This is not an argument from biology or tradition, but let's begin with both. Here's a dog:
Here is a typical day for Chewie:
Nonetheless, like most dogs, like many of us--Chewie dreams at night of violence, murder, hunting, fight and flight. These are dreams of panic and survival vastly out of proportion to the amount of any of these things he has direct experience with in the waking world.
When Chewie romps, with stuffed toys or other pups, his romps are about attempted murder. More scientifically concrete, if less experientially familiar to the average reader, studies of some of the least molested and most isolated communities of monkeys in the wild reveal that though their daily lives consist 99% of doing seriously fuck-all, their play consists almost exclusively of pretending in one way or another to kill each other and to avoid being killed.
Violence in fiction, which began when the first mammal, Eomaia Scansoria "climbing dawn mother"--a kind of shrew--first lay its head down to dream, and in play--which likely began long before Eomaia, as octopuses, crocodiles and possibly even insects play--thus has a very long tradition. Nearly every genre in pop literature with the exception of some strains of romance is defined by how it uses violence (in a war, in a mystery, at the end after a long chase). There is a lot of it.
As everyone smart in DIY D&D knows, tradition is no excuse for anything. So to get beyond that...
The modern takes on the overwhelming violence in games fall roughly into three camps:
1-Many humans have inherently violent instincts which once helped us survive but now are channeled (pick one: healthily/unhealthily/sometimes healthily) into games of violence.
2-Our fundamentally unfair society has grown in such a way as to be fixated on making people accept or even enjoy violence, and so it shows up in our games.
3-Some mixture of 1 and 2.
These three ideas are incomplete and stupid and, most importantly, insult and underestimate the vast powers of art and leisure.
1 suggests games are merely mental downtime (they aren't) and 2 suggests art's positive role is purely didactic and imitative (you do nothing but parrot what you play). Neither is supported by the science: art actually involves thinking and responding individually and disparately--games especially and RPG doubly especially.
Since Vietnam, fewer and fewer Americans have joined the military. Consequently, when we do go to war, the US government's been increasingly reliant on private security forces--i.e. mercenaries. These private forces (Blackwater, et al) are far less accountable to the nation than their public equivalents and have been responsible for what you could fairly uncontroversially call some fucked up shit.
Point being: whether or not we enjoy violence, there is a kind of violence happening far away from most US citizens that is related in some way to the actions and ideas US citizens have that we should be thinking about. What the correct policy decision to make about mercenaries doing jobs soldiers used to isn't the point: the point is to do anything responsible at all, we should be thinking about it. This is violence that's not on a savannah 300,000 years ago, but now.
Other kinds of violence we should be thinking about: the average city cop's average call on the average day concerns domestic violence, the most powerful nations in the world (via arms trade or direct action) all profit daily from violence, women spend time finding ways to come home at night from work in ways men don't for fear of violence, and, of course, the entire world is the way it is now because of how and when this or that person managed to arrange a monopoly on violence.
Yet in the face of that, the average life of the average game-playing citizen contains (like the happy monkeys alone on that island) no violence at all.
Few people manage to get to become a teenager without the intimation that, even if things are lovely here, there is violence out there: in Rwanda, in the next neighborhood, or in the alleyway behind the bus stop--and they begin to listen to music which processes this violence, and they watch movies which process this violence. Violence and the threat of violence pervade the unconscious of the entire quiet world--and for good reason. Once violence appears, it isn't quiet any more.
The brain is a problem-solving engine, it focuses on bad places because that's where the problems worth solving are. The last century brought us three new things, the third tremendously influenced by the first two:
-Violence on a scale previously unimagined
-An ability for the average person to find out about distant or hidden violence on a scale previously unimagined
-A willingness on the part of artists to talk about violence with a rawness previously unimagined
A key point here is--as an aggregate, as a "more of this, less of this"--what fiction is actually trying to say or is saying is less culturally important than simply bringing the subject up, not letting it sit repressed and undiscussed. A Road Runner cartoon, a DMX song, an Indiana Jones movie, a Friday the 13th movie, a dungeoncrawl may or may not be articulating a new or useful idea about violence, but they exist because violence is a subject every culture's every real and currently functional survival instinct suggests is worth bringing up. Artists as an aggregate would begin to notice they were not doing their job if they didn't include an awareness of violence in their work. The relevance of the subject is, regrettably, evergreen. And any smart person is going to start thinking about a subject once it's in front of them, even if it's in front of them because of a Road Runner cartoon.
Art isn't simply downtime and it isn't simply about making people copy the art: It's exercise. Like stretching expands your range of movement--play expands the range of ways you can think about things, the kinds of creativity you can bring to bear on problems.
In the face of a lack of any evidence that violent games cause widespread societal violence or that they are made by violent or bad people, the new line is that violence in games is "boring" (denotation: "not to my taste" connotation: "unappealing to those of sophisticated sensibilities like mine") or aesthetically conservative. A point of view that pronounces boredom with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hot Fuzz, West Side Story and King Lear all for the same reason is not the mark of a thoughtful and discriminating critical voice. And: "This work of art is progressive and avant garde because it avoids making you think about the world's most intractable subject" is not really a hill I can see anyone wanting to die on.
|Epidemic of nonviolence|
The average person goes to wild lengths to avoid violence even when provoked--look out the window right now no matter where you are and chances are you'll be gazing down on a positive epidemic of problem-solving via nonviolence. Tokyo, birthplace of Godzilla, every fucked-up thing in Takashi Miike's head, the Tokyo Gore Police, and that children's show with the red octopus that just hits everyone with a bat, is a really safe place to live. Since the popularity of art about violence--even the most gleeful, irresponsible, unconsidered violence--is not actually correlated with real societal violence, the strident reminder that art doesn't have to be about violence is just a case of You Must Not Like What I Like Because You've Never Heard Of It.
People who drop that particular monocle fail to grasp basic paradoxes of life: Violence is relatively rare but excruciatingly important. Thinking about things we should not do can help us learn to prevent them. It is breathtakingly unserious to suggest the way to defeat violence is to simply quench some personal attraction to committing it--especially because so many of the people who could address the problem aren't committing it. They're avoiding it--like Tetris does. Attraction to violence isn't their issue--failing to think hard enough about it is.
Violence goes unseen not because there is no violence but because violence likes to be ignored, glossed over, kept secret, smiled past, kept private or (worst of all) delegated to places we choose to ignore. There are great games that don't make violence a central feature: Peggle, Pictionary, soccer, bocce ball, billiards. But there is nothing inherently noble or progressive or difficult or even informative about a game not having violence in it, any more than ice hockey is a threat to the status quo for not having a ball in it. It's just another game. If violence in art bores you all that means is that violence in art bores you. Cauliflower bores me, I don't get all-caps about it.
Being a dick about your taste is still being a dick about your taste--even in the name of nonviolence, the worthiest goal in the world.