When I’m not reading Nietzsche, or listening to Bach, or exercising, or droning at Microsoft, I play video games. It’s a guilty admission for a 36 year old man to make — I really should be spending my leisure time having more sex — but I’ve been playing video games since I was a child. I love video games: they are a far more stimulating way to kill time than passively watching television. But they have one thing in common with television: they are often unabashedly, unselfconsciously, and brutally violent.
Yesterday, I was playing Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution on my Xbox 360. In the game, you lead a nation state across the centuries from infancy to world domination. There are many different ways to achieve victory: cultural, scientific, or hegemonic. The hegemonic victory involves capturing the state capitals of all four of your rivals. (Guess which type of victory I favor.) As you advance your nation, you can eventually discover nuclear power and then build the Manhattan Project and be rewarded with one nuclear warhead.
I used my warhead to nuke Zimbabwe, the capital of my final rival. (It’s easier to capture a capital that has been reduced to radioactive ashes. Carpet bombing is much more tedious.)
As I watched the warhead lift from the capital of Madrid — I played the game as Queen Isabella of Spain — and as it arced gently over the sphere of the world intent on obliteration, I was reminded, yet again, of a simple truth: Humans are violent. Inherently and indelibly violent. Don’t be fooled. Television does not cause violence any more than video games cause it. Or any more than reading The Iliad causes it. Violence is in our nature.
After all, we eat. And chewing is neither peaceful nor pleasant, especially for that being eaten.