The emergence of the First Person Shooter has had a significant influence on the gaming world and gaming culture. Policy advocates and social crusaders endlessly dialogue about the ramifications of the first person shooter on the gaming community and society in general. Academics have given First Person Shooter games more attention that any other single game genre (Call, Whitlock, Katie & Voorhees 2012).
Historical/ Artistic Context
Many sources have noted that there is a discrepancy as to when the first First Person Shooter emerged. However, many argue that the first game to introduce the phenomenon was Spaism (an abbreviation of ‘Space Simulation’). Spaism was a game that was released in 1974 for the PLATO network. Many central features of the First Person Shooter genre were present within the program: wireframe 3D graphics, local multiplayer for thirty-two players and the first person perspective (Haman n.d).
1990 was a period of vast change for the First Person Shooter. While several works had embraced the first-person perspective before it, Wolfenstein 3D from id Software was the most influential and introduced many to the first-person shooter form (Haman n.d). Wolfenstien was a game that put the gamer in the perspective of a prisoner of war in a German castle as the prisoner of war tried to escape. Wolfenstein was a hit attracting attention for it’s textured 3D graphics, high quality sound and unique playing style (Free Info Society, n.d).
The next most prominent work came in the form of DOOM. Released in 1993, the work set a new standard in its design template (Haman, n.d). While Wolfenstein had allowed gamers to wield a knife, pistol, machine gun and gatling gun, DOOM allowed the gamer to wield a greater variety of weapons, including a chainsaw. Within the work, the gamer was put in the position of a marine who fought demons and zombies in a base in Mars (Free Info Society, n.d). DOOM set a new standard of gaming. It was iconic in its keyboard and mouse control scheme, rich world of story and integration of item pick-ups. DOOM’s real stroke of genius however came from its idea to release a limited version as the game as shareware and ability to be modified (Haman, n.d).
By 1995 FPS games were starting to integrate different genres. In 1996 Bethesda Softworks released a popular RPG/FPS named Daggerfall. Daggerfall was a featured open-ended gaming, which added to the interactivity, and a rich and complex world. Gamers could fight enemies with swords, buy horses, ride horses, join guilds, rob shops, buy house and become a vampire (Free Info Society, n.d).
The First Person Shooter and Violence
Since the First Person Shooters emergence there has been critique from communities that gaming genre has become increasingly violent. Many have argued that First Person Shooters allow and in fact encourage violence. However many in the gaming community consider the genre a release of such urges without having to go through with any unlawful acts (Free Info Society, n.d).
First Person Shooters first started attracting negative attention six years after the release of DOOM. During this time DOOM became the pin-up of how the first person genre encouraged violence. According to Call, Whitlock & Voorhees (2012) the outburst of outrage began in 1997 when there was a murder of three students in Heath High School in Kentucky. On behalf of the victims’ families, litigator Jack Thompson filed a suit against Miramax, makers of the movie Basketball Diaries, and against id Software, makers of DOOM, Quake and Castle Wolfenstein. Thompson claimed that Miramax and id Software were integral links in a casual chain that led to the shooting. While the lawsuit was dismissed, its impact on the perception of the first person shooter genre was profound.
Over the next two years the rate of school shootings rose significantly. There were attacks in Arkansas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Virginia, Georgia, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The most damning massacre however came in the form of the Columbine Massacre. The Columbine Massacre was particularly devastating to the perception of the First Person Shooter genre due to the fact that the two murders, who killed two teachers and a dozen classmates, had played and even modified DOOM (Call, Whitlock & Voorhees, 2012).
This led to a series of escalating events:
Thompson made the talk-show circuit describing FPS games as murder simulators that teach children how to prepare for and enact these school shootings. Retired Army psychologist David Grossman became a go-to source for news programs speaking about how the US military uses FPS games to normalize killing. A new set of congressional hearings was convened in 2000 and a range of FPS games released in the last decade were brought to the table, chastised and rebuked by lawmakers and parent organizations alike, despite expert testimony that there was (and still is) no evidence of a casual relationship between games and violent crime (Call, Whitlock & Voorhees 2012, p. 100).
In recent times, there has been a significant push for the first person genre to focus less on violence and more so on the creation of rich worlds and interactive stories.
The First Person Shooter and its Perception
While the first person perspective in gaming has become stereotyped as a genre whose progress and development has been driven by commercialism: an industry pandering to an audience of violence hungry gamers, others challenge that discourse. Level designer and writer Robert Yang, in his three-part series titled ‘People’s History of the First Person Shooter’ published on Rock, Paper, Scizzors, challenges the paradigm that the first person genre has been driven solely by commercial developers and stresses that the first person genre has been greatly influenced by the community. As he states:
The popular narrative is that the first-person genre has long been an industry-funded enterprise of carnage, a linearly-structured, corridor-filled wasteland bereft of innovation. And now, only recently, are the ‘pretentious’ cultural elite and avant-garde beginning to defile/liberate this lovely camera perspective from the muddied obsidian-clawed clutches of the AAA game industry (Yang 2012, para 8).
Firstly, Yang argues that traditional discourses focus too much on the gory side of the first person genre, and ignore more finessed works. As he aptly illustrates in this anecdote:
In 1994, the New York Times filed a review of a first-person game under its ‘Arts’ section, proclaiming it to be ‘a game that weaves together image, sound and narrative into a new form of experience.’ It sold millions of copies and inspired dozens of imitators. It seemed poised to define an era.
That game was Myst and it failed to define an era. Instead, a game called DOOM came out three months after Myst – and then it shot Myst in the face.
Myst died a slow, painful death. The sequel, Riven, sold well but caused the New York Times to seemingly backtrack, downgrading its Riven review to ‘Technology’ instead of ‘Arts’ (Yang 2012, para 2).
Secondly, Yang challenges the conception the first person genre has been solely run by mainstream companies. He states that first person shooters have always been influenced by the communities that play them. He posits that this is largely due to mods: attachments that allow gamers to customise their gaming experience. The ability to modify your gaming experience was first adopted by DOOM. DOOM’s file structure easily allowed for amateurs to adapt their user experience.
This ability for amateurs to influence DOOM and the games that came after it led for these gamers to influence how the games were being made, who was making them and how people engaged with them. This led the line between amateur and professional to blur.
The First Person Shooter genre has thoroughly changed the landscape of gaming and society at large. While there have been many who have tried to link the genre to violence, there is no scientific evidence. It seems to me that the First Person Shooter genre is a misunderstood beast that has been polarized by the media and public opinion. Within the First Person genre there are many more multifaceted experiences that can be had. The gore is not always the focus of the game and the responder can partake in enjoyment in the act of emboding a character or world that is not their own. Within the first person genre we are able to transcend our anatomy and take on a new gaze. While the very term ‘First Person Shooter’ suggests violence, the genre can offer more beyond that superficial rendering, allowing individuals to engage in a constructed world that is an immerse world of art, sound and storytelling.