How Come Conflict In Video Games So Often Means Shooting Brains Off From Anything That Moves?

Shooting. Combat. Kicking. Punching. Fights. Bombs. War. Violence. That’s how conflicts are created in video games so often.

And I’m not talking about zombie games here. I’m talking about games in general. One way or another, it’s so often that some form of violence that takes place in games in order to conflicts. Even Osmos is sort of combat where you need to eat other cells. In co-op games, there’s usually something that needs to be killed for progress to be made. (Sports games being sort of exception)

For my own project, I have done some progress in this area (but not necessarily enough…) as I intend to get different options for co-op. I’ve dotted down ideas ranging from “fixing/repairing objects”, “building (defenses)”, “fetching/moving objects (like fuel)”, “using objects” – desribed here in quite general terms and these will (most likely) bring some conflict, when there’s counter force (who can try sabotage repairs, hide objects, refuse to use them). Strangely, for some reason my mind is constantly about to suggest “yeh, repairs is nice… now, what about adding some shooting there?”

What is it in video games that makes us (well, at least me…) think violence when we intend to create conflict?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. @Sargon: To reply your previous comment: “Imagine that instead of a game where you shoot to kill others, you play a game in which you throw money bags at beggers and they buy a ticket for a bus and remove themselves from the game.”

    That’s doable and I was thinking the same, but things get quite complex soon. For example, how will you handle different weapons that are in shooter genre. Would have have bigger coins? What about explosions? Soon it becomes quite evident that money bag throwing at beggars requires quite a bit of imagination – and it just becomes slightly crazy :)

    I’m not saying that this isn’t possible, it just feels that for violence in games, it’s somewhat easy path & easily understood what happens there.

  2. My question is, can you do the same violent games with the same gameplay without violence?
    Can you do non violent street fighter? Can you do non violent Doom? Can you do non violent GTA?

    Violence is not just a specific context or background story that can be replaced with any other context or background story. Violence correlate to certain physical traits that correlate to certain gameplay mechanics.

    Are you not throwing the baby with the water?(However you say that).
    If stopping making violent games means stopping making FPS, then you can see violence not only affects the backstory, context and etc, it also affects gameplay mechanics which theorethically can be completely abstract and context independent.

    By the way, I don’t buy this BS that boys are more violent than girls. I think girls are just violent in other ways.

  3. Fili, maybe someone broke it in YOUR game. In mine, it was caused by faulty manufacturing and I have to track down the offending part and fix it. Puzzle solving, trial and error, lateral (or just plain logical) thinking… it’s all doable in games. I loved that old game The Incredible Machine,

    It’s easy to relate everything back to violence if, as Katherine points out, you’re socialised into it by a lifetime of violent games. Let’s try something new.

  4. Because boys are socialised to like violence.

    Slightly more seriously, why is everyone offering contrasting options that are worst-case scenarios (in terms of implementation difficulty or boringness)? Lots more people play violence-free games (e.g. farmville, bejewelled, poker, monopoly) than violent games), yet for some reason you all think that all games with conflict in must be violent.

    And yeah, I play violent games. But I’m sure if the gaming industry had evolved without violence at it’s core I’d still play the same (non-violent conflicty) games.

  5. Well, violence and fighting correspond to several mechanics. You could have the same mechanics with things which are not violence, but it’s easiest for people to understand the rules of the game, the mechanics of the game if it is represented by violence.
    I am not entirely sure how to define these mechanics, but they are basically inflicting damage or killing actively and on purpose.
    Damage means the object you are attacking will be weakend or handicapped. The reason it is done is because damaging this object or person brings you closer to your goal.

    But I think the most interesting mechanic that is naturally represented by violence, is death.
    When something dies, it is no more active.(Usually). By killing or getting killed an ojbect is no longer affecting the game(mostly).

    I think the fact that death means a big change in an object’s activity and functionality, is what makes violence a good representation to a very “important” gameplay mechanic.

    Imagine that instead of a game where you shoot to kill others, you play a game in which you throw money bags at beggers and they buy a ticket for a bus and remove themselves from the game.
    It’s kind of the same in the sense of death mechanics.
    Though it is a lot harder to explain this phenomenan of throwing money bags.

