I wish fun violent games would stop asking us to consider the meaning of violence

There is a new Far Cry game, and today a new Far Cry trailer, which predictably asks us to consider how much violence we would be willing to commit in order to do… something.

This is the latest in a series of games that have become a type: the game that asks players to consider their implication in the violence commited during gameplay. A short list: Spec Ops: the Line, Far Cry 2, the Bioshock games, Hotline: Miami. These games are usually also very interested in the way a player will automatically do whatever the game tells them to do. This latter question is much more interesting and I’ll save it for a later post. I think it is safe to say, however, that forcing players to commit shocking acts of violence is not the only way to explore the power relationship between the developer and the player. 

The unfortunate consequence of this trope is that it gives spectacularly violent games the thinnest patina of intellectual seriousness. Francois Truffaut famously observed that it is impossible to make an anti-war film because all war films ultimately make war seem exciting, even those that go to great lengths to try otherwise. These games are hardly “anti-violence”; a goal of all of them is ultimately to aestheticize violence. Violent games that arch their eyebrows at us and say “you enjoyed that, didn’t you?” are compromised on many levels, particularly commercially. Spec Ops explicitly marketed itself as a violent game that would make you feel weird about violence; it commercialized a feeling of ambivalence. Ultimately, to me, what this means is that being “ambivalent” about aesthetic violence is itself a form of pleasure and thus not particularly ambivlanet at all, and thus totally self-defeating. Did anyone who played Spec Ops get turned off from violent videogames forever? Violence in games is a form of pleasure and ironical air quotes don’t do anything to complicate that fact.