I Can Stop Playing Whenever I WantAddicted to PainI Can Stop Playing Whenever I Want - RSS 2.0
In the case of videogames, though, it seems we've broken the dialectic. We have plenty of painful intentions, plenty of real-life players casting virtual blows, but no one to receive them. We're throwing our sadistic energies out into the entropy of space.
In the real world, there's no lack of suffering. So, why do people still seek out the impossible - effectual in-game violence? Maybe they don't. Maybe they couldn't care less whether it hurts when characters bleed. Maybe videogame violence is about something different entirely. Because, when you remove physical pain from violence, you're left with one thing: power. Videogame violence is about being in control.
Research has closely linked griefing to bullying. Not that there isn't an element of simple sadism in bullying, but it more commonly symbolizes a reminder of power, an enforcement of schoolyard social class. The difference in videogame griefing is it empowers a whole new type of person, the skilled gamer. That's exactly the type of person who, previously, might have found himself the object of bully torment. So, griefing lets the underdog reclaim control.
Even the simple joy of destruction is a matter of power. Destruction is an extension of your power to influence the world around you. Whether you use that power for construction or carnage is up to you. Of course, destruction's adrenalin rush is more immediate. People, albeit game characters, can die because of you. Even the most famous case of virtual sadism was permeated not by the pleasure of physical pain, but by a love of power. Mr. Bungle didn't force his body on others, he forced his will. He made other players do things, instead of doing things to them.
In a way, all videogames are about control, about our ability to shape life through interactivity. Perhaps that's what we love about them, what we become addicted to: our own power - our position of unprecedented dominance. Where else can we hold such sway, can we affect the universe so profoundly? That's what makes destruction fun, our own self-importance.
Which brings us to the question of videogame masochism. Masochists, in giving up control or the right to bodily well being, don't lose power - they gain it. Often, tendencies that are considered masochistic - like cutting and anorexia - are closely tied to control, to the need to gain power over existence. Videogames allow us to do exactly that: gain power over existence, to micro-manage to the point of self-redemption. Are we, then, all videogame masochists, sacrificing our subjectivities, our personhoods as real-life people, for the power endowed to us through game? Here may be the truly addictive pain of gaming: our own.
In turning to the issue of control, however, we've forgotten physical pain. Physical pain, though it can be understood through power, can never be reduced to it; such pain necessitates a real physicality that will forever be missing from games, at least games as we know them. If there is, indeed, an unbridgeable divide between virtual and real-life existence, physical pain embodies it.
The thing we don't yet know is what we lose when we give up physical pain. Videogame violence has its place, its purposes, and its worth - and it's addictive qualities - but it can't replace actual human suffering, neither in our understanding or our own experience. Pain, on its own, is not a bad thing or a good thing, it is only a real thing, a thing ultimately unknowable beyond our bodies. Feeling it requires putting something truly destructible on the line. And as the saying goes, "No pain, no gain."
Bonnie Ruberg is a videogame journalist specializing in gender and sexuality in games and gaming communities. She also runs a blog, Heroine Sheik, dedicated to such issues. Most recently, her work has appeared at Wired.com, The A. V. Club, and Gamasutra.