I Can’t Quit You: A Letter to Game Violence

Josh likes to play violent videogames, he even thinks they’re fun sometimes though he kinda feels guilty for that.

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on February 28, 2013

Dear Videogame Violence,

I wish I knew how to quit you. You’re my unholy addiction: my self-justified shame. Try as I might to finally be done with you, I keep coming back. Maybe you’re too much fun? Or maybe I can’t imagine having fun without you?

I protest the war games. I lament their trivial savagery, convinced that I am a better man for not playing them. I stick my nose up at games with War, Duty, Battle, and Kill in the title. Yet secretly, I still enjoy them. And truth be told, you don’t have to go far to discover my hypocrisy. CounterStrike: Global Offensive is the most played game in my Steam profile.

"I keep convincing myself that you, Videogame Violence, can still change."
I systematically implicate your violent history each time I herald a game that provides a violence-free experience. “Antichamber develops character in its players and forsakes the need of violence” I say. And, “Knytt Underground champions exploration, adventure and decision-making without employing a combat system.”  But try as I might to be satisfied on puzzle and platformer mechanics, I fear I’m more like a velociraptor trying to go vegan. I crave flesh. And I binge when nobody’s looking. I rip my foes to chunks with the blades of my teeth and the points of my swords. Consumed with blood lust, I pick up the biggest firearm I can get my claws on.

Then my wife comes home.

“But baby, you are missing the bigger picture here–I WON!”

I scamper like a cockroach that got caught in the light. And I go back to talking about how awesome Puzzle Game X is or that “experiential” videogame that makes me think about the plight of abuse victims. I champion the 16-bit RPG that meditates on marriage and love. And I hide the fact that sometimes I don’t mind going to hell to split a few skulls.

Just last week, I was chopping dudes into dozens of tiny bits and ripping out their spines. I did this all under the guise a cyborg ninja. But I have to be honest that this has pretty much become my standard definition of fun. I would be hard-pressed to think of anything that gets my adrenaline flowing like a game romp where I get to bask in the afterglow of a smoking gun: satisfied with the gymnastics I had to pull to dodge an assault and score a headshot.

As the victor, am I in it for the spoils? Or do I sometimes just enjoy exerting my power over others? Fortunately, digital foes may get good and bloody, but I never have to worry about the cleanup.

Videogame violence, maybe you show me who I really want to be sometimes: a power-hungry war-monger. And no, I can’t be okay with that. That’s not my true self.

What do I do when the non-gamers of the world light their torches against you and reach for their pitchforks? I mount my steed and gallop to your defense. “They don’t understand your complexity and nuance!” I say. “You’re getting so much better than you used to be!” I profess. “Now, games have so many options that you don’t have to kill as much.” And when the world still doesn’t understand you, I say, “Oh Videogame Violence, you aren’t hurting anybody! I love you so much! Don’t listen to them!”

Okay, well here’s the truth: I’m growing weary. I have, for many years, held a strong anti-war perspective based on Jesus’ teachings about violence. He said things like “When someone strikes you, turn the other cheek.” And, he told me at the Sermon on the Mount to love my enemies. And when one of his foremost disciples picked up a sword to go to battle against his “enemies”? Jesus told him to put down the sword because “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Then he healed the man his disciple had injured.

For a long time, I was convinced that playing realistic first-person shooters didn’t hamper my real-world nonviolent convictions. I figured that “as long as I’m not supporting the military industrial complex, I’m fine.” Then I saw the reports that say games that have AK-47s or M16s in them (or any real-world gun) pay royalties to the gun’s manufacturer.

“There are plenty of other games that let players accessorize–why can’t I play them?”

I also need to call you out for making me a student of war. You’ve taught me how to take wind into consideration when pulling-off a mile-long kill shot with a .50 cal sniper rifle. You made sure I properly used my camouflage in a jungle so I could stalk my enemies and slit their throats with a combat knife. And yes, you even taught me how to breach and clear a room of “terrorists” (though we’ll have to take your word on that fact, right?). You have taught me how to have fun taking people’s lives.

Yes, I’m not actually attacking a real-life human. But there are real human beings represented in all those avatars that look human. Jesus said that hurling dehumanizing insults is the same as murder. But that’s worse than shooting “friends” and strangers in videogames?

Even when I am playing “less violent” games where I don’t have to kill, I’m still employing violence by knocking them unconscious. I’m still shooting them albeit with tranquilizers. And I’m still exerting power over my enemies, defining myself as a conqueror: steeped deep in a pursuit of power. It’s so prevalent, that even in my light-hearted pursuits with cartoon characters and enemies that “faint” when their health reaches zero, I’m still operating out of my love for conquest: my love for you.

“Stop asking all these silly questions Joshua! What you really need is to just kick back and have some fun blowing dudes up!”

So my love, where do we go from here?

I long for a day when my craving for you is not just curbed with puzzles and platformers, but truly satisfied. The logical problem solving of puzzle games can taste quite good, even to a carnivore. And platformers can be fun, but is there a way to truly and completely satisfy my longings nonviolently? I hope to find it one day. But for now, I find myself a reluctant lover.

I keep convincing myself that you, Videogame Violence, can still change. It was just a few months ago that I was celebrating games like Hotline Miami and Spec Ops: The Line that criticized you with hyper-violence that I thought intended to show the world how corrupt you are. But maybe it’s just another opportunity for me to have fun with you under some pretentious guise? I’m trying to wake up to the truth. But I know ‘m self-deceived. And I can’t seem to pull myself away from you.

Reluctantly longing,

M. Joshua

About the Author:

M. Joshua Cauller makes unique player-centered indie game trailers when he's not exploring games' redemptive qualities. He can sometimes be found away from his computer (if you're patient). You can follow him on Twitter @mjoshua or check out his trailer production work at http://mjoshua.com