Recently I begrudgingly felt I had to write about video game violence in the news, writing an article in which I mentioned Trump wished to meet with games company executives to discuss the perceived issue of violence in games (you can read that here.)
Well he certainly followed through on this talk, bigly. Holding a bizarre and rushed get together with a handful of execs at a round-table meeting that was held on March the 8th, it was closed to the press but what we do know doesn’t do the stunt any favours. The current commander in chief followed in the footsteps of Joe Biden who did the same in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. A meeting that lead nowhere then has once more been staged, and I hazard a guess it will lead nowhere once more again. Another massacre, another meeting with little to show for it other than the illusion of action as a distraction piece.
The meeting was started with the president showing a heavily cut and out of context edit of video game violence. Which the White House laughably later posted to their official YouTube account, spawning a lot of comedic responses and disdain. It went viral before later being taken down, having become something of a laughing stock. If you wish to watch the out of context reel of ultra-violence taken mostly from the Call of Duty series, check out the video below;
After this ludicrous video which he obviously thought would come up top trumps, the Donald stated ‘this is violent, isn’t it?’ He could have literally had the same effect and message by pointing at the screen and repeating ‘BAD’ over and over again as it played.
Video game execs, such as the CEO of Rockstar who was present, must have felt something positive could have come from the meeting, being that they even entertained the thought of attending – let alone following through and going to it. However, I feel and say that nothing positive can come from circumnavigating the real issues just to simply point, hiss and boo at a political and media scapegoat. You can rarely, if ever, get something from nothing – let alone empty gestures.
The mainstream media itself once again has escaped the spotlight and gladly shone its own upon the gaming world, as well as the killer. How about we talk of the treatment of mass shooters and killers in the news, which lets face it, feeds into this mentality and the desire of killers to make a name for themselves. Always focusing on body count, immortalising the perpetrators and their name with 24/7 sensationalist coverage. Showing all to bare to those would be killers how easy it can be to achieve the same disdainful acclaim. The media makes them infamous and feeds into the vicious cycle;
Inaction or even worse, the illusion of action, cannot and will not save the lives of innocent Americans. It is the equivalent of doing nothing disguised as something – a dangerous game to play when there is a human cost at stake.
The dodging of the real issues at hand must stop. It has become nothing but a perpetual carousel in the violent act of flogging one of the deadest of horses. Wheeled out once again to be beaten like an empty piñata. Politicians who employ this diversion tactic lack the will, backbone or desire to rethink the second amendment and so attack the first outright. Gun ownership trumps freedom of speech and the lives of American children in the land of the free. With so much political power coming from lobbyists such as the National Rifle Association will the spotlight ever fully turn inwardly?
Lest we forget the current leader of America received $30,000,000 in presidential campaigning funds from the NRA. Perhaps games will be left out of the firing line if games company lobbyists put up the dosh, to make him shut up.
Alas, I remember the days when games lobbies were a simpler thing, a place to gather players before the start of the match, now they have become more than that. Games industry lobbyists are becoming much more commonplace. Perhaps to combat the political force rallying against their portrayal of violence, perhaps they have their own sinister political agenda too. In a world where games execs are looking to push micro-transactions and extort gamers in ever new ways I’d wager to bet it is both. To me it is a worry that these even began to exist, rising from ashes of this dumpster fire debacle of a debate. I doubt they are about protecting players, focusing rather on their pockets and looking to protect profits.
If you’d like a more in depth, colourful and hilarious look at the meeting check out this vlog by Jim Sterling who as always is putting the world to rights;
Battle royale games, so called owing to their inspiration coming from the plot of their namesakes’ 2000 cult classic movie and novel, are a hot topic right now. These multiplayer games combine last man standing gameplay with elements from survival games, to create a genre that is both challenging and highly enjoyable.
Players are dropped into a map typically by parachute, with little to no resources. Then must scavenge at their chosen drop zone, praying that they made the right decision and the loot gods are good to them. After all no one wants to bring a frying pan to a gunfight, even if they can stop bullets.
