I Slay the Bodies Electric

Adam LaMosca | 29 Oct 2008 21:00
Waypoints - RSS 2.0

And yet, I am. I know this because I enjoyed Resident Evil 4, one of many hugely popular games that encourages players to engage in shotgun decapitation. I popped hundreds of enemy craniums in that game. It was totally disgusting, and I enjoyed it every time.

Why? What is it about games allows us to engage in such acts without guilt, trauma, or mental anguish? It's not just their fictional nature. Were that the case, I'd be as enthralled with horror films and literature as I am with Resident Evil 4. But I'm not. I think there's more to the allure of in-game violence than its artificiality.

If I'm watching an Eli Roth film, or reading a Clive Barker novel, or (god forbid) driving past a terrible traffic accident, the only choice I have in the matter is whether or not to avert my eyes. And, in my case, I'll usually choose not to look.

In games, by contrast, the violence and disfigurement is perpetrated by me. I pull the trigger in Resident Evil 4. I bring the boot down on my opponent's head in Gears of War. I launch the rocket at the feet of my enemies in Unreal Tournament. I choose what happens to the digital bodies that these games set before me. The awful and bloody events that result might be the same stuff you'd find in splatterhouse film, but I have a say in how, where, when, and if they occur.

And this is what makes videogames different. They allow us to exercise some measure of control, and in many cases, to feel powerful and important, as we face the fragile, impermanent nature of our own bodies. The acts of violence I engage in while gaming don't arise from or fuel destructive tendencies. They're borne of a desire to confront my deepest fears and the most troubling aspects of my own humanity.

And so, as I surgically disassemble gruesome amalgamations of human body parts in Dead Space, I'm not driven by any sort of anger or bloodlust. I'm not indulging in serial killer fantasies, either. Dead Space's monsters are the digital embodiment of everything terrifying about mortality. They're murder and death and pain and disfigurement. They're marching toward me. They're my worst fears.

And I'm methodically, gleefully, tearing them to shreds.

Adam LaMosca is a writer and researcher in Portland, Oregon, where he's currently crushing, incinerating, and electrocuting sackboys with decidedly non-gory results.

Comments on