Video game violence and me

As is to be expected, there’s been a lot of talk about the violence of video games lately.  News reports foolishly trying to pin some of the blame for recent tragedies on violent games.  Politicians and lawyers condemning these games for having such an effect on us (even though, they have been proven time and time again to not have said effect).  Most of the talk I’ve seen has been from other games writers who are weighing in on how they feel game violence affects them.  These have been the most insightful posts in my eyes, self-reflective pieces that give interesting looks into the reasons why we tolerate insane levels of violence and gore in our games.  As such, I felt like weighing in myself.

My exposure to violent games, particularly M-rated ones, started fairly early.  I was allowed to start playing them at around 12 or 13 years of age.  Note that I did say allowed.  My parents did monitor what I was playing, at least up to that point, and made the decision to allow me to start playing M-rated games.  They knew that I was mature enough to handle the adult content and didn’t give it a second thought.  I don’t remember back that far very well, but if I had to guess, I would say that the me of that time didn’t even care about the fact that those games had violence.  He didn’t want to play those games because he could blow off people’s heads or hear curse words scattered throughout the dialogue; he just wanted to play every game he could get his hands on.

Many of these posts from other games writers bring up some stories they have about moments in their lives where maybe video games did  have an influence on them in some negative way.  I would like to recount such a tale for you myself, but I don’t really have any.  I was a very well-behaved child: I never got detention at school, was a straight-A student always, treated my parents with complete respect, and never did anything more violent than throwing a controller in a fit of annoyance (with myself, usually).  I completely understand that games and reality are different and, to the best of my knowledge, am perfectly sane.

I think I know why I don’t have any of these stories to tell.  To me, games have always been just that – a game.  It’s very hard for me to keep a constant analytical eye when playing a game, as my mind has a tendency to slip into a more relaxed state and start going through the motions (something that makes writing about games tricky at times).  I didn’t (and still don’t) pick out games because they were over-the-top violent or unbelievably crass; I pick games that look fun to play or seem interesting in some way.  I can’t really think of any time in my life where I blew some NPC’s head off with a shotgun and said “Awesome!” or “That was sick!”  Every dead enemy to me just meant I was one step closer to my goal, pleasure centers in my brain firing as I accomplished the tasks given to me by the game.  Violence has never thrilled me in a game; it has either not registered at all or disgusted me when it was violent enough.

Maybe that’s the problem I have with violent video games.  Until recently, with games like Spec Ops: The Line (and Brendan Keogh’s amazing Killing is Harmless covering it), I never really stopped to think about how much violence exists in this form of media I spend so much time with.  At this point in my gaming career, I must have murdered hundreds of thousands of virtual men.  On most days, this fact doesn’t even register to me.  I was only shooting the 1s and 0s created by the game to get that sensation of pleasure I so desire.  It’s been that way from the beginning.

Maybe games didn’t desensitize me to violence.  Maybe I was already desensitized before they got there, my logical brain already rationalizing away the horrible acts I committed in games on a daily basis.  Maybe.

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My memories of the MLG

Many of you may have heard of the MLG (Major League Gaming).  It was one of the first big gaming leagues I had heard of.  I know that many PC leagues featuring games like Counter-Strike and Quake III predate the MLG, but it was the first league that I got into, mostly because of one game in particular – Halo 2.  They have featured all the Halo games as they were released, drawing massive fan attention for years.  The two seemed inseparable.  Recently, the MLG announced that they won’t be using Halo 4 as one of their games next season.  When I heard this news, I was shocked.  MLG and Halo games are hard to separate in my mind.  I can’t imagine a world of one without the other.

Halo 2 is an important nostalgic game for me for many reasons. It was one of my most anticipated games ever, following my obsessions with the original.  It was the first game I ever stood in line for at midnight (something that you actually had to do to get a copy, unlike nowadays).  It was the first game I played online against other people, spending countless hours with my friend blasting away the other team.  Halo 2 remains one of my favorite games of all time for these reasons, even though the single-player portion of the game was relatively weak.

