I've been thinking about the "Why We Love Shooters" article from last week.
In that article Stephen made the rather capable argument that we like shooters because they force you to think on your feet, make tactical choices, etc...
While this is a fine argument, I think there's a more basic one. And I discovered it while watching my cat this morning.
I watched my 8 month old cat play this morning as he always does. He was chasing fake mice across the floor, batting at cords from blinds, and hiding under the bed to attack my feet and shins as I walked by. All of these are forms of combat/hunting training. He does it because he likes it. I don't think he knows that he's training for hunting or combat, since he'll never actually need to use any of these skills for survival; he just knows he's having fun.
Violent shooters are combat play. They tap into the same part of the brain that pretend swordfighting, playing cowboys and indians, wrestling on the playground, and playing violent sports like Hockey and Football do.
This appears to be rooted in evolutionary psychology, and I'm willing to bet is present in almost all mammals. Play is inextricably tied to survival. If you watch an animal play, it practices those skills it will later use in life for survival. For a predator those skills are primiarly based in stalking and fighting, for a prey animal, they are based primarily on running.
For many millenia, humans have had to use combat/hunting skills to survive. Those that were not proficient in those skills died. Those that practiced those skills lived and passed their genes. The urge to practice became subconscious and internalized until it became "fun." This is the same reason why we seek out high calorie foods and consider their taste appealing, since high calorie foods were more likely to guarantee survivial.
If we apply this logic to shooters, it's easy to see the connection. It's practice for violent combat. We use stalking, vector skills, reflexes, psychological manipulation etc. The verisimilitude of violence probably helps too. Our brains subconsciously recognize this as combat play, and therefore wee are rewarded for doing it with a release of endorphins that we consciously recognize as "fun."
The question is "why do we love shooters?" Because we've been bred to. It's in our DNA. We will continue to seek out experiences that mimic combat. Presumably the more realistic/accurate the experience is, the more we will seek it out. The intellectual, choice making and puzzle solving aspect is linked to this, but I have a feeling that if we divorced these choices from the apparent violence in these games, they would be far less commecially successful.
So... that was a lot of words, but this is something that has been on my mind for a while. I hope some of you found this interesting and thought provoking.