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Why are video games so fixated on violence? Why is violence an infallible theme in gaming and other mediums of entertainment? The concept of violence in entertainment is to exhilarate, dramatising situations to extremities and therefore provoking a reaction. Often the reaction to violence in it's most gruelling form is negative but either way it is a prospect that we, as human beings, cannot prie our attention from. It shocks us, envigorates our emotions and propels the adrenaline. These reasons alone are the cause of recurring violent themes in the movies we watch, the music we listen to and more recently the games we play. What then is the affect of all this violence we are subscribed to and how does it manipulate our actions in society? The ongoing debate surrounding the affect of violence on young people still echoes to this day. Before video games were brought into the equation it was television that suffered the blame, now it's video games that are falling under the scrutiny.
There have been around 130 studies on violence in video games since their release. 130 000 participants from around the world have been psychologically tested to show that violent games increase violent thought. Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman, researchers from Iowa State University, developed a system of analysing the affects of violent exposure in video games called the General Aggression Model (GAM). With this they determined that people exposed to excessive aggression in video games were more likely to react and think in an aggressive manner. Moreover playing violent video games causes the formation of aggressive beliefs and attitudes, while also desensitising gamers to violent behaviour. With this evidence in mind it is conceivable that playing violent games can lead to acts of criminality and more drastically inspire the most salient of sins such as murder or robbery. In Leicester, England in 2004, Warren Blanc (a 17 year old boy) murdered his thirteen year old friend, Stefan Pakeerah, with a knife and a hammer. It was later revealed that Warren was "Obsessed" with the video game manhunt and as the attack was representative of the game in question it took much of the blame for the young boys actions. The Daily Mail newspaper covered the headline "Murder by Playstation" and the mother of Stefan was quoted saying "I can't believe that this sort of material is allowed in a society where anarchy is not that far removed". As a result of this the game itself was banned as it was seen to corrupt young minds in a sinister and hazardous fashion. In cases such as this it is evident that video games could be the influence on young minds that lead them to these terrible ends.
Contrary to this hyperbollic and arguably fallacious assumption of causes, no long term effects of playing violent video games have been discovered. Furthermore there are no direct links from the increased aggressive attitudes violent games produce and acting upon them. It's possible that modern audiences deserve a little more credit. Viewers and gamers alike are not entirely predisposed to the media in a way that blurs the line between what is morally acceptable in fantasy and what is acceptable in reality. By subjection to murdering and pillaging on the screen, video game fans don't assume that this passificity towards sin carries over into their every day lives. Conclusively, sophisticated consumers have more intuition than Pavlov's dogs and are not wholly overcome by media influence devoid of moral sentiment. A kid doesn't go around shooting people with a sawn off shotgun after playing an FPS because he believes they will respawn in a few seconds. It is ill founded scaremongering to jab the finger in the chest of video games every time a sociopath butchers his school mates. Most kids in contemporary society play video games as a pastime but the hobby never manages to be attributed to acts of heroism or exceptional behaviour. These ignorant, derogatory pre dispositions of video games seem to fixate on the affects of it's violent distribution on young people as though no other vessel for aggressive behaviour is apparent in their lives. Of course before video games and television were invented everyone just skipped around hugging and offering to wipe each other's arses all day. It's preposterous extremism in regards to something these finger pointers know nothing about, although it's not surprising considering the despicable human nature to fear and consequently hate the unknown.