I played the game for probably around a year before I learned about the MLG.  I don’t really remember how I learned of it – word of mouth, Internet chatter on the sites I frequented, magazine coverage – but it quickly grabbed my attention.  Here were the best players in the world playing the game I spent most of my time playing, showing me strategies and moves I’d never even considered.  Halo 2 was a very glitchy game, many of these glitches commonly used online.  Most of them had to do with canceling commands by quickly inputting button strings.  One such example is the BXR, named so for the combination of buttons you pressed (B, X, Right Trigger).  By doing this fast enough, you would melee someone, dropping their shields, and cancel the animation into a shot to the head.  It killed VERY quickly.  Other tricks included the double shot (being able to fire multiple shots at once), YY (a quicker way to reload), and BXB (melee cancelled into a melee).  The MLG matches not only featured these glitches – they condoned them.  I learned about them all here and quickly made them part of my game.

Anyone who closely followed the MLG in the Halo 2 days will remember the amazing rivalry between teams Final Boss and Carbon.  Nearly every tournament that featured Halo 2 had one of these two teams as the victor (and the other as the runner-up).  Many fans had some loyalty to one or the other.  It was the closest resemblance to real sports I have ever seen, a rivalry reminiscent of the Cubs and the Cardinals.  I personally preferred Carbon, the underdog that often took second – but not always.  For most (if not all – can’t remember) of the Halo 2 seasons, these teams didn’t change rosters.  Each time, it was the same four against the same four.  The final tournament before the switch to Halo 3 is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen in my life.  Of course, it came down to Final Boss versus Carbon in the championship match – and it was heated.  I was on the edge of my seat during the whole thing, wondering who would be crowned the true victor of Halo 2, the best players in the world.  Even though Carbon didn’t take the gold, I still had a hell of a lot of fun watching them play.  Nothing since that day has been as exhilarating to watch.

Halo 2 is also the only game I’ve ever participated in a tournament for.  It was some local thing with barely enough teams to fill a bracket, but it was exciting.  It made me feel like I was participating in an MLG match.  In fact, my friends and I had planned to go to one of the events one year.  We saved up our money and practiced for weeks.  Unfortunately, we could never secure a fourth member to finish out our team.  Odds are, we would have done terribly.  We did well online, but that wasn’t really hard.  Tournaments are on an entirely different level, one that would have intimated and flattened us.  Even if we had gone and lost our first two matches, I wouldn’t have cared.  It would have been amazing just to be in the place where that MLG magic went on, getting to watch the finals in person instead of through a tiny computer monitor.

I didn’t keep up with the MLG much after Halo 2.  Part of that was because I didn’t much care for Halo 3.  Part of it was because the Final Boss/Carbon rivalry never got as heated.  Part of it was because the magic of Halo 2 was gone, and I just lost interest.  I still dabbled here and there, smiling as I watched a match and remembering the memories from those Halo 2 days.

As you can probably tell, I invested myself pretty heavily into the MLG for a few years.  I hadn’t been to the site in probably two years when the shocking announcement came out, but it still made me extremely sad when I heard it.  I can understand the reasons behind the decision: Halo 4 just isn’t as good a game as past games in the series (for intense fans of the series, at least), and the money is now in games like League of Legends or Starcraft 2.  Still, the thought of the MLG without Halo is very depressing to me.  I hope that the next Halo game from 343 Industries can recapture some of that magic that made professional Halo 2 games so enthralling to watch.  In my mind, the MLG is dead until that day.

Yes, another new gaming blog…

I won’t even bother trying to come up with some clever welcome post.  We’ve all seen hundreds of them in our time on the Internets.

Instead, I’ll just lay out the plan for I what I want to do here.  I like writing about game stuff: things like reviews, opinions on news, etc.  I used to do this on a site called Bitmob.  It let aspiring game journalists like myself post their articles for everyone to see.  The best ones got vetted and edited for the front page.  It wasn’t the biggest honor in the world, but it certainly got more people reading my stuff than a blog somewhere (ironic, no?).  Bitmob recently moved over to a site called Gamesbeat, and I absolutely hate it.  The original site wasn’t designed very well, with some pretty big quirks, but Gamesbeat is so much worse.  It is quite the eyesore, and I’m not convinced it’s worth the annoyance of posting there anymore, even with a steady flow of other people to read my writing.

Instead, I thought I would give blogging a chance again.  I’ve started (and promptly neglected) a gaming blog in the past with the same name (but on Blogger).  WordPress has always been touted as having better features, so I figured I’d combine these random thoughts and just start a new blog here.  Expect to see my ramblings about video games, insights into current news goings-on, and probably some reviews here and there.  Feel free to suggest something you might be interested in seeing – if anyone is even seeing this.