up.
(1)

Source: PC Games




On the other hand there are scene greats like Chris Crawford. The developer, who has been active in computer science since 1979, has distinguished himself for the foundation of the Games Developer Conference (GDC) – and said goodbye in 1987 with the following quote from game development: "The problem with video games is that the games are basically spatial The player’s expression is extremely limited. " After more than fifty years in which video games dealt with car racing, firefights and sports, the media world has finally resigned itself to the fact that video games are what they are. All the more interesting are games that use the spatial aspect without making violence the central theme: Braid, Starseed Pilgrim and VVVVVV, for example, do without great physical arguments and tell a story through the use of the spatial component; without any long-winded conversation trees. Minecraft, on the other hand, contains a rudimentary depiction of violence, but at the same time it represents a sandpit in which the design of the room takes the central place – and it was precisely because of this that it became a worldwide phenomenon.







Open world games such as the latest Ghost Recon parts attract so many players, because spatial representation is used not only to depict the fight, but also a feeling of freedom.



Open world games such as the latest Ghost Recon parts attract so many players, because spatial representation is used not only to depict the fight, but also a feeling of freedom.

Source: PC Games





Not a rule, but a rigid framework
As long as violence sells and video game construction doesn't change fundamentally, we will continue to play violent video games. This is not "the unwritten rule of the game industry", but the framework on which developers absolutely have to struggle – at least if they want to create something of substance that remains understandable for the player and sells well. The question is not whether the industry can change this fact because that should be impossible (at least in the foreseeable future). The question is rather whether developers can use the possibilities of the video game medium differently in the future. Because if we really want to say goodbye to the stigma of the video game as a violent fantasy of omnipotence, spatial representation must be used in a way that conveys meaning. This does not have to be the abstract platforming world of a braid, because games like Deus Ex also combine physical conflicts and problem solving with great playful freedom and the conveying of an exciting story. So if you are again confronted with the statement "Video games celebrate violence" again, you can answer with a clear conscience that the reasons for this are not nearly as simple as is commonly assumed. We are looking forward to your opinion!

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