In the wake of the mass shooting on Sept. 16 at the Washington Navy Yard, a familiar scapegoat popped up: violent video games. The accused gunman, Aaron Alexis, was reportedly a huge fan. Research has never offered a conclusive answer to whether games increase real-world violence, but given the meticulous realism of the experience—the weapons, the carefully rendered victims, the controllers reverberating in a player’s hands—it’s hard not to worry.
That worry has now started to percolate in an unlikely place: inside violent games themselves. Though it’s so far been ignored in mainstream discussion, gamers have noted that a handful of last year’s best-selling games incorporated distinct if subtle antiviolence messages. In “Spec Ops: The Line,” the soldier protagonist uses white phosphorous to incinerate a camp full of enemies—only to find later that he has accidentally murdered a large group of civilians. As last November’s “Far Cry 3” progresses, other characters start to tell the protagonist that his violence has made him a monster.