The targets of these virtual arsenals are the other side of the problem. Just as the the gun is no longer an object worthy of idolization, so too has the victim of gun violence been stripped of his emotional impact. The "shooting gallery" concept has proven appeal, but it comes at the expense of narrative depth; enemies become little more than static targets zipping to and fro on their runners. In Half-Life 2, adversaries pour out towards the player, a million automatons providing visual distraction but ultimately unable to coax from the player the emotional response an ant below the magnifying glass can summon in its final moments. By now the monster closets and enemy-induced claustrophobia, the techniques commonly used to stir the player to action, are familiar sights to veterans and visual white noise to the uninitiated.
The reliance on techniques that are fundamentally sight gags highlights videogames' inability to portray the gruesome finality of the gun. Real death is something to be used sparingly, spread thin amongst enemies, levels and bosses. Without this economy of homicide, the showdown cannot exist. Some games have tried. Shadow of the Colossus presents the player with what are essentially a series of showdowns. But like all boss encounters, the bare mechanics of killing the adversary dulls any emotional tension the player might feel.
The constant repetition of the skills a game demands lie at odds with the gun's mechanical simplicity, put on full display in the showdown. In this situation, the gun's power to end life is absolute. Emotional tension ends the moment you pull the trigger. Guns can change everything with one bullet and videogames' refusal to address this reality weighs heavy on their ability to provide the deeper examinations of violence the medium demands.
Guns kill people, and that's why we love them. Because worlds are thrown into chaos when people die, and to imagine ourselves wielding such a powerful force indiscriminately is both compelling and unnerving, even sexy. Until videogames address this reality more effectively, showdowns will remain the province of cut scenes, and the Magnum's barrel will be flaccid in the presence of the BFG's candy-colored emanations. All our treasured moments of revenge and justice, sociopathic indifference and emotional havoc, violence made real and awful will remain unfulfilled as we stumble through games unable to properly brandish our death's head: our gun.
Tom Endo is The Escapist's Acquisitions Editor, and you will have to pry the videogame controller from his cold dead hands.