The battle then ensues whether you are prepared or not and you must survive using your wits, skill and whatever kit is at your disposal. Whether you’re a hunter or a hider matters little, as you will be both by the end one way or another. In this game type the safe play zone is restricted, slowly getting smaller and smaller to bring players together until there’s only one team or person left after the final showdown. This ensures the gameplay flows when numbers drop, as well as making sure it actually comes to an end and isn’t just a glorified game of hide and seek.
A Brief History
Brendan Greene, more commonly known by his handle PlayerUnknown was the creator of the ARMA 2 mod DayZ: Battle Royale. A mod which Daybreak Game Company obviously liked the look of, taking him on as a consultant in the development of their game H1Z1.
This was the first standalone of this type that I know of and where for me it all began. H1Z1s’ King of the Kill game mode released in 2016 and quickly enamoured me to the struggle of becoming the last one standing on the body heap, even with all its early access woes. The game type was just too fun for those woes to have mattered. Seemingly, I wasn’t alone in my love for this type of game, as in the following years they grew in popularity as well as numbers. After his contract with Daybreak ended PlayerUnknown was picked up as creative director by Korean owned Bluehole games studio. Through that partnership PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds was born, being so well received (hitting 30 million sales by February this year) that it’s looking to becoming an eSport.
Since then the titles have begun to snowball, with the recent 2017 addition of Epic Games’ go at the genre, Fortnite. This offering brought the elements of fortification building and destructible environments to the field. Evidently it is so fun that it has quickly shot into the ranks in terms of popularity, becoming a worthy competitor to PUBG and its ilk. As well as becoming a freshly baked meme in the process, which is probably now stale considering their usual shelf life – but who’s to judge. One things for certain, PUBG and Fortnite are currently doing battle as the two compete for top dog in the markets own version of the 2001 film.
Enter Mavericks: Proving Grounds, set to be the next instalment in what I can only imagine will be a long line considering the swift rise in popularity of this genre.
A Maverick? It’ll Need Proving!
Originally known simply as Project X, the ambitious endeavour of self-proclaimed innovation oriented Automaton studios to create a 1000 player tactical shooter MMO has been named after more than a year. Set on an island in the near future, the now named Mavericks: Proving Grounds was revealed at the recent PC Gamer Weekender in London on February the 17th.
Before the wider MMO world is released in 2019 a BR game mode is to be unveiled sometime later in 2018. A game which will seek to fix what the team at Automaton think is wrong with similar games like PUBG, poor connection and bugginess owing to the connection and performance issues that arise with 100 players connected in large scale maps. Limitations they say other similar games infrastructure are incapable of escaping. So what was their answer? Seemingly it was to quadruple the number of players in the server.
Actually and probably quite obviously, there’s a little more to it than that. To avoid falling into similar traps that they feel make other BR and MMO games stale they will be relying upon Improbables’ SpatialOS cloud platform combined with a client created through Cryteks’ CryEngine. Having their vast and interactive map uploaded to the cloud and relying on the real-time visual rendering of CryEngine, Automaton feel they are able to really push the envelope. Looking to create a large and interactive world with a great many players in it, that has the potential to be a massive playing experience. The reason they are so confident in achieving this is because what’s powering the game behind the scenes is designed and built to deliver this. A pre-contained world that renders in real-time that the end-users PC simply acts as a viewing portal to, allowing for higher performance. In an interview with Polygon Lawrence Barnett of Automaton said;
“Everything [the user sees on their screen] is basically computed on the fly, and what that enables us to do is simulate a massive world on the server. Then, as the player moves through that world, you swap in and swap out the necessary information that they have to see. … There’s no way your computer could handle all this by itself.”
Wildlife that actually reacts intelligently and dynamically to players. The ability to track the path of others as they indent on their surroundings through footsteps or paths taken through displaced foliage. Wildfire that spreads, as well as destructive environments are all parts of this interactive map. Automaton want it to be more than just a stage, they want players to be able to use it as an interactive tool to aid them. In Barnetts words, they want to ‘create a living breathing world.’ Not only on a massive scale, but in a logical way that will influence play style depending on where you drop. They’re looking to do this bit by bit like a quilt of set-piece patches, to avoid the map sprawling willy-nilly in a way that doesn’t impact on the experience positively.
