Remember when you were a kid and you liked to play pretend gun fights at school, chasing your friends around the playground with you hand shaped like a gun and shouting “Pew! Pew! Pew!” at the top of your lungs? It probably looked a bit like this, but less cool, unless your childhood was directed by Edgar Wright:
Yes, as always Spaced nailed it and as a show that is entrenched in film references, it also points us towards the direction as why we as kids, and then also now as somewhat infantilised (we know who we are) adults, still get a kick from playing with pretend weapons on video games. It might be simply that we want to act out what we’ve seen in the films we loved in our childhood. From The Terminator to Rambo, we were a generation that was brought up on a steady diet of films where guns were always shown as the go-to problem solver for any self-respecting action hero. There were no Telltale games back then, picking a dialogue was not a valid option.
Ever since the seminal Duck Hunt game for the NES, guns have been an integral part of video game history. This eighties game had you shoot waves of ducks with your trusty NES Zapper light-gun, as they flew across the screen. It was the purest form of old-school shootout style gaming.
Modern day shoot-em-ups have come along way from Duck Hunt, both graphically and thematically. Games have since sought to replicate films in terms of story-telling and naturally, action films were always a very snug fit. And so, blockbuster first-person shooters set inside the real world, like the Call of Duty series, have become immensely popular. With the advent of online gaming too, the playground play-fights with school friends, has now been replaced with a global playground, filled with complete strangers. It may be a new arena, but we are still in many ways the same players. Older, but not necessarily any wiser.
Ostensibly, video games of the past were seen as a children’s toy and advertised as such mainly towards a younger demographic. This raised the question back then of how morally OK it was to be targeting games that prominently featured guns, at children. The modern games industry has changed though and the audience is made up of all ages, but is now far more adult-orientated. But another question is now being posed and formed in the light of repeated gun tragedies. Some people have asked if the makers of gun-based games, should now be offering more context and consequence to the use of firearms in their titles.
This is undoubtedly a much more considered alternative, to the sometimes over-the-top rhetoric of people who angle for a complete ban on the the use of guns in games altogether. There should be a freedom though, as there is in other cultural mediums, for a game designer to make a game how they see fit. If that is a game that is ultimately a deliberately offensive piece of work involving weaponry (see games like Postal), then so be it. We shouldn’t force someone to make a game without guns, or a game that contextualizes gun use within it. Instead, let them make whatever game they want and then let the audience make up their own minds about it. You don’t just enforce a ban on a form of creative expression, just because you as a person disagree with it. That my friend, leads you down a dictatorial path and that’s a very lonely path to be on indeed.
The future of gaming is an interesting one though and with new technological advancements, a change may naturally come in shooting games. If the much-heralded second coming of Virtual Reality gaming does indeed occur, then how could shooters then look? Would it be right, for example, to make a VR Grand Theft Auto? Sure, it sounds a fascinating idea and any one with a hint of love of the GTA series, would likely give their left, right and anyone else’s arms to experience it. But would the disconnect from pressing buttons on a joypad, to physically acting out the punching and shooting of people in the game, start to cross some sort of line – or indeed, be so far over that line that said line became a dot? There may well come a point when if something becomes too real, then maybe we’ve gone too far with it. We’ve seen The Lawnmower Man and it doesn’t end well. Actually, it doesn’t start well either. It’s a pretty awful film.
Maybe for the next generation of gamers and developers in the world of VR gaming, then these kind of difficult questions about overly-realistic use of weapons, that will require answering. For now though, shooters remain a foundation of the video game industry and with such mass appeal, they’re very unlikely to change much in the foreseeable future. When they’re done well, these games continue to be stupidly fun entertainment for millions of players and they offer a safe release, from whatever part of our weird human psyche that likes to play around with weapons of mass destruction.