Discussing episodes of PBS's Game/Show is something I enjoy immensely, but the latest episode about killing and video games felt a bit flat to me. It seemed like it makes more sense looking back on games, not as a document that looks around where we are now.
There are more than enough games that have nothing to do with killing on the market, and a game built around the idea of creation instead of destruction did well enough to earn its creator a house even Jay-Z envies. Most of us can point our friends and families toward dozens of games that don't rely exclusively on realistic violence.
That being said, this episode does a great job of explaining why violence and killing is such an attractive thing for game designers. There are good reasons why killing is a central mechanic in games, the same way it's a central theme in most forms of pop culture. The stakes don't get much higher than the loss of life, and there is little more exciting for the audience than a situation where someone's very existence hangs in the balance.
If games require conflict, violence is the simplest form of conflict. In many ways it's the default mode of conflict; anything that skirts past standard representations of violence has its work cut out for it in terms of creating some form of tension with which to draw the player into the game world, and to provide the sense of satisfaction most of us ask from our games.
Heck, I'm not convinced violence is a bad thing in games, and it's part of the reasons I enjoy AAA shooters so much. Life is complicated, and every day we have to worry about our jobs, our relationships, our futures and perhaps even our children.
Our lives are filled with complex, shifting problems without easy answers. Being given a world where most things can be solved by pulling the trigger has immense appeal, and there's nothing wrong with giving into that from time to time.