Sick of Killing: On Video Games

There are things I get way too into for my own good. It’s not that I have an addictive personality, it’s just that when I find something that I like I go all in. As you could probably guess, I then burn through whatever it is. Less obsessive but more neurotic, I have the kind of personality where I want to know as much as I can about a thing. I love doing research and educating myself. The autodidact in me will probably never die. An example, of this sudden obsession is video games. Specifically, online or PC gaming.

I’ve never really been a video game guy. Sure, as a kid I played Nintendo but I never really went in for the cheat-sheets or codes. I just played a little Zelda, some Mario, and a handful of random now forgotten titles. But around 2007 or so, I got into World of Warcraft. I loved it because it was finally a way to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons without graph paper. There was a real community and it was possible to inhabit a persona, to live out a character in some sense. Well, at least, that was my first impulse. I had little to no interest in the WoW storylines, I wanted to take my characters and have them interact with this world. I wanted to be able to build things, to create narrative. After an intense three years, I gave up on this game. It didn’t let me do what I wanted to do and I found that the community seemed to fluctuate between banal and noxiously petty.

So I started looking for a new game thinking that WoW couldn’t be the only thing out there. Around this time, I found Football Manager.  This simulation game dovetailed nicely with my growing obsession with soccer. My soccer obsession spilled over from going to the bar on early weekend mornings to deciding that I could write on soccer and playing in co-rec leagues (if you ever get the chance to see someone play soccer who only touched a ball for the first time at the age of 34, well, just walk on by). Playing a tactics strategy game feed that delusion. But a simulation game doesn’t give you the kinetic feel that you want out of a game. I tried FIFA’s game but found that to be too far on the other end of the spectrum. I still play Football Manager but it feels too isolated and limited.

I tried my hand briefly playing The Sims, which lasted for all of a week. The Sims is a game of nothing, you essentially create an avatar and then the ‘game’ is over. I thought The Sims would feed into my construction preference–playing games like SimCity, Anno 2070, Civilization, and Cities XL–but all it did was stress how I wanted to have this game merged with the others. I want to be able to build a world and play characters in that world. Open ended, limitless play with only a handful of broad stroke ‘quests’ or predetermined story lines.

I ended up playing Skyrim. When I think about it, it makes sense. Starting with the cartoonish WoW, then running through a rash of world simulations, and then ending at the Elder Scrolls franchise. Skyrim allowed me to roam in a world and build things. My wife teases me that I never wanted to play World of Warcraft, that I wanted to play World of Craft. It’s true. From the moment I started playing I really just wanted to find some land, build a house, and explore. Skyrim allowed that, but again only to a certain degree. It was a lonely game. I’m not really one to gab with other players but I like having them in the world, it gives things an unexpected feel and a glimpse of camaraderie. I’ve not played Elder Scrolls Online yet. I hope it’ll be closer to the game I want. And what is that game?

The game I want is set in a vast world (realistic or fantasy) where I can explore or wander at will. There are cities and people (NPCs) to encounter and interact with perhaps for quests, but there are also other players that I can meet or ignore. Quests are unique to the player and non-repeatable. When you’re character dies, it’s dead permanently but the world isn’t so set against you. But most of all, I want a game where I don’t have to kill. I’m sick of killing people, monsters, animals, or creatures. I’m sick of killing. Action can happen without there being so much violence. Why do I always have to battle? Why is destruction the dominate trait of nearly every game? Why can’t I play a game that urges me to create–to build things, relationships, and knowledge?

I’m sick of killing. There’s too much death already in the real world. I want a game that allows me to escape the horror of shootings and war. Let me play a game that gives me wonders, that makes me part of a story and lets me create my own story. A game that doesn’t just ape ‘real life’ but one that strives to fulfill dreams without being trite or weird.

But no one wants this game. Gamers want to shoot and kill, hack and slash. They want post-apocalypse survivalists, future war, space war, murder without consequences or guilt (zombies, Nazis), explosions, robots and exoskeletons, mutants and monsters, heroes/villains with superpowers duel each other but never actually do anything, fear-mongering pandemic panics, and paranoid libertarian hacker delusions. Too much of video game culture is like enduring a never-ending Michael Bay movie.

I’m sick of killing. I want to create, to tell stories and maybe play a part in the story of others.

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