It could be argued that violence used in the making of video games is a form of artistic expression and more often than not representative of social themes such as war and street gang mentality. Besides the aestetic values of graphic vehemence, the advantages of involving violence in a video game makes the story telling aspect more compelling. It can be used as a method for narration, portray realism and grasp a gamer's attention more vividly than a more passive approach. An example of dureness being used a method for narration can be seen in Silent Hill 2. At one point in the game "Triangle head man", as i fondly remember him, is cramming leg people into a kitchen sink while you look on helplessly from inside a cupboard. Through the slats you can see him twisting limbs in a sex frenzy, trying to fit them all in the sink. Why he wanted those leg people in that sink i'll never know but it's a harrowing image that resonates in my thoughts whenever it's my turn to do the dishes. This inexplicable display of brutality shaped the character of "Triangle Head Man" in an unforgettable way. It taught me at the time that this guy with a triangular head was an evil sadist who took pleasure in the torturing of (whom i could only assume were) his colleagues in the task of halting my progress. With this as my newly attained synopsis for his character, i made it a point to avoid him and possibly use his memory as a scare factor in the disciplining of my future children. If this scene was devoid of erotic masochism and "triangle head man" wasn't forcebly inserting his friends into a kitchen sink, if instead he was just doing a crossword or baking a cake, then the fear it planted in me wouldn't exist and the tension I felt would melt away. In this sense then it can be debated that violence in video games has a purpose. It is used as a tool for character development and tension building.
One of the major issues of violence in video games as a deviation of it's affects stemming from television, is the fact that when playing a game the player is actively involved in the aggression taking place. This is where gaming differs from all other vessels of violence in the media. As a player actively takes on the role of the aggressor the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist are more profoundly channeled. With this in mind it's no surprise that Hitman 2 on the Playstation 2 was recalled and re written as one of the missions imitated the real-life 1984 Golden Temple massacre in Amritsar, where thousands of Sikhs were killed in an attack by Indian troops. The political and religious agenda harboured by this mission irked many religous figures and it was deemed insensitive to have it recreated for the gaming pleasure of the masses. It is supposable that the game's political edge, in relevence to real life events, could inflict the antisocial beliefs and agendas of the character on the people taking on the role. This being said, to see a video game as a projection for political or religous propoganda is short sighted and an underdeveloped accusation in it's entirety. When considering the nature of video games in that the killing of others is rewarded and not punished, the concern regarding the shaping of moral structure is somewhat understandable. In recent video games players earn accheivements and score points when killing other players online. This competative arena of heartless slaughter, where a sense of right and wrong is turned upside down, could have a serious affect on the people actively involved.
Undoubtably the Godfather of gaming controversy is Grand Theft Auto. In GTA: Vice City it is common practice to pick up a hooker, give her the time in a dark alley somewhere and then murder her to get your money back. It defies sense to suggest that this is the best way for a human being to spend their time but are people taking these games too seriously? With an unrelenting view of abjectivity towards video games, people are blinded to the "tongue in cheek" element that most titles employ. To see GTA as a portal through which psychos can express their sinister desires by whatever means is absurd. Video games, as is in any media from, do have the power to influence aggressive thought but they cannot turn a law abiding person into a rampaging murderer. I think a sense of humour is required to understand the violence in video games. Your actions as the player have no bearing on your actions as a human being because you can distinguish the difference. Studies showing that mature video games enhance aggressive thought are not a basis on which to restrict and censor. To try and censor a person's thoughts is borderline dystopian oppression. What a person thinks, be it aggressive or passive, is entirely up to them and we have no right to condemn the media as a figurehead for the promotion of these thoughts. Simply put the attempts to try and shape society by inflicting rules and regulations obstructing the abstract and the violent are ironically the very reason why we play video games as an escape. With everyone trying endlessly to better themselves by denying exposure to the antisocial, we have developed an artistic thirst for the taboo. This excitement we feel when under the glow of violence is present because it is frowned upon. It's a rebellious function to exercise the forbidden without the consequences the action would result in outside of the fictional bracket that we indulge in. Should video games make an attempt to be less violent and should the more violent games be censored? It's a question that i couldn't possibly answer without extreme bias but let us secure in the knowledge the notion that violent exposure, although encouraging in thought and formations of aggressive attitudes, cannot be the direct cause of anti-social pursuits.
