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Really losing a video game

There are a lot of debates about whether violent video games contribute to causing violence in the world. They do. To remedy that, some have tried to develop nonviolent video games, notably A Force More Powerful, which we have but have yet to try out fully because Jasmine‘s PC is so phenomenally slow. Violence in video games is so dangerous, in part, because it misrepresents violence in reality; there is no cost and no real effect.

Now, artist Zach Gage has created Lose/Lose, a simple arcade game that takes a small step toward changing that. When an object in the game gets destroyed, so does an actual file on your computer. Here’s his statement:

Lose/Lose is a video-game with real life consequences. Each alien in the game is created based on a random file on the players computer. If the player kills the alien, the file it is based on is deleted. If the players ship is destroyed, the application itself is deleted.

Although touching aliens will cause the player to lose the game, and killing aliens awards points, the aliens will never actually fire at the player. This calls into question the player’s mission, which is never explicitly stated, only hinted at through classic game mechanics. Is the player supposed to be an aggressor? Or merely an observer, traversing through a dangerous land?

Why do we assume that because we are given a weapon an awarded for using it, that doing so is right?

By way of exploring what it means to kill in a video-game, Lose/Lose broaches bigger questions. As technology grows, our understanding of it diminishes, yet, at the same time, it becomes increasingly important in our lives. At what point does our virtual data become as important to us as physical possessions? If we have reached that point already, what real objects do we value less than our data? What implications does trusting something so important to something we understand so poorly have?

Following Lose/Lose, maybe it’s time for a new rule: violent video games must have violent consequences. I cringe, though, at the thought that people would probably play them anyway, just as they continue to get into real fights.

At the very least, it is time for a real warning on video game packages. Not just the current system of labels which even seem to make a violent game look more enticing, but truly substantive warnings, as on cigarettes. The research exists to support it. Still, that’s pretty pedantic. Do grown-ups really need to be told that they shouldn’t fantasize for hours about going on killing sprees? We should know better.

(h/t Joel Dietz)

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that the game only deletes files internal to itself. Zach Gage wrote in to clarify that, indeed, the game can delete any file on a user’s computer.