  6. You repair stuff? Why? Because someone broke it. You build defenses? Against who? Against someone who wants to destroy you. You use objects to do something to your opponent or to bring yourself some advantage so you can do something to your opponent :)
    As you can see, even your game is violent. The thing is that there are three types of games, in my oppinion:
    -sports (although some are violent too)
    -kids/girls games (like match-5, bejeweld, etc)
    -big boys games (shoot anything that moves… and anything that doesn’t… and some walls, if they look strange)
    Who do you think will play a knitting game? Or a snoring game? Or a “reading the paper on the loo” game? Just like Dave was saying, people feel the need to do interesting stuff, something that they don’t do in they every day lives. Social rules have taken the violence out of inter-human relations, but we still have it inside. It’s better to let it manifest in a game than keep it all in and then when it overflows you kill your whole class…

  7. As Brian and Alex say, it’s easy to do because the models are already there. Moreover, the mechanics themselves are fairly simple and repetitive – shoot, hit/miss, ASPLOSION! or HP DEDUCTION! or better still, DEATH! Something like repairing is far more complex to model properly, which is why we get ridiculous animations like Team Fortress 2’s “whack it with a spanner” model.

    Look at how rapidly Trauma Center ramps up to being
    incredibly difficult – multiple problems, multiple tools to juggle, each with a different purpose, time limits, inaccurate control mechanisms… it very quickly goes from fun relaxing challenge to OMGWTFBBQ!!!1

    Photography offers a fairly simple non-violent mechanic, used in Beyond Good and Evil and Dead Rising to varying levels of success. Even Dead Rising would unlock the occasional non-violent skill like walking over the zombies’ heads to escape, though I appreciate that it was hardly the main attraction of the game ;)

  8. The 5 year old son of my friend already likes to hit me with swords and sticks, so I think the fun of fighting is learned quite early. Hunting is also fun, and every animal in the nature participates in it, so it’s quite natural that humans need or want to hunt too.

  9. In real life I fix things pretty much every single day. I rarely get to take a gun and kill zombies though :(

    What I’d be interested to know is do people who have been in real combat situations find some “fun” picking up a gun and shooting bad guys in a videogame? Not to hear about one case of that guy someone know but on a larger scale.

  10. There are a number of reasons. As others have pointed out, combat tends to be spectacular. Especially modern games with their lovingly crafted explosions and other special effects. It’s spectacle, and humans love spectacle.

    It’s also something we’ve modeled mathematically. Math is the language of computers, so anything we implement has to be reduced down to math in some form or another. We might come up with variations of the mechanics, but at the heart the game is still about adding or subtracting numbers from running totals. Reducing non-combat features, like emotions or discussions, to math seems to cheapen them; this is especially true when someone figures out the equations behind the systems and learns to manipulate the system.

    Combat is a high-risk activity that few of us engage in. Alex points out that violence is easy to simulate but “two guys talking in a room” is hard. If I want two guys talking in a room, I’ll go visit my friend and we can do that without a computer. Fighting someone with rocket launchers in an arena? A bit harder to pull off in the offline world…. Fairly easy to do in any number of FPS games, though.

    Combat is easy to do and we’ve pretty much perfected it in games as technology increases. Other activities are harder and usually easier to do off the computer. Therefore, most game are about combat.

  11. Violent conflict is the most direct and spectacular form of conflict. Most games rank about as high as an Arnold flick on the sophistication scale. Consequently, physical violence is the preferred level of discourse.

    Also, violence is easy to simulate in a game. It’s the low hanging fruit. The hard game to make is about two guys talking in a room.

    You’re asking the right questions, but I suggest that you should go further and explore psychological themes, as is befitting in a game about trust and paranoia. Repairing things is still fundamentally about objects.

  12. War, death, violence, guns, etc. are the most obvious credentials of conflict. IMO thoughts about these extremes are just human nature. We are nosey creatures and want to go beyond our limits. Real life does not provide us with such extreme situations (well, maybe somewhere in Africa). But video games do. And they do it well.

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