Warning: If you enjoy games as pure escapism, this post will seem like the type of navel-gazing that will not appeal.
Give me a game that allows for stealth, and I will typically work really hard at making sure I either sneak through a level completely undetected, or use the non-lethal approach on an enemy. One of my favorite game memories is my non-violent run of the original Fallout, for instance. Not all games provide such, however, so it's one of those instances where I accept that this is a premise games often explore, and engage my head-tilting-while-I-chew-on-my-lip thoughts for the exceptions.
The Kill Screen Twitter account today linked to a seven month old post about a (possibly fake) Pokémon hack that was a bit unusual. According to the post, among the starters is one labeled Ghost, whose curse move would highly indicate the death of the opposition. After all, the 'fainting' of Pokémon has ostensibly made it more suitable for children. The idea of death is too heavy, but violence is acceptable.
The joke has been around for a while that the Pokémon series is nothing more than glorified cock fighting. It certainly does bring up some interesting questions over what we think is suitable for what is still seen as a child's game (though I know far more adults that play it than children--I also know very few children outside of family). The rebuttal will naturally be either: "It's just a game" or "That's just the way it is."
The hack itself supposedly ends with the trainer eventually finding himself pitted against the same Ghost, and losing, therefore succumbing to death as the save game is deleted. Whether or not the hack is real, I find the question of perpetuation of a violent culture worth one of those moments of circuitous thought cycles. The trainer walks through the world beating other trainers' Pokémon into submission, and eventually finds himself at the mercy of his own tool of fighting.
Don't get me wrong, I don't find videogames any more likely to make someone commit violent acts than our culture at large. Watching news coverage this weekend only solidifies how many bookmarks history has of our non-peaceful ways of dealing with each other. Therefore, the question of whether games should involve violence? Undoubtedly: the world is often a violent place. Exploration of the themes is certainly something I find useful, even if I need a break from it very so often. Being able to explore it in a game space allows me to explore my own feelings about it without having to actually hurt someone, though.
In the case of the Pokémon hack, if it were real, it would likely be a somewhat harrowing experience that would have likely made me pause in my tracks. How far is too far for entertainment? How effective would it be in making me contemplate all I had done?
Perhaps this is why games that either make me question such (Shadow of the Colossus) or provide no means for violence (Flower) stick so fondly in my memory. So, for those who haven't rolled their collective eyes at me yet, what other games and/or mods have made you contemplate the world in which you have an impact through physical conflict or are able to avoid it all together?