“The games you like and the reasons you like them really bum me out.” My friend said to me the other day. It hurt my feelings a little, and I was quick to reply with the usual “different strokes for different folks.” But why do I like the games I like? And why are they usually so violent? Even high-minded Fantasy RPG’s involve a whole lot of killing, and when I try to think of a game that has truly entranced me without the use of violence, I think of the Civilization series, which is essentially a mix of geographical violence, political violence, colonization, and just plain warfare. When I played Undertale, I killed most of the monsters I met, and although I enjoyed the game for different reasons, I mostly played it like a classic JRPG, the fabric of which is woven with combat and murder.
Shooting. Punching. Slashing. Cleaving. Piercing. Stabbing. Bombing. Kicking. These are actions I rarely (or never) partake in IRL. I have the privilege of living in a relatively peaceful place, and coming from a racial and economic background that spares me the daily violence experienced by so many. I’m no sociologist, and I’m hardly qualified to make sweeping generalizations about Why We Shoot, so I’ll speak strictly for myself, attempting to plumb the depths of my inner-workings for the source of that itch I scratch so often by exploding the skulls of digital people (and monsters, and animals.)
1. The “feminine” has been squashed inside me. I think it happened to most young boys of my generation. You can see the results in every youtube comment section, twitter feed, and forum across the internet. I can’t change the realities of my upbringing. I was simply given a limited set of acceptable ways to express myself, act, and be entertained. In a way, digital acts of violence (within the framework of The Division, Fallout 4, Destiny, The Witcher 3, Path of Exile, etc.) are a safe way to express the violent impulses that are the natural result of what transpired. What happens when you grow up being told that to be a “man” means a certain specific thing? Internalized misogyny, homophobia, and a strong fear of losing control. Do I live these out in my every day? I try not to. Do I blow people’s heads off or smash them with an axe in videogames? Totally. Plus they usually let me sublimate what society considers “feminine” desires by clothing the “doll” (soldier, orc) in nice “dresses” (SWAT jackets, armor). Reminds me of when I was a kid, putting Leonardo, my favorite Ninja Turtle, to bed in a little shoebox full of cotton. “Sleep tight. You’ve got a lot of foot soldiers to beat up tomorrow, Leo.”
2. Old stone-age chemicals are being fed into my brain. Testosterone needs a place to go. I spend all my days logging in and out of accounts, wading through bureaucracy, and worrying about the million tiny details of modern life. Me want to smash. Me want to simplify. Me want to destroy. Destroy simple. Build complicated. Build hard. “Build” no longer mean wood and stone. “Build” now mean CSS and data analysis and critical thinking and many, many moving pieces. This anger me. Me smash.
3. I feel totally powerless against the giant machine. Every day I’m reminded of this powerlessness as I watch the insanity of industrialization and militarization grow increasingly sophisticated. I am prey. We are all prey. What’s my fantasy? Being the hunter. Being a highly-sophisticated killing machine. A hero who is known for the total domination of his foes. Or living in a simple world. A world where a single sword can make a difference.
4. Death is the ultimate symbol of progression. There’s a clear before and after. The level starts. It’s full of things. The level ends. All the things are dead. Such clarity. It’s almost… spiritual. *Licks a knife while staring at the camera*
So that’s weird old me. But why do you shoot? I’d love to know your theory. Or if you don’t shoot, why don’t you shoot? Leave your story in the comments. This is a community. (A community of murderers).