In my lectures about the art of game story development, I find myself talking a lot about Grand Theft Auto, particularly when addressing human psychology. I will usually begin the segment by exclaiming – “Hands up if you play GTA!”, obviously, hands go up. This is always followed by: “Hands up if, when playing GTA, you have stolen a car and proceeded to run down innocent bystanders!” Lots of hands go up. Then I ask this: “How many of you enjoyed doing that?” Again, lots of hands shoot into the air, with stifled laughter.
It would seem, then, that games like GTA expose aspects of humanity that we’d, ordinarily, rather not admit. When performing acts like running people over and shooting people in a game the same circuits are activated in the brain as would be activated if the acts were being performed in reality. However, what my questions reveal is that human beings actively enjoy performing these acts. In other words, human beings seem to inately get a kick out of violence. This may not come as a surprise when you acknowledge the atrocities routinely committed by human beings, in real life, around the globe.
The question that might pop into the mind at this point is: “Are games creating violence in gamers by enticing this behaviour?” My answer to this question is no. These games show that human beings respond positively to performing acts of violence and it seems clear that if we, as a species, found violence so abhorrent, then these games wouldn’t be popular at all. Indeed, there is an argument that games could, in fact, reduce the chances of violence occurring on our streets.
Carl Jung, the psychologist, posited the idea that human beings have both good and bad aspects to their psychology. To cite and example, he said that a person cannot pick up an injured bird from the street, in an attempt to assist it, without also subtly feeling the urge to end its life. What he was getting at was that problems arise when we deny the possibility that we are capable of dark thoughts. These problems express themselves later on as various complexes.
Looked at from this angle, games could well be a healthy expression of the violence we all have the capacity for, helping it to not spill onto our streets to add to that which is already there.