Video games have pretty much always been violent. With rare exceptions
like Pong, most video games involve one character beating down another.
Even beloved children's favorite Mario is constantly under the threat of
violent death, be it from barrel-hucking gorillas or hammer-hurling
turtle-monsters, and he solves his problem by killing his tormentors, stoving in their skulls with the heels of his boot or hurling them from suspension bridges.
Let's face it: violence is fun.
Good old-fashioned violence is especially prevalent in MMOs. How many
fantasy MMOs do not include missions, at some point along their questing
paths (and usually and especially early on), to go out and kill ten of
something? Kill ten goblins and bring back their ears for a bounty! Kill
fifteen orcs and bring back their heads as proof of your deed! Kill twenty
bears and bring me back their pelts so I can make you this hat that you'll
outgrow mere moments after receiving it! Bandits are attacking my farm, go
kill all of them to send a message to other bandits that attacking farms
is bad! Kill everything that lives in this dungeon so you can get that
ring that is slightly better than the one you have now that adds a small
bonus to one of your secondary stats! Kill all members of this one
problematic species in this area, causing a local extinction event, for a
Frankly, MMOs tend to have the very worst kind of violence - the
murderous acts committed by the player have no permanent negative
consequences. The character goes out and kills a lot of stuff, loots the
corpses, gets paid for it, and the mobs respawn. Not only are they
rewarded for their violence, but nothing they killed actually stays dead
and nothing around them really changes.
But it's not usually MMOs that come under attack when people are pointing
their trembling, angry fingers at violent video games as the cause of
misery and woe. Blame most often falls on shooter games, like the original
DOOM, or sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto or pretty much anything by
Bethesda. Those games depict violence in a much more realistic way than
the cartoony, bloodless violence of most MMOs. But really, isn't that
role-model, in a game where violence has consequences.
I've recently gotten back into Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, which
are unquestionably violent games. The violence in these games is very
different from what I see in MMOs. It's WAY more gory, for starters -
enemies explode in a spray of red, meaty chunks when you take the Better
Criticals perk, but even without that perk there's still the chance of
bloody dismemberment from a headshot or multiple shots to the same limb.
And if you don't manage to gib your target with the kill shot, you can
just shoot or smash the corpse until it explodes.
Unlike most MMOs, the bodies of your victims stick around for a while -
presumably until Mojave scavengers drag them off somewhere to eat. If you
kill a non-hostile NPC, people hear about it and you are vilified via the
reputation system; most MMOs do not have killable NPCs walking around the
open world, because if they did, jerks like me would run around killing
all of them and there would be no quest-givers left for all the nice
If you try talking to a NPC in Fallout: New Vegas with your gun pointed
in their face, they react differently than if you holster your weapon
first. If you fire your gun in the middle of a crowded settlement, people
will duck and run for cover. NPCs in MMOs are usually oblivious to violent
player-character behavior, standing or strutting around completely
indifferent to violent psychopaths swinging swords around in front of
them. The point here is, violence in Fallout: New Vegas has long-term
consequences. It's not the bloodless killing of MMOs - it's horrifying and
It may sound like I am condemning violent video games, but I am not.
Frankly, I'm glad this violence is there because, let's face it, the
Grumpy Gamer needs an outlet for when he is frustrated (which is
dismayingly often). Scoring a gory headshot in a video game is a way to
vent antisocial, psychotic rage without hurting anyone, and it's less
expensive than smashing things. It's more satisfying than punching a
therapy pillow. It saves the world from frightening emo poetry or ranting
manifesto blogs. I am not more inclined to commit violent crimes because I
play violent video games; I am much less inclined to do so, because I've
worked that demon out and have seen the gruesome consequences. I can
pretend that that Powder Ganger collectively represents all the trolls and
broken game mechanics and stupid lag spikes and all the other aggravations
plaguing me, and I can blast his head into a spray of red gooey chunks
with a well-placed Anti-Materiel Rifle shot, and laugh at the way his
ragdoll body flops to the Mohave dust. Then I can do the same to all his
buddies that come charging over to see what happened, inadvertently
creating a handy little kill-zone for me. Then I can lob a bunch of looted
dynamite at their heaped, mangled corpses and bomb them into a fine red
mist, and scatter the remaining chunks across the Mojave with a mini-nuke,
laughing maniacally all the while. And nobody gets hurt.
But that's hilarious over-the-top violence in a single-player game. MMO
violence is a lot sneakier because it's so much less in-your-face. Any of
my MMO characters have committed vastly more acts of violence than even my
most bloodthirsty and thuggish Fallout character. The Lord of the Rings
Online is a good example of that - on the surface, the game seems sweet
and almost wholesome, but I figure it's the most violent video game I have
ever played, bar none.
nightmarish violence, populated by psychopaths and
My Hobbit Hunter has slaughtered literally millions of orcs, goblins,
bandits, wolves, bugs, trolls, giants and other things just for deeds or
loot. When he needs to fashion some kinship uniform hats, he heads to a
particular set of ruins in Bree-land and butchers 200-odd bears (and their
cubs) for the hides. He will "farm" hundreds of one type of monster in one
small area for an extra point of Agility and an incremental increase to
some resists. Way back in the day, he completed the Orc-slayer deed in
Lothlorien several times over - thousands of orcs culled from a handful of
camps - because there was a tiny chance one of them would drop a level 59
or 60 Second Age weapon, and those were really valuable at the time. My
Hobbit Hunter pulled out his crossbow and shot all those things to death.
Millions of things. Enough to qualify as one of history's greatest war
criminals, or some kind of natural disaster. But LotRO doesn't draw nearly
the same kind of heat as a Fallout game might, because the kills are
essentially "clean." No scattered bits of skull, no sprays of crimson
arterial blood jetting from a neck-stump. The violence is far more casual
and gratuitous, but not nearly as visual.
MMOs provide a different kind of outlet for the eternally-frustrated.
Yes, you can go out and commit senseless acts of virtual slaughter, but
there's also a community to connect to and communicate with. In a
single-player game, you're the predatory lone wolf engaged in the grim
task of cleaning things up and setting things right. In a MMO, the
horrific violence is a social activity. Groups of players band together to
murder all the monsters in a dungeon or to kill a powerful boss for loot.
Okay, sure, the orcs in your MMO are clearly evil villains out to destroy
the world and watch it burn... but so are the Raiders in the Fallout
games. Raiders are the crank-snorting human version of orcs. Their
cultures are roughly similar in terms of brutality and violence, they
place almost no value on life, they wear the same spike-covered clothes
and they decorate their settlements with human remains. The real
difference is, where you may kill a few hundred raiders in a Fallout game,
you drench yourself in the blood of thousands of orcs in a MMO. Except not
really, because the orcs don't bleed.
A kind of ironic footnote here: The Lothlorien Orc-slayer deed that my
Hunter completed several times over in a single-minded pursuit of Second
Age loot rewards the character with an increase to the Innocence virtue.