The gigantic interactive and dynamic well designed map, coupled with the heavy focus on providing players with a top notch FPS gaming experience shows that clearly Automaton have massive ambitions for the game they’ve envisioned. Trying to improve upon what they and many players perceive to be the issues with similar games. Will it live up to its ambition as planned? One can hope even if sceptical, as quadrupling a BR games player size in a bigger and better than ever map, as well as creating such a large scale immersive MMO world will make for much fun and an all-round tasty experience.
Undoubtedly developers are looking to get their slice of the BR pie and luckily for them when it comes to the market, there can be more than one winner. With such fanatic customers with a thirst for this relatively fresh genre, who can really blame them. But can this game bring more to the table? Or will it be just another copycat jumping on the bandwagon of BR games success, with a view to sell yet another MMO in an over saturated market?
I for one am more than looking forward to finding out and reporting back.
Video games have once again been in the firing line of headlines recently, something that we’re all used to, especially in times of violence. But as well as a recurring debate, there is an unprecedented decision in the headlines this year.
In the wake of the horrific and most recent US school shooting in Florida, which left 17 dead, 16 wounded and many more traumatised, politicians and pundits have wheeled out the old cliché that violent games are the chief culprit. Alongside this, it has been announced that the World Health Organisations’ (WHO) 11th International Classification of Diseases has decided to include a condition called ‘gaming disorder’ as a major public health issue.
One of these pieces of news should be treated cautiously, whilst the other has become a farcical age old argument, yet is still given traction in media and political circles, when it should be outright dismissed by now.
Video Game Violence
Societal issues, especially horrific events such as the most recent school shooting, are the cause of moral panic, more often than not, a moral panic that seeks to scapegoat rather than solve the issue at hand. Whether it’s comic books in the 50’s;
Or whatever new music is prevalent, it seems politicians look to blame popular culture rather than deal with actual causes, because realistically speaking – that would be difficult and requires real action. It’s easier to point the finger and blast hot air when you lack the political will to enact real change.
Donald Trump has suggested in a timely fashion that perhaps we should provide parents buying games a handy rating system to know what kind of game they might be buying their child. No further comment on that one, it speaks volumes on how much he really knows and cares about the matter. A Rhode Island politician has even gone so far as to seek a tax on violent M-Rated video games, which states lack the power to legislate against the sale of. He states that this extra money should be funnelled into mental health care. Should this not be something that is provided for without punishing consumers of video games? Especially considering that less than 20% of school shooters partake in violent games. Perhaps politicians could foot some of that bill with the money they receive from pro-gun lobbying groups, like the National Rifle Association. I think most rational people would agree that video games have more place in the home than weapons.
Choosing to look the other way or bury our heads in the sand when it comes to facing down the myriad of actual reasons that leads to violence, is traditional of our society. If we are to actually face up to the real reasons, we might just shine a light inwardly and see that beneath the glossy veneer we present, our societies are often broken in so many ways it becomes overwhelming when trying to hone in on the factors that cause young men to commit such violent acts (I say men as statistically speaking this is the case.) This circular argument which takes us nowhere seems to have no end, as if the 90’s never happened and the diversionary tactics will work this time. We must outright accept that violence is not caused by games. It is embedded there to begin with, even if at the very least, these people play violent games to act out their fantasies. If we as societies sought to actually be communities and look out for our fellow humans, these kind of events could be more easily avoided but there is so much inequality and alienation that people with these tendencies often fly under the radar until it’s too late. Or in the case of the Florida shooter, the signs are completely ignored by those around them. Politicians lack the backbone and will to do the right thing because it goes against the very ethos of our individualistic and capitalist societies, as well as the gun loving culture of the United States. Until we force them to face up to the many factors, they will keep trying to feed us a pill we just aren’t swallowing anymore.
Most anyone who loves gaming will be able to recount times when pursuing it has somewhat negatively impacted on their life. Whether it’s the thirst for achievement and enjoyment that drives us to not put the controller down or walk away from the keyboard, making us get less sleep. Or the desire to own the best skins and other such loot hurting our wallet, it’s a simple fact we cannot ignore. Games have a certain addictive quality that needs addressing one way or another on an individual basis at the very least. After all games do have the potential power to affect lives and to change the world. But to what extent is the desire to pursue this hobby habitually a mental disorder? According to the WHOs’ recent classification, it is now considered to be the rule and not the exception.
