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It is a given that many mediums, like literature and movies, exist largely in part to give something for readers/viewers to think about. That is not always the case, but it has been generally accepted by most people that this is their main function. This is gaming’s forgotten purpose, as gaming too can be thoughtful and bring about self-reflection (we all agree though that games largely exist for entertainment, but they too can function in this way, which is forgotten). Now though, too many people are trying to hinder that process.

This understanding has been greatly misunderstood and/or confused, particularly recently. We all have to remember that it is not the purpose of a game, or anything else for that matter, to tell you what to think but to prompt you as a player/viewer/reader/etc. with questions to think about yourself. That to me is the biggest area of misunderstanding.

So when games like Grand Theft Auto V are criticized for including a torture scene, I have to really wonder why. Do they think that the game is telling us that torture is good, fun, or exciting? Or could it be to show us something so that the audience can contemplate on it? Is it really any different than reading it in a book? Sure, there is the argument that the effect on a person is much different when they, as the player, are conducting the acts of torture on another person rather than being a passive observer.

But does that really change the questions or contemplation? At most it makes the questions more personal and can lead to more profound individual experiences unique to the player. Direct involvement creates a personal emotional attachment where one could argue that passive observation (which is far too general and I do not mean to suggest that people do not get invested in what they read, but that there is a stark difference in activity with gaming and something like a book) helps to look at particular issues in a more general sense.

torture-game-of-thrones

So going back to the torture, the questions from reading/seeing a scene may be more about the ethical implications of whether or not it was ever okay (the ticking time bomb scenario). Whereas with something like Grand Theft Auto V, questions about the player his/herself may arise, like would I ever participate in torture for whatever reason? How do I feel about myself for going through with this scene? This is all of course assuming, in every case/medium, that contemplation is taking place by the individual, which does not always happen.

This is not a discussion of games being better at bringing out these questions, but a discussion about the nature of questions and self-reflection games can elicit. That individual examination, which I argue games can be very good at prompting, is not something anyone should try to prevent but encourage. That immediate tangible experience has a great chance of leading to self-reflection with the active involvement of a player, which is something we should all try to capitalize on as gaming moves forward.

Not only should we capitalize on it, but we should celebrate, encourage, and nurture the potential impact gaming can have on an individual level too, not only culturally. One of the most important aspects to things like literature is critical thinking, or as an old teacher of mine put it “thinking about thinking.” And that just means that you more thoroughly examine your first reaction to something.

For example, you may have been disgusted by the torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V, and if you then thought about why you were disgusted you were getting into that critical thinking. Going back to earlier, maybe Grand Theft Auto V wanted you to feel disgusted so you could then contemplate on why.

Why are games not allowed that freedom, or why are games discouraged from creating more moments of critical thinking? What is it about games that make people feel that they should be shielded from all the “horrors” they can bring? Why not let them ask tough questions for people to wrestle with? This of course goes back to that misunderstanding between telling and showing, which is something every relatively new medium has gone through at some point.

It is a dangerous and disheartening thing to try and “protect” people from examining themselves and the world around them critically. Making everything “politically correct” and inoffensive will only greatly hinder the growth and maturation of a great many people. While games have not hit the greatness of many literary works or films, it should not be discouraged from doing so before it even has had the chance.

socrates

Advocating for the removal of those “difficult” scenes from any game threatens gaming’s chance to finally “grow up” like literature or film. This only leads to less opportunities where a player is challenged with a difficult dilemma of some sort, leading to less self-reflection that everyone sorely needs – no matter of the reflections content, be it torture, murder, etc. Many famous works in history are famous because of the ethical, moral, and philosophical dilemmas they bring up due to their “difficult” scenes.

I guess all I am advocating for is the famous Socrates quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That is a little more dramatic than what I am saying, but it does point to the value I see in self-reflection and that I think gaming is a perfect medium to bring about chances to examine one’s life. That is not taking into consideration how much more profound and generally accepted games can become when they can more masterfully elicit such questions.

It is not gamers themselves that are squandering this opportunity (though we all probably don’t appreciate it enough), but outside forces that threaten it. I just want everyone to be aware of what is at stake – including those that threaten the possibilities for gaming’s future.

So many people criticize gaming for being immature and a waste of time, yet will do so much to try to inhibit gaming from becoming more.

I won’t go so far as to compare this to book burning, but we all can’t ignore the similarities.

(And all of this is not to say that great games that ask questions or tell great stories don’t exist already, but gaming hasn’t really had something on the level to what we would consider classics or masterpieces in terms of message. We do have some in terms of gameplay, but that is different than what I am talking about here.)


Andrew Otton

Editor in Chief

Editor in Chief at TechRaptor. Lover of some things, a not so much lover of other things.



  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    I can’t tell if this article is serious or not. Assuming it is, no. No, gaming’s forgotten purpose is not to examine life. It’s to entertain. It’s to do, not to think. From Yatzee to Mario Brothers to Mortal Kombat the focus of games is to have fun doing things.

    If this article was just an exercise in trolling, well played, sir.

