War is certainly not fun – it’s not pretty or glorious or anything other than dangerous, terrifying and mentally scarring. Yet, so often when we play video games, we find ourselves in the shoes of a Second World War infantryman or a medieval knight. Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield are three of the most successful franchises of the last decade and they all largely concern war. It obviously satisfies some urge in our psyche, but why? What is it about war games that we love so much?
Defining war games
An academic paper, written at the University of Virginia, delves into the term, ‘war game’. It mentions three requirements for something to be described as a war game – war, game and simulation. The war aspect merely means that the game in question is set in the context of war, with the correct vocabulary and activities of war. The paper argued that because chess is so far removed from the actual realities of war, with pieces moving and behaving so unlike actual military assets, that it is not a war game.
The game aspect is also essential. It needs to be competitive, either between multiple players or with players working alone or together to achieve a goal. The simulation must be winnable and losable, allowing players to think creatively to achieve victory – this could be anything from deciding when to run out behind cover in a first person shooter, or deciding whether to move some troops into a flanking manoeuvre in a strategy game.
The simulation aspect is the final part of this. An effective war game should reflect the experience of at least some aspects of real war, whether this is the effectiveness of tanks against infantry or the impact that morale has on fighting power. In some way, the game should educate and inform.
It is not easy to meet all three of these requirements and some video games will lean more towards some aspects than they do others. For example, the Call of Duty series’ single-player modes generally do well at creating the war setting, while perhaps falling down on the creativity and decision-making required for the game aspect and then having mixed successes in meeting the simulation aspect.
People like progression and winning
War games provide instant feedback on how well you are doing. If you kill the enemy before they kill you, or your army defeats the enemy army, then it’s clear that you won. People enjoy winning because it suggests that they are better than the competition through either better training and preparation or through natural skill. That feeling is not just limited to war games. Games of all genres, including casino, puzzle and strategy are satisfying to win – that is why so many individuals place a bet with Stakers and other online gaming sites to enjoy that winning feeling.
Violence is fun?
That question does not just concern video games. Watching sports has always included elements of violence – boxing and UFC are entirely violence-based. The Virginia paper used the example of a naval war game, held in a flooded Coliseum during the height of the Roman Empire, where 3000 men died. Violence, when it isn’t happening to you or is simulated, can be fun – why?
Academics and psychologists have studied the effects of video games on the brain and the reasoning behind why we enjoy violent ones so much is largely to do with hormones. Defying death and killing enemies in a video game creates a surge of adrenaline, just like being in a fight in real life does. While adrenaline in a real-life situation might not overrule the feeling of fear we might have, when this burst of adrenaline happens in a safe situation, such as in a video game, it can create a very pleasurable feeling for the player.
Say you were an Allied soldier assaulting the beaches of Normandy – you are in an extremely dangerous situation in which you could easily be killed or maimed. Now, switch to the opening level of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – the game replicates the scared soldiers before the assault commences, and the chaos and violence of the assault itself. What is the difference? The difference is the danger. In the real scenario, you would be very much afraid for your life, whereas, in the game, you get all the thrills of dodging danger and defeating enemies, without the truly daunting fear of death.
War games are fun to play because it’s always enjoyable when you win. They simulate a dangerous experience with no actual threat to the player.