Yesterday, I went to GameStop and reserved a copy of God of War: Ghost of Sparta. It was I’ll admit, yet another unnecessary addition to my ever expanding collection of games I need to finish. That said, God of War is just one of those franchises I can’t resist. The games are just too well made and playing as leading man/on-and-off-deity Kratos is the purest of guilty pleasures. He embodies most every bad quality a human being could have. He’s rage driven, murderous, utterly devoted to vengeance, and wholly willing to destroy the world if that’s what it takes to get it. He’s like a giant toddler perpetually locked in a tantrum, but endowed with the power to actually wreck the world around him.
Kratos is in essence the exact opposite of the goody two-shoes heroes that many games employ. One could never imagine him existing in any of Nintendo’s long running worlds, for instance. Bowser’s worst crime has never evolved past kidnapping the princess every other weekend. Kratos comparatively beat the sun god Helios into a bloody pulp and then tore his head off to use as a flashlight. Sure Ganon might steal the Tri-force every new Zelda, but has he ever gouged out Poseidon’s eyes?
The ironic thing is that in the real world I am about as far from Kratos as you could get. I can be a bit temperamental at times, but overall I’m a fairly mild mannered fellow. Violence is about as far from my modus operandi as you can get. Truth be told, I’m a bit on the squeamish side. If I were to witness even a fraction of what Kratos does in the real world, I’ll probably faint from the shock. The site of blood makes me feel nauseous. I almost vomited at the end of Twilight. Granted this may be a fairly normal reaction to those god awful films, but it was more a response to Kristen Stewart’s vein draining than to the movie itself. I hit a chipmunk once and felt guilty for days afterward. In short, I’m a softy.
Place me in a virtual setting though and I’m as brutal as they come. Playing Civilzation, a game that often touts its inclusion of diplomatic alternatives to violence, I have never once opted for anything other than warfare. I can’t count the number of times in Hitman that I’ve gotten frustrated with stealth and subsequently slaughtered every living creature in the level. Playing online shooters, I’ll opt to play as a sniper not because I’m good at it but because it makes me chuckle to score a headshot and then hear the player I just killed curse through their headphones.
Ask any fan of The Sims and they’ll likely have countless tales of the ways they’ve tortured their virtual minions. I’ve personally watched my wife trap one in a walled off room and watch as it would beg for water, for food, for even just a place to go pee. I can already hear the critics shaking their heads. “See how disturbed those gamers are? You see why we need Ahnold to help limit the damage these folks can do to our impressionable youth?”
Honestly, there was a time when I questioned if there was something wrong with me too. How could I be normal enjoying this sort of thing? How could I actually have fun playing Manhunt and not be at least a tad tweaked in the head? Well, perhaps I am, but that doesn’t make me a ticking time bomb. After all, it’s rarely the ones that express their insanity that blow up on the world. It’s the folks who try maintain a Leave it to Beaver grin all the time, the one’s seething inside behind that mask of cordiality that go postal.
The simple truth is just that human beings are complex. We all have a diverse range of emotions and not all of them are happy. And as nice as it can be to express joy, it can feel just as good to express your anger. And sometimes expressing it via one of the PSA approved methods isn’t enough. Occasionally you just want to trash something, and in the real world this isn’t often doable. Nor is it something you should be able to. Just because someone cut you off at an intersection doesn’t mean you have the right to grab your tire iron and go road rage on them. You can however tear a cyclops’ eye out of its socket.
I like to think I’m a fairly nice guy. I’ll hold the door for you. Children make me smile, and I’d always rather make someone laugh than cry. That said, sometimes I still want to be a jerk and rather than follow through on that impulse and suffer the destructive consequences of being cruel to someone, I can pop in God of War and play as Kratos. It may just be a game, but pretending to be the ultimate jerk is as fair a substitute for being the real one as I can imagine. Sincerely, do you think Jack Thompson would be such an ass if he took a little time to run down his demons in Grand Theft Auto?