By Jamie Busby - Staff Author
It seems that people nowadays want more realism than ever from what is now one of the largest sources of entertainment; Video games.
This is particularly prevalent in first person shooter (FPS) games. Why do people feel like they want to experience something as close as possible to the true horrors of war? It can never be authentically replicated by a computer simulation. However visceral the game, your life is not on the line and you cannot escape that fact. But players want less fantasy and MORE pseudo-reality...
Shooting games have been striving for the ultimate in realism since the 1990's. When you look back on games from that era, the ones that were considered gruesome then are deemed almost laughable by today's standards. Not only have the power of computers and the quality of the games improved exponentially, but the thirst for blood and guts of the player base is seemingly unquenchable.
It begs the question why players want to experience something as close as possible to real war in their leisure time. Is it as simple as the fact that more and more we CAN have combat recreated or has there been an increase in the desire for warfare in society?
Have we all become so numb that war, even if depicted in a game, is simply water off a duck's back?
There are other genres of games and titles that attempt to emulate similar experiences. The Grand Theft Auto series of video games have made it possible to pay a prostitute, take her in your car for services rendered, then shoot her dead as she leaves to get your money back. This is just one of what would be considered horrific crimes in real life that you can commit in video games. And contrary to it having shock value, it's all in the name of fun.
As social animals (apparently), human beings have an intrinsic need to feel part of something and then pass it down to our offspring or young. And let's face it, we would all rather be a war hero for many reasons as opposed to being an anonymous office worker for example. It's literally programmed and hard-wired into us. As technology is catching up, it's giving us the opportunity to become that hero, but in the safe setting that most require. And obviously, OUR side is NEVER the bad side...
As human beings, we also have an innate desire to learn. Anything. We are sponges, especially as youngsters, but that yearning never leaves us. Video games can also offer learning opportunities. It's become a huge industry on par with the movie industry and some people will genuinely judge others on how good they are at "Call of Duty" as opposed to what they have to offer as a person. A sad state of affairs if you are beyond a certain age.
However, it's also in our nature to be competitive in every aspect of life. Before computer games, children would fight or ride pushbikes or any other number of "games" where there is always a distinct winner and clear loser. This is how we operate as a species whether we like it or not. I personally play FPS video games and I try my best to not care about my performance. But in reality I want to repeatedly headbutt the wall if it's going tits up for me.
Being "good" at certain things can define your position in an entire social structure.
Thus, large sections of society see online, multiplayer video games as an extension of this. And in keeping with the anonymity of hiding behind an internet connection that's all pervading these days, people can literally create their own persona. The better they are at their chosen game, the more leeway they will have with spinning their own self-serving bullshit.
At the end of the day, we all want to "win" at anything we partake in. With video games, that translates as being the best player you can possibly be and beating as many others as possible. This is but a reflection of society since the days of the first humans.
So where do "MilSim" (Military Simulator) games come into this? They clearly provide the easiest way to become that hero many always dreamed of. Pulling off that incredible headshot or the cunning flank and takedown of an entire enemy squad. All without leaving your living room. Or basement...
You may think this is a typically male fantasy but many girls and women play ultra-competitive FPS and other games online nowadays. It's human, not just male. And the female of the species has most definitely arrived at the party; they want to perform that clever flank and spectacular headshot as well. And why not!
So what sort of games are we talking about here then? In the war/MilSim genre, there are varying degrees of realism. We have "Call of Duty" which is not very realistic and it's chief rival in the form of the "Battlefield" series that is more realistic but not so much so as to deter casual players. God forbid profits and share prices were to plummet, isn't that right EA...
We also have a group of games that are truly in the most hardcore category; Insurgency: Sandstorm, ARMA 3 and Squad to name just 3 of the biggest hitters. They are all different but all have a certain characteristic in common; Realism pushed to the Nth degree possible with the current hardware.
In ARMA 3 and Squad, you have to plan the "operation" beforehand and will be assigned a specific role that may well be quite dull. It's quite like actually being in the military, lots of down time, preparation and waiting, interjected with bursts of action. Much like real life combat, you never quite know when it's coming and that creates a constant sense of tension for what's impending. And when that action finally does arrive it's such an extreme change of pace that player's heart rates and adrenalin levels go through the roof. That is EXACTLY the intention.
Moving on to Insurgency: Sandstorm, this is where things get really graphic. Like the 2 games I'v just mentioned above, you can be killed in a split second by as few as 1 to 3 bullets from an enemy you may not even see. But in this "game", heads will be literally blown off. Grenades will result in dismembered corpses. There is an option to turn off "Dismemberment" but nobody does, everyone wants to see limbs and torsos flying all over the place it seems.
So are we just experiencing our fantasies in more and more graphical detail? Video games offer a platform to go and try anything you want. Be a soldier, a hitman, a wizard, a ninja, a fighter, a driver, a footballer, the list goes on. Basically, you can be whatever badass you want to be. But why have the levels of violence and gore and blood got to a point where they are the most realistic part of the experience?!
I believe that due to the ability we all have now, via the internet, to actually see the true horrors of war or anything that is unsettling has dumbed us down as a society. Go on YouTube and you can see Apache attack helicopter footage from the Middle East and watch the people on the ground getting literally vapourised by the guns and missiles. It's all become very normal to many people.
Then there are the gore sites themselves. I don't know many people who haven't watched a real beheading video. Yet before the rise of the internet I didn't know anyone who had. Be it ISIS or a Mexican drug cartel, the most horrific forms of violence are available at the press of a few keys and it's all so very real. Our exposure to it, even if you haven't seen the very worst, has desensitised many to the most brutal and heinous acts mankind is capable of. Yet these sites that specialise in this material have a huge following and are very popular.
Some think that modern war games are merely a way for people to let off a bit of steam or vent some aggression. I see them as nothing more than sophisticated murder simulators. While a bit of good old-fashioned exercise might actually be the best outlet for any pent-up frustration, I have to admit that I myself love nothing more than pretending to be a soldier and killing "people", as many as I can, in a nice war game of my choice. And I have also watched some of the most graphic real videos on the Internet. Curiosity got the better of me and I admit to viewing some awful footage that will haunt me forever.
The fact does remain that computers will NEVER be able to recreate a true life or death experience, unless it involves you somehow putting your life on the line. I hope that day never comes but with the continued advancements in technology, nothing would surprise me.
I also believe that these type of games are relatively harmless but there are people who may be susceptible to the sheer levels of violence they involve and how it's depicted so effectively. I'm not one who thinks that video games can make someone a murderous lunatic but I don't think they're healthy for murderous lunatics to play...
My thoughts are that this is just a reflection of society; huge companies meeting a huge demand. And that demand is for violence as realistic as possible.
This reflection carries over into actual real life. Has there ever been a time with so much involvement by so many countries in so many wars, all over the world?
I also think that we have been robbed of our relative innocence, even as adults. Never has so much shocking material been so available so easily. YES, I'm blaming the Internet. However this time, it appears to be an unintended by-product rather than an intentional delivery-system of horror. But that doesn't mean something probably needs to be done about it.
Who am I kidding! The Internet is out of control and can only get worse, there's simply not enough regulation of it's content. So I guess we'll all just have to roll with it and be careful what we watch.
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