Why We Kill

“- everyone is seeking for maximum feedback.”

During an interview with Eurogamer, Jenova Chen, the mind behind the fl0w, fl0wer and Journey had this to say about players. During an early prototype of his cooperative game Journey, players would constantly push each other into pits. When the team removed collision detection, players would look for other ways to get feedback from the game.

It’s a brilliant look into the way people operate, and knowing this provided me with insight on a few different issues in regard to other videogames. I wrote previously about the annoyances of Far Cry 2, and the possible reasons they were so bothersome. In short, Far Cry’s only way to interact with the world you are given is to kill. When the mechanics of the game seem to actively negate the effects of even this action, the interaction becomes meaningless.

Violence is easy. It’s simple, direct, and emotionally stimulating.
Violence is also full of feedback loops. Think about the typical kill in a FPS: your aim snaps down the sights, pull the trigger, a loud shot fires off. The bullets hit the target, blood is released, the reticule expands to show your hit, numbers fly up and the target goes down. More than that however, you’ve just removed another player from the playing space. An obstacle disappears.

Explosions, blood, death, the steel of a blade cutting flesh, an arrow penetrating an enemy: violence is immediate and big on feedback. It’s much more difficult to make talking to another character as satisfying. What were you talking about? Was it interesting? Was there some goal you need to achieve? Can you impose your will on the other character by talking to them? Is the dialogue believable? Did their reaction give you satisfaction? It’s a very subtle process, and oftentimes if it isn’t just right it will leave the player void of the kind of response they seek in a game.

It’s much simpler to have them run around New York city, bounding up buildings, jumping from the highest points and eviscerating other sacks of flesh on the way down.

Most of us can relate to the sensation of running, or punching someone in the face. It’s a kinetic experience, and the simple inertia of movement can recall the adrenaline of the moment. Not all of us can talk our way through a hostage situation however, or understand what it’s like to have a person’s life in our hands.

This is what makes those experiences so valuable, however. It’s a different kind of feedback. More complex and difficult to understand, but full of a greater catharsis.

2 thoughts on “Why We Kill”

  1. Incidentally, I was thinking about the combat element of games — and a world without them — a while back on my blog. While I still think we can (and should) have more games that de-emphasize combat and killing, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a little action here and there. I play Marduk in Street Fighter X Tekken just for the chance to tackle people and turn their faces into smears on the concrete.

    …But you didn’t hear that from me. No sir. *whistles innocently and walks away*

    1. Trust me, I’ve done some awful things in videogames.

      That said, I’d never want a world without videogames violence. It’s too cathartic and fun to ever be totally gotten rid of. However, I’d like to see it become more mainstream to make games that explore other subjects. Can you imagine if 90% of movies were action movies…wait a minute.

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