Marcus Fenix wipes the sweat from his brow and leaves the battlefield after another hard day on the front line. Back at his tent he props his lancer against a chair and heads over to the wardrobe. Here he slips out of his uniform and slips on a silk, backless dress. Once appropriately attired he minces towards his record collection and begins fingering through old jazz classics and lonely hearts ballards. His eyes light up as he slips a vinyl out from it's sheath. He snaps it into the record player and Dolly Parton announces herself through the speakers. To the sounds of Dolly's woe, Marcus Fenix begins to waltz alone in his tent, still wearing those boots with a girth the size of the Grand Canyon. He pauses a moment at the mirror to take in his reflection. "The name's Fenix" he says to himself, in that voice that makes Nick Nolte sound like a chipmunk, "Marcus Fenix, like the mythological bird only not spelt the same", he fixes himself a cheeky wink and waltzes off around the tent. Then something happens that eclipses Marcus' ecstasy. Dom makes his presence known via a clearing of the throat. Marcus spins around, still entwined with his imaginary partner. In the minutes of silence that follow, something crosses Marcus' mind, "If only the ground could swallow me up now" and just when enough time passes for this to seem ironic, a locust invasion ocurrs and Marcus is swallowed up by the ground. The remainder of the attack features in slow motion with Dolly Parton playing over it. "Gears of War 5 - Coming Soon."
It's a bloody joke isn't it? I did a joke, they probably won't make that their trailer. I'm sending it to Microsoft anyway.
What is the importance of music in media art forms? The conventions of music in film has been integral for decades and as gaming evolves rapidly year after year it's reliance on music to portray emotions, set scene and cast itīs power over the human brain for all manner of suggestibility, is more present than ever. Music has become so powerful in gaming that many games are given identity solely from the songs they produce. The theme tune for Super Mario Bros is whistled and hummed around the world. Some of the people i've heard chirping along to Koji Kondoīs classic haven't even played the game itself, they just know itīs the theme for Mario. This is a tribute to the dynamism of music in gaming.
Music in essence draws out mood. Depending on the notes used, the tempo and genre, music can bring about varying associations. A thrashing guitar riff, accompanied by a drummer whose arms could only be explained if they were powered by a traction engine, implies that some action is afoot. Similarly then, if through the speakers came some piercing, ambient strings, it would resemble an ominous danger ahead. If you open that door where the music builds to itīs crescendo, there will be nothing but trauma for everyone involved. I know, i opened it. An example of this in a game can be seen in a survival horror such as Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly.
For the most part Project Zero is dank and silent, enouncing nothing but the haunting sounds of your own feet, clip clopping painfully slowly down decrepit hallways. Then, just when the tension is too much to bear and something extra terrifying happens, a bell or a chime would sound and in a way only these Japanese survival horrors can muster, every hair on your body stands on end. Then the pause button gets a frequent seeing to in the disillusioned belief that the menu screen will come to your aid. But it doesnīt come to your aid, it only prolongs your impending doom.
A consequence of the connotations conjured up in video game soundtracks can be the manner in which the player reacts to the connections they make. With certain music portraying particular images and memories in a playerīs brain, game developers can use music as a weapon for clairvoyance. In video games an air of suggestibility is often cleverly used to sway a playerīs decisions. With video games today fixated on player interaction and the vast majority of RPGs having their stories revolve around the whims of the player, this seemingly unconscious tool can manipulate and reprimand free will in ways unknown to the player. In Fallout 3 the radio station an NPC is listening to can determine their character. If i come across an old man in a shack somewhere who wants me to join his crew but i discover that buzzing away in the background, emitting itself shamelessly from the radio, is the brainwashing propaganda of the Enclave, iīm going to turn him down and walk away. That is if iīm in a good mood. If on the way in, a Giant Rad Scorpion has had it's wicked way with my shin bones, i might be more inclined to slip a grenade in his pocket and grin at him as i swing the unfastened pin on the end of my finger.
