Sometimes you just want to blow shit up. You get home from work or school and to let off some steam and relax, you switch on your console or PC with the aim of shooting legions of goons in the head or creating the biggest explosion possible. This doesn’t mean you’re a monster, there is no link between virtual and real violence, it’s just a fun and gratifying way to spend an evening. Whether you’re ‘accidentally’ crashing into pedestrians in GTA or killing more cult members than an FBI agent in 1993 in Far Cry 5, we all indulge our savage side on occasion. But recently I’ve been finding more and more solace in the gentle moments and mechanics of such violent games and when once they may have been mere distractions I indulged only to gain some trophies/achievements, now I’m actively seeking them out.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of fishing in Far Cry 5. In reality I don’t like fishing: it’s boring, often cold and the idea of jamming jagged metal hooks into the mouths of little fishes makes me feel uneasy. However, after outbursts of helicopter homicide, I felt compelled to cast a rod into the nearest virtual body of water. As with most of my gaming habits it started with a trophy: beat the state record for every type of fish and you get yourself a shiny silver trophy. But after doing this, and pretty much everything else in the game, I felt myself being drawn back to the game solely to fish. It was like my 22-year-old body had suddenly become possessed by some Montana fly-fisher retiree who likes nothing more than to catch and sell fish in order to buy attachments for his sub-machine gun which I’m sure actually happens in Montana. The controls are fiendishly simple and yet there is a knack to doing it correctly and whether I was reeling in the smallest fish or the biggest in the game (the infamous Admiral) I was having more fun than I did when I was dismantling The Father’s cult.
I was surprised by the magnetism Far Cry’s fishing had on me but looking back on the last year or so of gaming I’ve been spending more and more time playing these fun, non-violent interludes than ever before. I’ve always enjoyed jumping into GTA just to drive around the map relatively aimlessly or to wander the Tuscan countryside in Assassin’s Creed in search of Easter Eggs but never to this extent. I should have seen this change in me coming when I picked up Uncharted 4. There’s a section where you play as Nathan Drake playing Crash Bandicoot (Naughty Dog-ception!) and I couldn’t stop replaying it instead of moving on for some Indiana Jones-esque action adventure. At the time I put it down to my nostalgia for Crash Bandicoot but now I can see that wasn’t the case. I just enjoyed playing Crash in Uncharted more than Uncharted itself. There’s nothing wrong with that of course and I’ve been playing more platformers, indie and puzzle games recently but action games and First-Person Shooters used to be the staple of my gaming experience and now my enjoyment of them is waning.
My favourite games of the last few years have been Prey and Assassin’s Creed Origins. Two action-packed violent games but my attention has been grabbed by the simpler, lighter mechanics they feature. In Prey, between getting terrified by the shape-shifting Mimics, my favourite thing to do was to rifle through draws and pillage people’s offices for junk I could collect before running to the nearest recycling machine and turning all that junk into pretty orbs and cubes of raw material that I could then use. It is, without a doubt, the most satisfying mechanic in any video game. As for Assassin’s Creed, while my bloodlust briefly returned when I was stealthily jabbing knives into the necks of Roman soldiers, I was once again side-tracked by less violent pastimes. Photo-mode, which is thankfully being embraced by many blockbuster games, proved to be the perfect diversion as I travelled across Egypt looking for photo ops among the legendary landmarks. Although at times I did try to snap a photo while brutally killing my opponents, attempting to capture that perfect moment of viscera flying across the screen, so Photo-mode has ingratiated with my thirst for blood instead of outright replacing it.
Just recently I’ve also dabbled in the Discovery Tour of Assassin’s Creed Origins. It removes combat from the game and allows you to explore the world either at your own pace or with a series of guided tours that give huge amounts of information on Egypt from its ancient origins to around 80 BCE. Assassin’s Creed has always pursued historical accuracy but that can easily be forgotten when you get a sword in your hand. This mode highlights the years of work that go into such games and I can’t get enough of it. Like with fishing in Far Cry 5, I started playing it for the trophies but now it’s purely of my own accord and it can be a relief not having your exploration interrupted by combat.
For years these menial video game activities have always had a punch-line: “Niko! It’s your cousin! Let’s go bowling!”. I remember Roman calling me constantly in Grand Theft Auto 4, asking me that question and finding it the most annoying thing ever. But today, if I were to play GTA 4, I think I may just pick up and answer in the affirmative. I would rather go bowling than mow down mob bosses and that blows my mind. Is this the video game equivalent of the mid-life crisis? Am I alone or have you gone through a similar predicament? What family-friendly mechanics found in violent video games have you become engrossed by? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.