Whilst I’ll be the first to admit my gaming endeavours have sometimes been slightly detrimental to my life. However the WHO needs to be careful not to view gaming as an inherent evil, as like anything people love and enjoy it can become a hobby people are passionate about or can even be a coping mechanism for other underlying mental disorders. Many psychologists are calling the decision to classify ‘games addiction’ as a mental disorder premature. Even if the WHOs’ heart is in the right place, they risk ‘pathologising behaviours that are normal’ for millions upon millions of young people, something that could do more damage than good. If games are treated as the issue and the true underlying problems are ignored, they have once again become simply a scapegoat.
Whilst the discussion and research of this topic are welcomed by me as a conscientious gamer who would gladly level justified critique at my hobby that would help people. This classification would put gaming on a similar footing as gambling, which wreaks havoc on peoples lives and destroys families. Putting gaming on par with such an addiction is simply absurd, unless of course we are talking about micro-transactions and how it’s introducing children to gambling, which is much more of an issue than heavy gaming. What is clear, is that we need more solid scientific research and not to succumb to moral panic in lieu of facts, as the WHO potentially jumping the gun risks missing the real issues.
All this begs the question, if even scientific bodies are joining our politicians in succumbing to moral panic regarding games, what does that say about our society? And what hope do we have about getting to the truth of the matter? This is something that must stop, as in the long run it will only do more harm than good.
Since they have earned their place in pop culture and especially to the outsider, video games have often been conceived as being associated with the fantastic. Imaginary far-fetched worldscapes enjoyed as a newfangled distraction from our boring reality. Whilst this isn’t entirely wrong and oftentimes is the case, to simply assume this at face value would be doing a disservice to the medium. As many gamers will know, there are a plethora of titles and genres which not only dabble in reality, but go as far as to try and replicate it, stick to its truths or influence it beyond the confines of the screen.
The game that is most widely remembered as the first home video-game had humble beginnings. It was an early iteration of Pong created by Physicist William Higginbotham in 1958, which was revealed to the public at Brookhaven National Laboratory open days. In a later interview he recalled that he figured –
“It might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavours have relevance for society.”
The origins of video-games as tools to aid proponents of the computer age is quite telling, in that it shows us, alongside being entertaining they can be apparatus to inform and sway our opinions. We’ve come a long way from their origins in aids for computer salesmen, now games have the potential to reflect and explore much more, even to change the narrative of society itself.
I am going to look at how and why video games rooted in reality have potential world changing capabilities, as well as explore some of the ways that they have been used as tools to change reality. And most importantly why this should be something we concern ourselves with as a community.
Games As Art And Literature
Storytelling, it’s something our species have done since even before the advent of language – when we left our mark on cave walls to express ourselves, now we leave them on blogs. Like storytelling itself games have come a long way since their creation. In simpler times we had little pixelated avatars doing something for some reason but as what we could create in games advanced so did characters, worlds and the stories being told. It is clear that storytelling and video games have a symbiotic relationship, both have influenced each other, together. This is especially apparent when you look at games such as The Stanley Parable or Dream which have a heavy focus on exploration and narrative, as a way of exploring storytelling itself. Or any number of games that satirise real world events, such as the Command and Conquer; Red Alert series, which satirises the Cold War going hot.
American film critic Robert Egbert is one of the most well-known voices in this old and tiresome debate and is of the view that ‘games will never be art.’ Whether or not academics or critics would argue against this mediums inclusion in these realms, doesn’t particularly matter in my eyes, it is clear to anyone who plays them and experiences them that they have artistic and literary merit. They are works that have visual and mental impacts on us, they are perfectly capable of making us feel and think. Most gamers, myself included, probably don’t really mind how their legitimacy in the world of high arts and literature is viewed by the respective gatekeepers but it does matter that they are art and literature that is developing a new narrative.
