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Violence, Video Games, and Metarealism

Tyler Brown
Oct 28, 2019 · 5 min read

Video games stand at one of the most profitable industries of new immersive technologies. With film-like visual elements and hands on control, the video game presents countless situations, gameplay mechanics, and genres for anyone to easily be engrossed without much effort.

Yet because of their influence upon society, especially with regards to a younger adult audience, video games have become a sort of scapegoat when discussing their influence on acts of gun violence in the United States. The violent themes, especially associated with first-person shooter games like Call of Duty are the supposed reason why there is a prominent increase in gun related violence.

As video games get more popular, so does the gun violence. But how can a fictional world presented by a computer be a probably cause for gun related violence in the United States? Let’s first start off with an analysis on the immersion created by video games.

Lev Manovich, author of The Language of New Media, discusses interactive, illusionary 3D digital arts, especially with regards to film and video games. Through dissection of these immersive technologies, Manovich discovers the importance of realism as representations of digital technology. Everything in immersive technologies is designed in order to mimic reality, and it’s through that mimicry that the viewer is immersed.

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The typical screen a player encounters during online play in Activision’s Call of Duty Black Ops 4

Video games, by design, require the player to be immersed in the universe presented. The player actively submits to the story and accepts the illusion despite having first seen how the game is simply a construct of a machine. This form of simulated realism, where an individual is consciously aware of what is creating the illusion, yet still is equally engrossed within it, is referred to as metarealism.

Classic realism, in comparison to metarealism, is the phenomena that one is invested completely within a simulated reality only when it is not interrupted by its origins of creation. Metarealism places the user in a position of stronger involvement within the illusion because of the reveal of the illusion within a mechanical origin. The user is given more control over the video game’s semblance of reality by being aware of how it is made and invests in it deeper.

As one progresses through a video game’s illusion, the physical interface of controller and UI hub first presented becomes second nature. The player is no longer making a conscious effort to link up their physical actions of pressing buttons with the virtual actions of the avatar on screen.

The boundaries between metarealism and classical realism become blurred through exposure to the game.

But depicting a realistic environment that is like our own world within video games poses its own challenges. Games that are enjoyable to play sacrifice aspects of reality. With regards to first-person shooters specifically, gameplay does not represent the real possibilities of gun jams, equipment breaking, or long-term physical and mental issues associated with wartime involvement.

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Blizzard’s Overwatch blends traditional FPS elements with fantastical elements such as magic and hero abilities

The video game Overwatch, an FPS multiplayer game, does not employ these elements at all. Rather, this game takes on a more fantastical approach to reality. Characters are given super abilities along with the standard gun and melee weapon. Yet Overwatch is just as engrossing as an FPS like Call of Duty that uses a realistic environment and gameplay mechanics.

In certain games, elements included to make the game more realistic as it relates to our own world would sacrifice playability to said realism. There is a conscious effort, therefore, to maintain the “fantasy” of video game reality. If the game is less enjoyable, fewer people will play.

Video games persuade the player to take time and invest within the story. Some games encourage the player to create a character modeled off of what they would like to play as, while others allow gameplay with friends. Everything a video game does is to convince the player to continue to play.

Gameplay from Blizzard’s Overwatch captures the genre of FPS video games

The world presented by a first-person shooter video game still mimics our own reality enough to cause concern when the player logs off of the game. In a study conducted in order to classify video games’ influence on violent behaviors, exposure to violent video games shows a short-term increase in aggression regardless of the sex, age, or race of the individuals being tested. With regards to increase in aggression, video games act as a causal risk factor.

Yet this short-term increase in aggressive behavior does not mean that the players are committing acts of violence or going as far as to commit acts of gun related violence. There is no evidence posed by the study that supports an increase in acts of violent behavior as a response to the short-term aggression.

The study also concluded that individuals who played video games that promote prosocial behavior saw an increase in those positive, helpful emotions after the game was turned off.

When an individual plays a video game and is forced to act and take control of the illusion, the player will unconsciously take on the role of whatever character is on screen, regardless of the fact that the game is merely a simulated environment.

The metarealism created by video games therefore is a powerful influencer. When used, it can create positive and negative behaviors within the player.

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Undertale, created by Toby Fox, allows the player to finish the game without acting violently to any character within the game.

Video games that employ a reality that is far from our own are also capable of being as immersive as one that uses clean, realistic graphics. Games that use retro-style graphics or employ fantasy elements, such as Undertale, are just as engaging to that of a realistic presenting game. Metarealism is not lost when the game is no longer mirroring what we see every day. A sign of a successful game, therefore, is one that involves the player within the environment it possesses.

Yet metarealism and the control it generates is not just limited to video games. Metarealism is ingrained within our digitalized societies. The use of search engines like Google simulates the oscillation between viewer and user. The use of Facetime or email services mimics the reality of conversation but breaks the illusion when timestamps or buffering of video is represented.

Limiting the increase of gun violence down to just metarealism in video games is ignoring how metarealism has played a role in nearly everything we do with relation to a digitized environment. Video games represent a scapegoat to cover up more pressing, difficult issues within society as it pertains to gun violence.

If you want to solve the issues of gun violence then, you cannot blame video games. You cannot even blame any digitized environment that makes use of metarealism. You have to begin and address the personal issues, the warning signs, of those capable of committing these acts of gun violence.

After all, the metarealism being used is mimicking our real life environments.

Computers and Culture

This Publication collects articles on the history and…

Tyler Brown

Written by

Computers and Culture

This Publication collects articles on the history and culture of the computer in the United States. The articles range from reflections on the computer’s past to its meaning in the present.

Tyler Brown

Written by

Computers and Culture

This Publication collects articles on the history and culture of the computer in the United States. The articles range from reflections on the computer’s past to its meaning in the present.

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