The word visceral is meaningless. So commonly used, whatever meaning it had at one point is lost to trying to explain game mechanics tied to short bursts of activity. All of which, inevitably, means combat of some sort. Us versus them.
So, why is is used then?
Because it is a great shorthand for what players are looking for in game experiences: control. They want that limited agency to affect the world around them. No, not of the virtual world, but their own lived reality. They want the control and so they seek a simulation where they have it.
It’s what I do.
Every time I think I’m in a personal crisis, that I have no power over the outcomes in my life, I turn to the violence of these simulated worlds. I played through Borderlands 2 recently, and then started playing Torchlight again. For all my talk of pacifism and want of a world without these exercises in wanton destruction, I indulge. I drink deep of their wells. When I’m low, I turn to them.
It’s because they are so crunchy.
We don’t often get snow where I live. Instead, we get frozen dew. In the early morning, right before the sun warms the ground, the grass gets stuck in its place. Because of the change in air temperature, condensation has developed and then frozen solid.
It doesn’t last long, but if you can get out there before the sun has done its work, you can stomp around. Crack. Smash. Creak. Crunch.
We love snack foods for the same reason.
It’s all about the bite. The visceral moment. The crunch. We bite into our favorite chip or snack and we have left our mark. The chocolate has our teeth imprinted on it. Or we have broken it into pieces to prolong our fun. We bite and bite again.
We fill the boredom and doldrums with the quick moments of pleasure. Of control. The quick snack at lunch. The reward for a long day at work. Indulgences. Crunch.
Yet, it’s not filling.
The bag empties over time. The sun rises. Everyone in the level has been murdered. Nothing is infinite, including these fleeting moments. They run out.
Then we reach for another. One more bag. Another small section of grass. One more hour. We try to stretch it out.
It won’t kill me to eat more. We reason with ourselves. Craft delusions. I can exercise tomorrow. And barter our time and resources. It’s just this one time.
By this point, the battle has shifted. We are not fighting our demons, transferring them to our food or games to be vanquished. We are fighting ourselves. We want that one more moment of pleasure. The dopamine hits don’t have to stop. Not now anyway. Just keeping going.