Games constantly break the fourth wall, from the tutorial guiding you to press ‘X’, to your characters commenting on your actions or inaction, such as when Sonic gets tired of waiting for you to play after a period of inactivity. They treat you as less of an audience member and more as a character, we are much more than just an audience when we game, we are an influencer, a protagonist on the stage. This is what I believe makes games powerful in the art of rhetoric and discourse, as we can relate even more to them and therefore they can sometimes be even better at influencing us than traditional literature. It is us who live through the story as the protagonist. Combining the worlds of art, literature and audience participation into one little multi-dimensional package makes them proficient at influencing us. It’s a form of storytelling that is interactive and can easily engross us as an audience, this is why it matters.
Historic And Current Events
There are historical games aplenty, for some reason nerds and geeks whom game, seem to have an obsession with these settings be they ancient or old. I am going to examine one such example as I think it best represents this fixation on historical games and the potential perils of rooting a game in reality. That example is World War Two games of which there are bloody loads.
One of the biggest triple A games of 2017 another timelytimeless timed out ‘Call of Duty’ game set in WW2, showing us that love for WW2 games just won’t die, kind of like the COD franchise. But why is the historical narrative and accuracy so important? Somewhat sadly, simply put it’s because games are one of the primary ways many children and young adults will be engaging with the history presented. Whilst historical accuracy doesn’t determine whether a game is a great game or not, I feel developers and games companies owe it to society to be as accurate as possible when it comes to the historical narratives, at the very least. Where possible all sides should be put under the microscope for criticism. Allied powers committed atrocities in the war too and more often than not it is only the evil of the Nazis that is dealt with. In fact I cannot think of one game that deals with the atrocities of the allied powers and doesn’t treat them as simply righteous heroes [if you can think of one, please comment them as I’d be interested to see.]
Not to say that games should be propaganda, just that we must understand that they can inform us and if they do they should be on the right side of history and the nice side of morality. An example of propaganda in gaming that’s on the right side of history, is the controversy that ensued around the advertising campaign of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, where developers MachineGames and publishers Bethesda used the opportunity to double down on the anti-Nazi rhetoric of the game.
This ability to influence opinions becomes even more worrisome with regards to games that focus on the reality of current events and our future, they have the potential to impact the political narrative of the world. Sometimes this is owing to real world events not being done justice and misinforming those who play at best and at worst, because they are outright pushing an awful agenda.
Atomic Games, are an example of a developer which wanted to capture the truth of a contemporary historical account, yet the game they created remains unreleased. It was a game that Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines of the US army wanted made, to tell of their experiences in the Second Battle of Fallujah during the Iraq War, it was named 6 Days in Fallujah and to be published by Konami. These Marines had originally been assigned to help make training tools for the US army, but after their experience in war they wanted to tell the story of what happened to them personally and approached Atomic Games. The games creation caused much controversy from war veterans and anti-war groups who claimed it to be glorifying wars and disrespecting the many casualties as well as veterans. Ultimately Konami dropped what could have been an interesting look at war through the eyes of those on the ground. A former soldier who fought in Fallujah told the LA Times of the games significance,
“Video games can communicate the intensity and the gravity of war to an audience who wouldn’t necessarily be watching the History Channel or reading about this in the classroom. In an age when everyone’s always online or playing games, peoples’ imaginations aren’t what they were, sadly. For this group, books may not convey the same level of intensity and chaos of war that a game can.”
The fact that these soldiers had originally been assigned to Atomic Games to help develop training tools for the US Army goes to show how games can be used to further awful agendas. Now even ISIS and other terrorist organisations have been utilising video games for recruitment and training. Even modding their own version of GTA V known as Grand Theft Auto: Salil al-Sawarem (loosely translating to ‘the sound of clashing swords’, artwork for which I used as the featured picture at the top of this article. An example on the flipside of this issue is the new game designed to train teachers how to react during a school shooting. Games as a medium have become a way to influence the world to the developers’ agenda.
Video games can be used to teach us about our contemporary world and its past, as well as warn of potential future outcomes. This coupled with the possibility that the game you’re playing is being used to influence and inform your opinion on reality, should be something that you keep in mind personally. And something I feel we should talk about more as a community and society, to explore the ways we can use this as a positive as well as how we can avoid the negatives.
Tools For What And Who?