  • Reptile

    And why they can’t be? I’m sure we have Mounty Pyton as we have highly phylosophical movies.
    There is space for every kind of game, and all of them can exist without destroying the another.
    But you’re right, the principle of “game” was to distract/entertain people. But that isn’t absolute.

  • Reptile

    Not being a MGS fanboy right now (because I am), But there is this.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Yes, they can be, you’re right. Didn’t want to go on too long on a comment 🙂 Anything with a narrative can tell a story. But when a story or a message becomes the main point of a game, entertainment or fun is usually lost.

  • Reptile

    There is an awesome video by Extra Credits about it.

    In the end it doesn’t matter how “awesome” a game story is if everyone think it is boring to play, as no one will listen to your story then.
    First you need to “catch” the player, then you proceed to tell him your story.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Word.

    Yep, it’s an old rule and it applies to books and movies as well: hook them early.

    I was sad to see EC’s stance on GamerGate, though. I had to stop supporting their Patreon.

  • I think I am at fault for this, as I was not clear enough. I am not saying that the sole or main purpose of gaming is to lead to self-reflection, but that it is something they can do very well, which people forget. Games too can ask questions that literature does. That was basically the point.

  • Rory Mitchell

    Extremely eloquent and well argued…thanks for sharing!

  • dsadsada

    “Why not both?”

    You’re right of course. A game fails if it isn’t fun and any intended message will fly over people’s heads simply because they’re annoyed that the game wasn’t entertaining.

    But I was reading an article the other day on nichegamer about how videogames don’t need to grow up. In it, it included cold war games like Missile Command. Sure enough, that has been entertaining for many of us but when pointed out that it was a cold war game that didn’t stop until all of the people you were trying to protect were nuked to the ground, that kind of brought a cold sweat to some people. I’d say that’s close to the kind of thinking the author was going for.

  • dsadsada

    I don’t normally play shooters but I want to talk about Spec Ops: The Line. Obviously I’ll be giving spoilers for a particular scene.

    So the characters need to get from Point A to Point B while a bunch of soldiers have been shooting at them for the better part of their arrival. You reach a point where you see a huge number of soldiers blocking your way but oh, what’s this? One of those advanced weapons whose name eludes me. You fire it into the air and it parachutes down while you use a laptop to target what you want it to bomb. Tired of all the fighting, you sit down and launch the damn thing and in the first time since you arrived in that god forsaken wreck of a city and feel power for the first time as you blow up anything that looks like it can get in your way.

    When you’re done blowing everything up, you go down and inspect the damage. What you saw while you were bombing was essentially satellite images, white blurs on a green screen or something. What you see with your own eyes is hell. Burning wreckages, charred corpses. There was even one half dead burned person walking in a daze if I recall. I put him out of his misery. Then you find one soldier barely breathing asking you “why?” After a short exchange he simply explains “we were helping” and points to an alley. Inside are the burned up corpses of the innocent refugees these soldiers were originally sent in to aid. Of special note was a mother clinging desperately to her child as if trying to shield him or her from the flames for all the good that did them.

    And you know what? I chose to do all that without even taking the time to make sure if these people were my enemies. As soon as one of my allies pointed out the weapon, I went straight for it without seeing if the game would have to force me. I just didn’t want to risk fighting those guys and I didn’t even consider if they were potential allies despite knowing full well that the soldiers sent here were practically in a civil war. I did all that, and it was terrible.

    The biggest slap in the face now that I think about it was how I felt while I was bombing them in a screen that would have been barely different from playing a game in the 80s. The rush of power after being strung around all the time, shot at at every turn, forced to choose to kill a soldier or a civilian to save my own hide. Here I thought I could have it my way and take back control from what were essentially faceless enemies to me. Instead, I turned myself into a monster. It still sticks with me. No other medium could give me that feeling.

  • What a load of BS. I don’t play games because I wonder the meaning of life. I play them because I want to be entertained and have fun. Not everything has to have some deep fucking meaning. I do wonder however if people who complain about a single torture scene in a game even realize there are entire movies and books based around torture.

  • Thomas Fährmann

    I only say:
    Ban the bible, the quran the talmud and EVERY religious or ideological book that was used as a tool for mass murder!
    Not one single game is just 0,0001 as dangerous as all these shitty books!
    And blah… if the crybabies want a “game” that educates them they are free to develope them. Who cares! I never cared about stuff i dont like. I only buy and read about things I like. Thats common sense!
    And back in the days no one cared what you play. Because it was commons sense to not try to be a Stasi agent finding out what others play to bully them. Completely F***** up people now. But i think that the definition of “games” should not be destroyed. Games entertain and thats all. Tools can educate but the goal of a game (not match) is by definition to have fun!

  • DynastyStar

    Question that I’ve always been curious, what does Psycho Mantis say if you don’t have any game saves on your memory card?

  • Reptile

    He will say “your memory is completely clean.”
    (didn’t knew, saw on metal gear wikia).

  • DynastyStar

    ahhh thanks 🙂