Understanding The Prevalence Of Violence In Video Games

The relationship between violence and video games has been taken for granted since the 1976 release of Death Race to the arcades. Controversy has come and gone in the years since, and the trend doesn't seem to be waning. I want to pose a completely different approach to the allure of violence in games, at least overt he past 10 years or so. It changes the way the effects of video game violence should be handled.

The common understanding is that humans are attracted to primal instinct of power and domination, and firing a bazooka missile into someone's chest is a great way to fulfill that urge. Naturally, we become used to that urge and desensitized by it, causing children to look at violence less critically than they should be. I see one big flaw in this argument. How often do you see a kid punching someone in the face because he had a primal urge to dominate somebody? I would say very rarely. How often do you see someone throw a punch because they feel threatened? All the time.

The urge to dominate is not nearly as strong the "fight or flight" instinct. When we feel threatened, humans do one of two things. We fight, or we run. You don't stand there doing nothing. This is accompanied by an adrenaline rush that piques the senses and fires up the mind. Violence in video games (for the most part) is tapping into fight or flight instead of pure power and domination.

In the typical First-person shooter setup (and FPS is where almost all the controversy begins), it is you vs. an overwhelming number of enemies. Your job is to take care of the situation. Now, the first response to aggression is not "haha, yes, more people to kill and dominate," You may think it is. That's a trick your mind plays on you. In reality, your first instinct is to survive. The true goal of an FPS is not to kill everything. It's to kill everything, and survive. It's not just "kill". It's "kill, or be killed". The adrenaline rush of fight or flight is what gives tension to the gunplay. If you couldn't die in an FPS, the fun would diminish rapidly. The aggression that we hear about all the time is the fight side of fight or flight. It's your mind giving you the confidence you need to fight your way to survival.

There's a good reason why the survival horror genre is producing great games these in these past few years. The violence and blood and gore only adds to sense of doom and impending death that drives the player to keep playing. It also adds the flight aspect of the instinct as a crucial aspect of the game. Now, flight may be the only way out of a situation. In that case, running away from violence becomes as fun and suspense-filled as the violence itself.

I think that there are very few people who would judge a game's quality by how much violence is involved. It's the impetus to the violence that gives a game it's shine. Sometimes that's plot, sometimes it's simple survival, and sometimes it's just to rack up points.  But it's almost never for the sake of violence itself. There are very few games that tell you to go kill everything because it's fun. There's almost always a compelling reason (that has nothing to do with reality) to engage int battle.

Granted, the Grand Theft Auto series changed all that. For the first time, a game rewarded the player for senseless acts of violence. You got money for every pedestrian you ran over, and you can mug people for spare change. There are consequences for committing these crimes, but they are easily disregarded. The controversy behind those games won't go away so easily. But the vast majority of games aren't like that.

When you look at violence in games through the lens of survival instead of the lens of domination, the effects of the violence also change. instead of being senseless, the violence is put into a context of survival. The outcome won't be kids shooting up stores for fun and profit, but kids who will start to fight when faced with flight. Assuming that connection can even be made (it can't, really, but I'm not out to debunk that here and now), the consequences are far less dangerous. There's a whole lot more to talk about when it comes to violence in games, but I think it helps to put things in a different perspective.


Microsoft Marketing Needs To Go Away

This video, this embarrassing excuse for a viral marketing campaign, is Microsoft's shameful attempt at convincing people to host launch parties for Windows 7. Just watching this was like stabbing myself. In the face. With the dagger of soul-sucking Windows advertising drivel.


Now, after you've taken a deep breath and recovered from that catastrophe of a marketing campaign, I give you....

What Was Really Happening During That Video - Brought to you by the letter P and the number anything-but-7.

:04 - Wow, we so weren't expecting you for like another hour! Now I have to give you an awkward 'Heyyy!' and make it look like I don't need your help setting up this dumb party! No, please, really, don't help! I've got it all taken care of!

:07 - Hey, guest! I'm the awkward black man that Microsoft required these evil, culturally homogeneous and therefore racist people to invite so they don't get sued!

:23 - His favorite because he's a worthless nerd who I married for his money. I wish I could just leave this miserable relationship and find someone who helps set up for the damn party instead of whipping out the stupid laptop every time I ask him to do anything!