Games that are rooted in reality can potentially change the world, their usefulness as tools can and should be much more far reaching than learning tools and propaganda. Alongside games, those who play them should be seen as a resource, a large community of people who dedicate their time and efforts to overcoming obstacles, solving issues and puzzles to advance, often sticking at something repetitively until they crack it and succeed. As such there should be games that are designed to help solve real world problems faced by our society because gaming can make a better world if we so choose to utilise it.
Some of the questions we should be asking as a society is if games can be tools, for what and by who are they?
I believe games should first and foremost entertain, but if they are utensils to change the world, then they must be tools for the betterment of humanity by those who wish to see social change.
If there was ever an over saturated genre in the video game market, survival games would be in the running for whatever kind of award that can get you. The genres’ undying popularity has spawned great games likeRustpictured above. Of course the sheer number of fans for this game type has paved the way for large piles of early access games, some ending up in the quick quid and never finished heap but still for the most part ending up in gamers’ libraries. We just simply can’t get enough of them, it seems they give us a certain joie de vivre.
We’ve got your dinosaur taming survival games with the likes ofArk: Survival Evolved, of course naturally there is a horde of Zombie survival games such asDayZandJust Survive, then there’s Sci-Fi survival in space with the likes ofOsiris New Dawnand an underwater alien planet setting withSubnautica, not to mention the legions of bog standard potential real worlddystopia versions a laHurtworld. You name it people want to survive it, kind of like life itself.
Another way in which survival games echo life, is that they’re utterly bloody futile!
A Dog Eat Dog World
The one thing that ties all these different survival scenarios together is being thrust into a hostile environment and using your wits and surrounding resources to survive. Ultimately there is no real end goal to these games beyond that, unless they’re single player with story progression. For the sake of this article, I’m going to be focusing on multiplayer, specifically player versus player rather than just the environment. This is where you can find the real echoes of life in our society and the sometimes all too easily conceivable pointlessness of it.
Sadly, for the most part the survival game community is a dog eat dog world, where people will kill you on the off chance that you might have some goodies in your inventory even though you look like a fresh spawn. Then there is those who would in fact just end your miserable existence for the thrill of the hunt, even when there’s no sport in it. But there are players who prefer to make friends in this futile existence, I am one of these players, there’s enough pain without a guilty conscience. I remember one friend gaining encounter in a game of Just Survive;
A real life pal and I were new to the server, we had nothing but the clothes on our back and hope in our hearts. It was night and we were warily making our way into town, when in the middle of the road a creep with a torch silently beheld us. To put it simply we had no fight so we went into flight mode, to put it plainly we were cowards. So as we ran, like an excitable dog he preceded to chase us for a 5 minutes saga of humiliation, freaked out by a torch lit stranger. We took shelter in a house, so he stood at the window flashing us not saying a word. That’s when we made another break for it and bumped into a stranger kitted out with a backpack and rifle, we begged him for assistance to end our fear. Putting our trust in a stranger with a weapon rather than one with a torch. He scared off our light bearing accoster and we teamed up and to this day are still friends.
A rare occurrence in these worlds of mistrust, what with the nagging paranoia that your supposed newfound friend is just waiting for the opportune moment to stab you in the back, learning your weaknesses and biding their time – we’d be stupid not to strike first right? It’s an infernal pattern with a ripple effect, shit on or be shat on.
In these games you have few options once you’re surviving and well equipped, try to just exist in perpetual defence for the mere sake of it, accumulate to exterminate the competition, to share in their hard work by raiding them, and taking their possessions for your own. Or try to work with people in exchange for mutual cooperation and face the risk of being so easily betrayed.
So why do we enjoy survival games so much?
Leaving Your Mark And Making A Story
Base designing and building is one way you can leave your mark.
Throwing yourself into the pattern of destitution, accumulation and loss to someone or times scythe in the form of a server wipe, seems a tedious repetitive task with no end in sight. Almost as futile as cleaning your house, however it is definitely a lot more fun. It’s infinitely more enjoyable to face virtual futility than the actual consequential reality. Like life itself, for all its futility, the goal of survival is to enjoy the ride and thus give a point to it all.
Leave your mark and enjoy the process, whether that be in the form of your creations or the friends you make along the way. That’s why survival games are an importantand enjoyable genre, they’re player based experiences that allows us to embrace life in all its futility.