While it’s true that film and video games share increasing amounts of similarities in the form story-telling, direction, cinematography, etc… it’s important to understand, that video games are NOT films. Films contain no interaction, and therefore rely much less on viewer / character empathy. That’s not to say that there aren’t films in which the viewer may empathize with the protagonist (or any other character), but film requires this to a much lesser degree than video games. Most Star Wars fans recognize the Darth Vader character as extremely important to the universe, even though most fans would not condone his actions. People like seeing Darth Vader, but not necessarily being Darth Vader.
Interaction presents the most fundamental difference between games and film, and proposes the most difficult problem to solve in terms of creating environments that promote morally acceptable situations. By nature, games require interaction, and game interaction, by nature, should be interesting. “The King’s Speech” was a great movie, but it would almost certainly make a terrible game. I would venture to guess that even the most open minded game enthusiast would have trouble getting hyped over a stuttering simulator.
The point here is that while series like GTA may promote the most heinous version of interaction, it makes me wonder what games should be, if not this. We interact with games primarily to experience interactions we couldn’t otherwise. We play Madden football because we can’t play in the NFL. I’m not suggesting that killing in video games is ok, but I am questioning what types of interaction should be acceptable, especially in the case where the interaction also has to be engaging.
Many games manage to create interactive simulations that entail far less violence than Grand Theft Auto. But even in a game like Minecraft, an experience largely about exploration and creation, there are still skeletons and zombies to “kill”. The fact is that the popularity of video games is largely due to their ability to allow normal people to engage in activities that they wouldn’t normally. That will always prompt some people to explore the darker side of our desires, both as developers and players. While violence certainly isn’t the only type of interaction games could explore, it is one of the easiest. Violence is prevalent in our society so we’re always keenly aware of it, but it’s also socially unacceptable so there is no chance to explore what it might be like to actually be extremely violent. Sex is also extremely prevalent in our society, but unlike violence, it’s completely acceptable for two adults to have sex, so there is much less need to explore what sex “might be like” in a game. And this is what intrigues me; what types of interactions are there that strike the balance between interesting (not readily available in real life) and acceptable? Driving, professional sports, exploration, all good examples. It’s not enough though, at least sales numbers say it’s not. Grand Theft Auto V pulled in something like $800 million dollars in one day. That’s a lot of dead hookers. So where does interaction go from here?