Bang! You've been shot in the arm, but it doesn't hurt. Bang! You've been shot in the head, but you're not really dead. You stare at your corpse. You wait to respawn. You say into your headset, "Ouch."

Videogames offer us a release for our violent urges we rarely get in day-to- day life. They let us vent by keeping the killing on the screen, and therefore out of society. Sure, some people are still uncomfortable with in-game gore, but where else can you safely, and legally, snipe innocent passers-by with a long range weapon, set off grenades that send bodies flying or simply attack your friends with an enormous sword?

That's one of the things that makes videogames so addictive - our ability, our right even, to inflict pain. Whether videogames egg on our propensity for destruction, or just reveal our innate bloodlust, we keep coming back.

The confusing thing about in-game violence, though, is it isn't real. No one is actually being kicked, wounded, marred, or annihilated. Bullets pass through avatars, not people. Yet it satisfies our urges. We are sated by virtual blood.

But real-world violence isn't just about body counts, it's about pain. Whether you're dropping an atomic bomb or pinching your little brother's arm, it's inevitable. Videogame characters, on the other hand, can't feel pain. A fireball to the chest, even if there's a real player behind that chest, will never hurt. So, what does it mean to inflict pain on someone who can't feel?

Some people say it's a good thing. Society keeps its acceptable violence release valve, and no one gets hurt. Where else can we turn for a (constructive) pain fix? Hunting kills animals; karate breaks bones. But, in games, all carnage is temporary, reversible with a few clicks of a button labeled "erase" or "reset."

Other people say destruction without suffering can cause harm. It encourages players to engorge their trigger-happy alter-egos, to learn about violence without ever learning about its consequences. A child, for example, picks up a videogame where shooting a hooker isn't a moral dilemma, it's a wise economic move. He doesn't have to watch her die, slowly, grotesquely. He's escaped both her pain and his own. Players lose their grasp of real-life danger when they become accustomed to in-game immortality.

So the thinking goes. To whichever line of thought to you subscribe, the fact remains: Something's missing, here. As we translate more and more of our human experiences to virtual worlds, we are coming to see some things are universal. Games can inspire love, arousal, anger, remorse. At the same time though, we're realizing that some things are ultimately non-transferable. No game, no matter how interactive or enaging, can reach out and cause physical pain.

Yet there are many ways in which the addiction to pain persists in videogames and videogame culture. Pain derives from physical violence, or, in a broader sense, destruction. And destruction of some sort is a selling point in almost all genres - from war games to racers to simulators. Firing a bazooka is an obvious example of in-game violence, but so is smashing your vehicle into a water tower, or building a sim house with no windows or doors and lighting a fire. We love these things. They're what pushes a game from good to fun. They get our blood pumping.

Some people love destruction more than others, like griefers, the ultimate videogame sadists. They kill and they kill and they kill - just for a laugh, for the thrill. Of all the missionaries of in-game violence, griefers come the closest to causing actual pain. Though they may not inflict suffering the same way a bullet would, they do inflict serious inconvenience. Plus, they bring up the wholly-unexplored question of videogame masochists: people who take it, and come back again, and again, and again.

Really, though, there's no such thing as physical pain in videogames. Inflicting true pain requires two present subjects, someone to give and someone to receive. Whether or not all parties are consenting, this creates a dialectic. Physical body interacts with physical body. Pain is given; pain is felt. Without both of these elements, pain is not actually present, only its pornographic shell, the performance of pain.

Comments on