:24 - now I need to laugh awkwardly to convince people that I really get something out of this hopeless, lazy, man-child who never grew out of video games. Lord, I want to strangle him!!!!

:35 - Ya, sure, there's no ulterior motive for me being here! We're just throwing a party. I don't want to have a steamy affair with this pretty young thing right here. Not at all! I'm just here because Microsoft made me come!

:38 - [Husband]: Waiiit a minute. I recognize that black man from somewhere. Oh yeah, he was the one hitting on my wife at the mall the other day. Now that's a strange coincidence. When Microsoft sent us a hate letter about us not inviting a racially diverse member, I thought they were going to send a total stranger. hmmmm...

:54 - [Husband]: Ok, shut up, mother-in-law, you don't even know how to turn the damn thing on. Let me do the talking, please.

1:13 - [Husband]: See, honey? I'm listening to you! Look at my listening pose! Look how sincere and interested I am! Why can't we just be happy together?!

1:27 - [mother-in-law]: I'm so lost. So confused. Why am I here? Who am I? Is it time for mah-johng yet?

1:29 - [Husband]: "Host Notes"; My wife is a loser. How did I get suckered into this? Can I go back to building my linux kernel?

1:38 - [Black man]: Why have I not said anything constructive since this thing started? Oh, right, it's because I've staring at this poor loser's wife the whole time. I should probably say something sincere soon

1:43 - [mother-in-law]: Bonus Activities. My mind was f'in blown. Best thing since Depends.

1:45 - [everyone but mother-in-law] - Stop talking, can't you tell these smiles are filled with loathing and hate?

1:55 - [black man]: O my god, she just flirted with me! Yes!! IT'S ON!!!

2:02 - [husband]: Except for at my LAN parties, where we actually have a good time. Ha, Windows launch party. Worst. Party. Ever. Wait until my guild finds out about this.

2:07 - [mother-in-law]: Photos? what are 'photos'? Is that some kind of casserole dish? I'm so lost. Somebody help me. WHO AM I???

2:16 - [wife]: Ya, geek-face, who's the nerd now, huh?? You worthless piece of garbage. I know Windows features!!! Snap!! better watch out, I'm starting to like this awkward random black man right here!

2:23 - [husband] - [google's how to tell wife she is a dumb-ass without having her drop you like a bad habit] [also, google how to deal with large, hulking, handsome, black man in tight shirt hitting on your wife] [0 results found. You have no hope]

2:27 - [black man]: Ya, isn't that hilarious?? They all looked at a computer! Computers are for nerds!! I want to take you home with me.

2:38 - [wife]: Oh, my! He actually likes me. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He doesn't like computers either. He's not a worthless man-child. Let's get out of here and go to your place.

2:43 - [mother-in-law]: Yayyyyy! Activities!! Like knitting!!

2:48 - [wife and black man]: we are so leaving this party together.

2:52 - [mother-in-law]: And then everybody left. I was all alone. Suffering in my dementia. Alone, and cold. Who am iiiiii?

2:57 - [wife]: You hear that, random black man? We'll play it by ear! [wink]

2:59 - [wife]: You know what other activity is going to be this time, right, random black man?

3:01 - [husband]: That third activity this time is going to be punching your face in, black man! Get your filthy adulterous eyes off my wife!

3:02 - [wife] Oh my god! He knows! I need a quick save! Oh, screw it, it's over anyways.

3:05 - [wife] That's great. You just try and punch my big black savior. He'll protect me in ways you were never capable of, you dork!

3:07 - [mother-in-law]: Don't worry, this happens to us all eventually. What am I talking about? Where's my husband? Do I have a husband? Who am I????
          [husband] - ha, ha, ha. I'm going to kill you.

3:12 - [husband]: I know I have a gun back here somewhere. Damn, the woman moved it again!

3:27 - [black man]: Shhhhh, old hag. Stop opening your mouth. You're just making a fool out of yourself.

3:33 - [black man]: yaaaaa, great information. And pictures of you. Naked.

3:40 - [wife]: Want to know a better way to 'bring it all together'?

3:48 - [husband]: I will find a way to kill you, black man. Make no mistake. Do not sleep tonight. Especially with my wife.

3:56 - [black man]: What is with this old woman? She not take her meds today?

