If there’s anything that drives advances in computing power, it’s games. Today’s average graphics card packs more punch than a mainstream desktop of even a few years ago. The elegant beheading or dismembering of an opponent in Unreal Tournament is, for some, an actual profession, since full-time gamers are now increasingly being recognized as serious sportsmen and sportswomen.
It’s interesting that most of the games in the market, on whatever platform one chooses to play them on, are violent. They may differ on the levels of blood and gore, but the basic idea is the same – the more accurately one can render the physics of an artery ripped open by an exotic weapon, the better the game will sell. There is no other explanation for the success of games such as Quake, Doom, Unreal Tournament and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
It’s remarkable when you think about it. Apart from scientific visualization – say the unfolding of a protein or DNA – the most advanced graphics are used in pursuit of the ever increasing realism of in-game violence. From the pixellated red splotches of early games such as Wolfenstein 3D to the incredible realism made possible by today’s advanced graphics cards such as Ageia’s Physix, the rendition of violence is the staple of the gaming industry, a time tested recipe for the almost guaranteed success of a game.
There’s increasing debate on just how much of an influence this on-screen violence has on our day-to-day lives. Are we more violent because we kill unthinkingly in games? Do violent games in regions of actual ethnic or political violence inflame tensions? At what age should children be allowed to play violent games? What are the stereotypes that are promoted by games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? Are those who play games less inclined towards non-violent conflict resolution in real life? What role does good parenting play in contextualizing violent games?
These aren’t new questions to researchers who have been studying the impact of games on children, youth and adults for a number of years. This article however wants to point towards an emerging school of games called “Serious Games”, which are being looked at by cutting-edge peacebuilding and humanitarian initiatives to bring attention to some of the world’s most pressing problems such as hunger, violence and conflict.