thinking, as i so often am, about violence in video games

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there's a real way in which it's an almost purely historical phenomenon - video games were made by people with computers, maths nerds and physics nerds who made games about swords&sorcery, and about warfare

but beyond that, it's a mechanism that slots so neatly into all the criteria that good game mechanics require. if we want to replace violence as a mechanical theme, in all its forms, we have to seriously look at why it's endured so well

it creates clear stakes. it creates all-or-nothing outcomes when needed, reducing the frustration of needing to load a save from ages ago to fix a mistake. it lets designers easily tune how much your resources are drained by challenges.

it's universally legible in a way that, say, your crops failing due to over-fertilizing, or your plane losing speed due to incorrect flap/slat config aren't - not that there isn't a market for super noodly technical games, but it's smaller.

even games like *Stardew Valley*, which absolutely could have simply said "no weapons, no violence," choose to embed harm and killing - why? we can't be flippant if we want to understand why it's so embedded in the DNA of gaming.

and i don't meant to act like i'm the authority on this - I'm not, there's lots of good stuff written about this. but my experience is that people often go "violence in video games bad," and not just from the stereotypical direction

it's not just old people who "don't get it" - the young and esp. queer game design crowd often has an anti-violence aesthetic, and that's _awesome_. but i want to understand why we go back to it so easily. what is so attractive about hitting shit?

anyway all this because i can't stand modern FPSes, my mom can't stand even cartoonish/explicitly nonhuman strategy games, and my boyfriend hates watching me play combat flight games.

our distaste for violence, and vice versa, is deeply personal.

addendum: some video games use violence to make a specific political point about violence. EXTREME MEATPUNKS FOREVER is a good example of this; part of its ethic is _specifically_ to show that violence against violent oppressors is _good_.


"if we want to replace violence as a mechanical theme, in all its forms, we have to seriously look at why it's endured so well"

You make good points and I think the only other thing that consistently give as clear stakes and easy to parse mechanics in virtual experiences as violence does is sports.

Rocket league is a game free of violence (I mean you can demo other players but it hardly feels *violent*) but it has all the immediacy of FPS games, if not more.

@Alonealastalovedalongthe This is a great point - but there is scholarship that convincingly argues that most sports are essentially abstracted, metaphorical blood games. I wonder how much of the "nonviolent" mechanical innovation in games is the same.


I think the reason is deeper than the meanings and ethics we attach to violence though.

I think it is natural for sentient, curious creatures to explore the nature of their agency in their environment, and that naturally extends into violence.

When a cat catches a mouse, it doesn't seem to desire to kill the mouse but rather to fulfill some intense curiosity it has about the mouse and its tendencies of movements that cats are instinctively attracted to.


When you break something you have asserted some kind of agency, and done an act that tests what the consequences of your actions are.

I think there are specific cultural reasons video game violence is prevalent but I also think one of the easiest powers to give a player in a virtual world is the ability of the player to nullify elements of it. It is the simplest possible interaction in a way.


One of the hallmarks of good game design is creating a system with as simple rules as possible that allows complex behavior to arise from players pursuing simple goals.

Early games like pong and tetris display other possibilities than violence, but if you look at the speed and competitive play possible in games like quake, I think it would have been hard to create 3d multiplayer games with the technology of the time that fulfilled these design ideals as well. Quake still holds up.


Sorry to ramble, you just made some really interesting points and got my mind spinning!


To clarify, I think my ultimate argument (which I am not arguing is necessarily right, just thinking out loud) is that it was far easier to program Doom or Quake with a simple 3d or quasi 3d engine than Portal or Rocket League (and have it actually be slick enough mechanically that it is fun)... but that is just my intuition.

@tindall I wonder if games like Lizard count in the no-violence category. You can't harm any of the game's creatures who just kind of live in a complex world and its many biomes. They're kind of just minding their business, like wild animals. But they will harm YOU if you get close to them.

This is pretty unique for an exploration platformer, I think?