4:06 - [black man]: And having an affair with your wife is about as personal as it gets.

4:14 - [husband]: Don't you dare one-up me, you wife-stealing black man! I'm better than you! Oh, yeah, and 'Frank's Auction Site'? That's my code word for 'I'm coming after you, buddy! Don't let your guard down!'

4:19 - [mother-in-law] See?! I finally figured out what a photo is!! But how do I remember my own name?? Where am I??

4:22 - [wife] - And by them, I mean you, you handsome man, you!

4:29 - [black man]: Guess who's first for the hands-on activity.

4:36 - [mother-in-law]: OK, what the eff is a computer? And who the hell am I??

4:55 - [black man]: Two computers to do the web chatting activity. [chuckles] God, I'm good!! I could do this all day!

5:05 - [Mother-in-law]: My, how I adore bonus activities! It's like knitting, but with friends!! I don't have friends. so alone....

5:12 - [wife]: You have all the equipment necessary, don't you?

5:34 - [husband]: Especially when those resources are highly trained assassins hired to kill you, black man!

5:49 - [black man]: I will say or do anything to take you home with me.

5:50 - [husband]: Ya, it's all out there, now! It's on!! Bring it!!
          [wife]: ooooooo, yay, they're fighting over me!! It's my dream come true!

5:56 - [black man]: You see that reach? I could have killed you just now. Don't mess with me, or I will take you down.

6:06 - [wife]: And if I haven't made my self clear enough yet, then you are obviously a deranged moron.

6:11 - [husband]: That's my gang sign. We're going to mess. you. up.

The camera stopped rolling after the peaceful party preparations devolved into a violent and bloody gang war over the newly found emotions between the wife and the black man. After the husband called his guild members in using the hidden hand signal, a W for World of Warcraft, the black man called upon his actual for-real gang members, and they stood staring at each other, waiting for one side to start the brawl. The mother-in-law started yelling indecipherable gibberish which both gangs took to mean "Kill everybody!!" Moral of the story:

Hosting a Windows 7 launch party will only result in death and destruction.

Lesson Learned.

But, seriously. Microsoft, get your act together.


By The Way

Those Digg buttons way out there in the corner. They are there for a reason. For you to click on them. If you like what I write, clicking on the digg button means that you'dig' this article, thus making you the king of kool. Click away, cool people.

Why IT Will Always Be A Support Role

It's one of those ultimate questions, like the origins of chicken eggs: Does IT drive business or support business? The answer generally defines the attitude of CXO executives when dealing with their respective IT departments, and shapes the way IT is planned, handled and purchased throughout a company. If IT drives business, then you give IT everything they need to get the job done, and a little more just to make them happy. If they need a resource, you supply it. If they recommend a practice to increase efficiency and ROI, you listen to what they have to say. After all, they drive business and increase profit margin.

If IT is support, then the role is very different. The Finance/Accounting/Legal/Production departments are the ones making the money. IT is just there to help them do their jobs better. If Accounting needs something IT-related, IT better be there to support that. They don't have the resources? It isn't efficient? Doesn't matter. Accounting comes first, because they're the one's that drive business. It is the job of IT to make sure that happens. Whatever the cost. If IT recommends a piece of software, but the lawyers don't like the way it looks or feels, conversation over. Lawyers have precedence.

In a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by  SAP, Cisco, and Capgemini, C-Level executives were polled to find out if the goal of their IT departments was cost-reduction (support) or revenue growth (business driver). 61% said cost-reduction and 39% said revenue growth.

Seeing as the corporate world is completely dependent on IT to run their business, and that without the support IT provides, most companies would simply buckle and implode under the weight of thousands of Blue Screens of Death, this discrepancy needs to be ameliorated. With IT quickly becoming the backbone of any successful company, C-level executives need to start understanding the true role of IT, and start taking heed of their opinions and needs.

What causes a company to go either way in this survey? It's a matter of understanding how IT functions. Let's start with the holy grail of IT. The ultimate goal of IT is what the academics like to call the 5 9s. 99.999% uptime. An IT system should work, always, with a fractionally small error rate of .001% coming from freak accidents. Herein lies  the power of IT. Ideally, when a system is complete, no work needs to be done to keep that system running. It should be self-sufficient and fool-proof enough that all it needs is some monitoring and periodic updates. There is a whole lot of short-term front end work that goes into it, but the payoff is huge when the five 9s are accomplished. The manhours and cost of implementation are recouped very quickly. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of having a perfect system is that it will always be under appreciated until something catastrophic happens to it.

