Is violence a necessary part of video games?

Before you answer this question, I want you to look at your shelves and on your various electronic devices. I want you count up the games and put them into two major categories: those who include violence as a core mechanic and those who don’t. Now, I want you tally the percentages.

If you are anything like me, it’s probably close to 97% of the games you have can be placed in the violence category  From game series like Final Fantasy to even Fable, most of the games I personally own feature violence of some kind. And I’m not even thinking about the more destructive titles like Just Cause 2 or even Grand Theft Auto 4 (two games I finished within the last two weeks). It’s not just guns and mayhem, but the simple mechanics of killing other creatures for experiences points or story progress.

The more I’ve thought about the issue this morning, the more concerned I’ve gotten about my own collection. For someone who usually advocates pacifist takes on most things and has a general aversion to weaponry of any kind, I’ve found myself taking a quite laissez-faire approach to policing my indulgence in virtual violence. I’ve become willing to murder millions in a video games while I ask others to find a peaceful end to conflicts.

When I read Corvus Elrod’s statement that he was thinking of avoiding buying both AAA and indie titles that have violence as a core mechanic, I began to consider if I could do the same thing. Here was a person who I respect in the community trying to decide if he wanted to avoid violent games in the future by making a fiscal choice about it. It’s made me think about my own buying habits and if I could do the same thing.

I don’t think I can. Avoiding the fact that I need to be open to covering any type of game for my work for Indie Game Mag Radio, I don’t think I could give up my love of RPGs — or even shmups. I’ve spent too much time with these genres to give them up now. Even if I could limit my intake, I’m more likely to pick my next game over its price than parts of its content.

Which, of course, brings me back to the central question: “Is violence a necessary part of video games?” I’d like to think it isn’t, and that I could name many games that I loved that didn’t feature violence of any kind. Yet, I can’t. Those games I’ve invested hundreds of hours into like Final Fantasy 7 or even World of Warcraft have me killing others for personal gain. It’s practically endemic to the medium; even Angry Birds has you seemingly taking out one type of animal for another.

I can’t ask you to give up violent games. Since I can’t even do it myself, how can I ask you to do it? Yet, I want you to think about your games. As many of us take a break before starting a new year of playing video games, I ask that you consider each new title and its content. How are you spending your money? What is the game asking to you to do?

For the few game developers out there who might read this, you let give you an extra challenge. For your next project, think about if violence is really required. Can you remove it? If you took out the shooting or even the destruction, would that fundamentally change the game? If the answer is no, shouldn’t that be something to take out?

For 2013, let’s all take stock of where we are and where we want to be. If we don’t like it when video games are painted as the singular influence of violent content, let’s do something about it. Let’s spend our money and time to shape our medium. Let’s make the games the we want to play and buy the games that we agree with in 2013.

In a few days, it will be a new year. Let’s greet it together with a resolution to be better, even if it only small steps toward that goal. I’ll try and I hope you will too.