More important features of music are to paint a picture, set the scene and work in cohesion with the visuals at hand. Adjusting the tone of an area in a video game is vital to lull the player into believing in what theyīre playing. If the scene is a quiet little village and the player is attending the funeral of his recently lost accomplice, the background music cannot be an accordion or some up tempo jazz, it just wouldnīt fit. To set the scene of something different like a bossīs castle, you would have an ill foreboding organ and thatīs because it is the most effective instrument for the foretelling of danger. Itīs a simple as that, some instruments have their emotional calling and this is a factor exacted on in good games. If the music fits the setting then the game makers have done their task to fully submerge their audience.
In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time you ascend a seemingly never ending set of stairs in Ganons Castle. It's the final dungeon of the game, you've just slain that guy in the armour on his throne and the final Boss awaits. As Link trudges up the stairs you hear an organ playing. It sounds like doom personified and the further you climb, the louder it gets. It becomes obvious at this point that it's Gannondorf himself tinkering on the keys and for the briefest of moments, despite all the atrocities he has committed and the trials you've suffered through to get to his throat, you kind of regret having to see such a talent go to waste. Why did he have to opt for the career path of Gerudo thief and ruler of Hyrule? Digression overcome, the tension you feel in the game at this point is due to the organ and the relevence of that sound with power and climax thus making the build up to this classic battle between Link and Gannon more effective.
Gaming, for me, is the ultimate door in the wall. The most vivid and beautifully crafted games offer escapism of the likes no other art form can comprehend. A large part of this is down to the use of music convincing the player in the world he/she is set to explore. Letīs look at one game in particular that paralyses the need for reality: Shadow of the Colossus. With the originality and ingenuity of the game aside, the music had me completely unwilling to return to my normal life outside the screen. When you first scale the hairy achilles heel of colossus number one and The Opened Way blasts out timpani drums and violins in all their glory, you realise something;- this is the most epic and exciting thing you will ever do. But once the colossus falls and the choir voices chant their angelic song, whispering that perhaps you've commited some unholy act, You lament destroying such a phenomonal creature. No other media can make you feel this contradiction of emotions in such a short space of time. Iīve never finished listening to a pop song and sat there feeling simultaneously Godlike and felonious. Katy Perry just doesnīt bring to life those emotions for me iīm afraid, call me shallow but it's true.
Looking at how far music in gaming has come to this present day is also a testament to itīs importance within the industry. Music no longer acts solely as a background feature. With a flurry of titles such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band sweeping across the market, music takes a primary stance. Control pads are being replaced with plastic guitars and drum sets in a simulation of playing in your favorite bands. A combination of player interactivity and musical control could see the future of gaming shaped much to the liking of the consumers themselves. Itīs conceivable that the unforesseable choices of the player could render preassumed soundtracks absolete. A soundtrack made in order to keep up with these intangible set of circumstances would have to be sculpted in such a way that every possible scenario is accounted for. With this in mind we can see how unbelievably difficult it is for game developers to adapt their themes to represent the predicaments faced in their games and how well they're managing to do so.
Consider a game's main protagonist is meandering gleefully through a meadow (each playerīs approach to gaming is unique to them, we shall not judge) picking up geraniums and petting deers at will. The music, to fulfill it's atmospheric obligations, would assume a pleasant note. Perhaps a guitar being plucked by an Angel whilst swinging in a hammock made from the rainbow, iīm not Koji Kondo i donīt know. Then suddenly out of nowhere, one broody looking deer takes the grooming the wrong way, mistakes the genteel smile of the protagonist for a leer and attacks. The music is altered, the pace quickens, some drumming is introduced. The whole outlook of the scene has changed in an instant and the music is the vessel for that transition. In many open world RPGs the situation is akin to this. At any given time in an elder scrolls game an enemy could sprout from the foliage looking to relieve you of your HP. Itīs a contemporary matter that sound teams across the board are doing incredibly well to overcome.
The importance of music in gaming and the affects it has on the players is beyond count. Time after time i've listened to old tracks from my favorite games and almost broken into tears awash with nostalgia. The power of music in video games to drag you away from the drabness of existence and into dimensions of fiction is simply unparralelled in my eyes and hopefully iīm not the only one.
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