@tindall conflict is one of the easiest ways to keep the audience interested. One of the easiest kinds of conflict to portray is violence.

@mithrandir moreover, conflict *is the* core to story. If you have no conflict, you have no story. Nothing is happening. A story without conflict carries as much information as a blank page. A game without conflict is the Rock Simulator.

It's the same dialectics as anywhere else. Conflicting opposites set the world in motion.


@drq @tindall well games don't really need story. Tetris doesn't have a story.

@mithrandir it still has a conflict between a player and the box filling up with blocks. A player has to sort the blocks so they form solid lines which disappear to keep the screen from filling up. The player does not want the box to fill up.

That's a conflict. A Greek Tragedy caliber of conflict, no less, by the way, because the player is always destined to loae and be crushwd under the blocks, no matter how good they are.

That's Russian game design for you.


@drq @tindall @mithrandir oh man.. you have clearly never read icelandic literature. They have entire books where nothing happens except for the last few pages :comfyjoy:

@tindall It's a simple mechanic and doesn't require a lot of explaining. Just for that, I want to write an RPG where you have the violent mechanic which never gets a good ending, but if you fight the system, eventually you get the pacifist abilities to stop fights and that's where the good endings are.

And then never tell anyone there is a pacifistic mechanic. :D

@tindall About the time of the Moonfire Project Purge, I decided that any game I write would have a pacifistic way of "winning". Of course, I stopped writing games in favor of narrative at that point, but Running Bomb, CuteGod, and most of the games in my notes are all based on cooperative, greater good, and pacifism.

@tindall Running Bomb, which was one of my game jam contests was basically a procedural game where you are flying a bomb out of an asteroid. Your score was how many people you saved, so an S-curve that got higher until you got to the center, and then flattened out until there is was only one. And... if you launched it far away, you could race back and save yourself for the "full" score.

@tindall violence is arcade

more seriously: you may already have read this thread that sums it up well imo:

See also this by Tim Rogers: "Bleszinski said that entertainment experiences, in general, are about reaching out and touching people, and that because of the ease of raycasting and its natural similarity to aiming and pointing a gun, games, as entertainment, are more often than not about “reaching out and touching someone with your gun”."(

@tindall ...I feel like it's both historical and technical?

Violence was technically feasible for people making games in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, which meant the games could be made and could find commercial success ... but that commercial success led to the building of an infrastructure to facilitate people making more violent games, both with resources like game engines and with resources like documented best practices. Feasibility was a seed crystal in an oversaturated solution, maybe.

- 🎒

@tindall to push back slightly against this, i present the following argument:

• making art about death is one of the most human activities imaginable

• consequently, if video games are to be art, they need to accommodate death

• due to the interactive nature of video games, they lend themselves well to exploring death which is preventable

• all preventable death is violence

in addition to explaining why violence will and needs to persist as one theme (not the only) in video games, i think this argument also explains why violence HAS persisted as a theme. humans make art, including games, about dying. they like to explore their own mortality in safe magic circles where consequences are limited to a game over. the horror genre of course is the exemplary case here, but i don’t think it is the only one.

i think an interesting and necessary question follows: what does it mean to make a game where one can die, but not kill?

@Lady I love all of this tbh. Some other folks in this thread have made that last point, too - it is often more impactful for the player character to be the subject of violence without the capability to inflict it.

@tindall presumably, looking at what violence has in common with fishing mini games would help in determining what's important.

@tindall historically speaking, non-violence requires some degree of subtlety to portray, and subtlety is extraordinarily difficult to achieve on 8-bit systems. 16-bit systems were mostly 8-bit ideas with more polish; 32-bit systems were mostly 16-bit ideas with more polish, etc...

@technomancy I don't see what the Poles have to do with this...

@tindall great thread. I'd also like to submit the example of Glitch, a 2011 MMORPG that purposefully avoided any violence. It was pretty fun, but unfortunately didn't get much traction

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