Let's take network infrastructure as an example. It's a good example because five 9s in a network (by network, I mean the physical network that transmits data through wires and routers and switches out to the Interwebs and back) isn't just a geeky pipe dream. It's considered normal to achieve five 9s in that IT domain.  If you ask the average Accountant what kind of knowledge and training goes into designing and implementing a network, they'll probably just give you a blank stare, or maybe say something like knowing what all the wires do. A smart layperson may even throw out a term like IP or subnetting. But if I threw out some things like NAT, routing protocols, EIGRP, RIPv2, CHAP, OSPF, PAP, IpSec, ACL, Token Ring, SAS, Frame Relay, IS-IS, VPN, Kerberos, Spanning Tree, VLAN, VTP, OSI, ISO, IPv6, 10BaseT, plenum, multi-mode fiber, SONET, PAT, static routes, Dijkstra's algorithm, DUAL algorithm, QoS, and on and on and on (I could go on for at least another 20 terms), you might begin to start chipping away at the mountain of knowledge and planning that comprises network design and implementation. And that's just basics. You have to know that stuff (and configure and troubleshoot it all) and a whole lot more just to pass Cisco's entry level network certification.

This is what I'm getting at: A user doesn't check internet connection by checking outgoing and incoming packets for TCP acknowledgements, they just click on internet explorer, and wait for a page to show up. When it doesn't work, they can't get their work done, and they get pissed. So they call IT, and IT fixes the problem. In that scenario, the user had only one interaction with IT, and that was when things broke. In the user's mind, the same guy who carries multiple IT degrees and certifications and spend months laboring on the design of the network, is really just a glorified janitor. When there's a mess, IT is expected to clean it up. This is why a perfect system will never be noticed or appreciated. When IT's interaction with the user base is only when things break, IT becomes support when in reality they should have a more important role.

Enter the CIO. The above case is precisely why the position of CIO was created in large corporations. The "janitors" of IT knew that they were more important than just support and that they needed some clout in upper management to get stuff done. The CIO was supposed to be the experienced IT man who had some serious years of management under his/her belt, enough to be respected by other C-level colleagues. The CIO was supposed to relate the needs and recommendations of the IT staff to the people who needed to hear it but weren't listening. The CIO was also supposed to defend the IT staffers and try to get them some recognition as more than janitors.

Sadly, this only happened in a handful of companies. 69% of companies are still under the impression that IT is around to cut-costs. The CIO position only accomplished so much, and I believe that that position has been abused and misrepresented flagrantly. There are two kinds of CIOs not suited for the job. One is the CIO who doesn't know anything about IT. This guy usually was the CFO or the COO or a VP of some sort, and to make him happy, the board decided to give him governance over the IT department. Since this fellow is purely motivated by his own personal clout and politics, he doesn't care that he knows squat about IT, just that he has more power now. Therefore, he will actually end up crushing IT under the heel of his ego-inflated boot, all in the name of making the C-level executives happy. This CIO makes things worse for IT, because everyone knows that when you want something from IT, no matter how asinine or illogical, the CIO will make IT comply.

The other kind of CIO, not as bad but still not so great, is the kind with very little management experience. He was the IT guy when the company started and now runs the place just because he started it all. The problem with this guy is that while he may defend his people, stick up for them, and even respect them, he will never be able to properly defend the needs of IT to anyone who needs to listen. He will always be the geek in the room, and is still just a support guy. He isn't well-versed in the language of business and his opinion will therefore not be respected.

This leads me to believe that the CIO position is not the solution. In fact, I don't think there is a solution. In an environment where system self-sufficiency is the goal, the face IT will always be the desktop support grunts who clean up the messes users make. As the user experience becomes more streamlined and the backbones of these systems become more complex, the real geniuses in IT will recede even further into the background. The only saving grace is management that really understands the nature and business of IT. This could simply be a matter of time. Eventually, CEOs will have to be versed in IT just like the rest of population will have to be in order to live effective lives.

For now, we'll just do our work, pretend we care about your problems, and hate upper management for being n00bs.