The effects of violent videogames on the real world has been long debated. I’m not going to cover old ground here except to say that there has yet to be any proof that violent games have any negative effect on people who are in a normal state of mind. That whole argument is for another place in space and time, what I am going to put across here is much more niche: For a multiplayer game to have appeal beyond novelty, violence is a requirement – like it or not.
Any form of entertainment we consume generally relates some form of story; be it crappy daytime soaps, the newest comic book to film adaptation or a new novel. There are of course exceptions; you have documentaries, non-fiction, reality TV, chat shows, and sport – but if you think about it, are these not still generally getting a story across, weaving some tale in your mind? Wether it’s the tale of how birds emigrate, the latest in stereotype housemate A’s romance with steretype housemate B, the twists and turns of ‘my druggy ex boyfriend’ who ‘has 15 kids with an immigrant chicken’ on Jeremy Kyle, or the battle between Football Team United and Football Team City – these are all stories. The only actual exceptions I can think of are music which is generally a passive experience anyway, then poetry and art which are both open to interpretation and so far removed and vastly less main stream than any other form of media it’s almost irrelevant.
Games then, as a now massive and ever growing form of media should and do tell stories. This is simple to do when an experience is scripted for a player – or even a few players but I’m going to ignore the co-operative side to things as it’s not much different to a single player game. What I’m talking about here is multiplayer in the normal sense of the word – players interacting with each other without intervention for scripted sequences – dynamic story telling for multiple people simultaniously is what we are pretty much trying to achieve. To do this, violence is a necessity.
If you talk to anyone about storytelling they will tell you an essential part of any story is ‘conflict’. Basically, you have something each main character wants (be it physical/mental/gold tokens/silver tokens), something stopping them from achieving this, and a possible way to resolve it all. That’s a simple enough idea – it’s roughly “beginning, middle and end” – but the idea needs to be implemented into videogame form; an interactive form that multiple people are going to be interacting with at the same time. You can pretty much immediately rule out any mental/emotional goals as for this to work you need to empathise with a character, and to do that you need story and we are trying to achieve story dynamically here.
The only way you can make a good story is to have the players kill each other in a defined space. You immediately have something each main character wants “I want to get to the capture point/flag/briefcase/top of the leader board”, a conflict “Oh noes, there are people stopping me doing this”, and a way to resolve that conflict “I shall kill them and realise my goals”. This then grabs us a basic story outline, which is great, but then Teletubbies has a basic story and nobody really wants to watch that except the less mentally priveledged amongst us. Another problem is that the story literally can’t get complicated as the means just aren’t there to do it without scripting. How can we make this story interesting then? Well, it’s actually easy and all done for you when you have guns and explosions. If you manage an especially cool kill, or die in a comedic way, we’ll thats as good a story as any and requires no back story or non-dynamic events. Hell, I’ve practically made a website here based on that very concept. Sneaking up on someone and getting a melee kill is a little snippet of story you can tell your friends about, as is that headshot you made from 2 miles away, or capturing the last flag with 1 second to go. Take the violence out of the whole equation and you have nothing. I might be being narrow minded but how else can you get so many people to all have a unique story to tell at the same time? A cook off? A race? Technically yes, you could, but then you are back to Teletubbies plot – it’s just not interesting and the idea of conflict is tenuous at best.
Stories are what we live for. It’s why so much money gets plowed in to TV, books, films and plays. Videogames are no exception and are just another medium for consuming stories through. They have the advantage that they are much more interactive than any other medium and singleplayer ‘scripted’ experiences are going to continue to be more engaging and varied in their stories. Don’t get me wrong – violence is no where near essential for every game be it a solo or shared experience, but for multiplayer it is completely essential to the extent that without it you will only ever be left with a novelty at best. Is this a bad thing – that a vast proportion of videogames rely on violence to survive? All readers of the Daily Mail and any Ann Diamond fans among you will no doubt be screaming yes – and to an extent so am I. My dismay is not because of the possible ethical or social implications (which haven’t been proven remember), it’s because it is a simple shame that we will forever be tied to the pulling of a trigger and slashing with a sword when a few people are about. I hope to be proven wrong and no doubt at some point I will be, but I dont see it in the near future and why change a forumla that works? Ah well, worse things can happen. All hail the violence!