Why are so many games about destruction and breaking things?

In the real world, we tend to value creation and invention and construction. People are rightly proud if they built a house, less proud if they have demolished one. We feel good and get an emotional high from collaborating to create and build something, and making peoples lives better. There is nothing weird or boring or silly about this, it’s probably built into us, at some genetic level. Chimps that collaborated to help each other had an advantage maybe?

But in games, it’s all about destruction. Team A beats team B by kicking team B in the voolnerables,or blowing them up, or stabbing them. Team A rarely wins by creating a more impressive cathedral than team B, or by curing more disease, or raising life expectancy. This is unfortunate.

Obviously counter-examples exist, and I look upon the success of minecraft as being an example of a game where a lot of people enjoy working together to collaborate on building something impressive. It’s a game about working together, and making stuff, all very positive. However, the majority of big name games, like World Of Warcraft and Call of Duty are about destroying and killing, whther you are killing NPCs or other players.

Some Happy builders

I guess I’m as guilty as any game designer, GSB is about blowing the enemy up, for absolutely no reason at all. However, one positive thing that emerged from the game was a pretty busy, vibrant and very friendly modding community. In some ways, GSB bought some people together to co-operate on making stuff, and that’s just awesome. One day, I’d like to do a game based around that general idea. My own pet theory is that the lack of construction and positive games is due to the history of games emerging as a medium for teenage kids, especially boys. 13 year old boys are all about testosterone and puberty, so basically killing and having sex. Most countries have laws preventing selling sex to that demographic, so the games sell violence to them instead.

When those gamers grow up, lose their hair, get a mortgage and likely a partner & kids, they aren’t so focused on destruction, but on construction. Building a home, a family, a career. None of which is usually a zero-sum game. Where are the games aimed at this period in your life? (except mine).

What examples are there out there in PC gaming land of games which encourage you to do positive stuff? Games where it isn’t a zero-sum game, and you are encouraged to just ‘do better’ rather than  cause your rivals to fail?

17 Responses to “Where are the positive, building, creating games?”

  1. Keith LaMothe says:

    I wonder: how much of this is because constructive effort is accepted in real-world society? Guys tend to have both “want to make stuff” and “want to break stuff” impulses. In the past if they wanted to cause serious mayhem it generally involved starting a war (or at least a brawl), now they can just pop online and start “smashing” things or shooting four people through the head with a single sniper round. Not that it stops real-world conflict, etc.

    Personally, while I enjoy constructive sorts of games, if I want to build something I tend to just go build something in real life (ironically that usually means game programming, but also some other things). The cops don’t seem to mind it, compared to “discharging a cruiser beam inside the city limits”.

  2. Gnoupi says:

    While it is true that a lot of games are about killing and destructing, the final sale numbers seem to go towards the builders too.

    Minecraft is a good example (although it has its share of destruction, but it’s more of a useful destruction, mining materials), exceeding 2.000.000 copies.

    The other example is the most obvious one, the Sims series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sims_(series)).
    In the Sims, it’s all about building, making “”social relationships””, etc. And as a result it is one of the best selling franchise.

    Farmville is also about building, rewarding good behavior (tending to crops, working on relationships). While in this case it’s obviously in an evil purpose (stimulating the player in a repetitive task and pushing him to spread the game like a virus), it seems to work, based on the success.

    I agree that it would be nice to get out of the “teen focus” for most games. More positive games, less destruction, and please, most of all, less half-naked girls. It may be a positive point for the teenager, up to the single guy in his twenties, but it’s dragging the medium down, and making it embarrassing for anyone in a mature relationship.

  3. Stephen says:

    The Sims games are pretty good examples positive play in games. Personally I have not played them, but if I’m not mistaken the goal of the game is to improve your Sims life by building relationships and build structures.

    To play off what Keith said above, one of my favorite games is Supreme Command FA. That game plays into both of the impulses Keith mentions. At it’s core it’s about build a massive base that can support the construction of bigger and better units. Of course after those units are built, it’s about destroying the other players units. Unfortunately though you will never win a match trying to building a base that can squeeze every resources available to maximum effect. This of course is just like you mention Cliff, in that a vast majority of games cater to the destructive nature instead of the creative, constructive side.

    As I get older, I find myself drawn more towards the games that allow me to create rather than destroy. I wonder as gamers of my generation get older, why game developers wouldn’t cater to this crowed more. Especially considering as Cliff you mentioned in another post, older games tend to have more resources to spend on games.

  4. D. Moonfire says:

    When I get around to actually writing a proper RPG, I want to make sure there is a way of finishing the game without combat. I know its a silly thing, but I feel uncomfortable that violence is the primary answer to the game and there is no non-aggressive way of solving things.

    Of course, that doesn’t stop me from killing every single thing in a stage to maximize the XP gain.

    The only game I’ve gotten close to finishing, CuteGod, is a creator sandbox game using graphics from Lost Garden (Danc). No violence there, mainly because I couldn’t get the bug squishing working properly.

    One could say that Farmville and Hotel Life on Facebook are constructionist games.

  5. Thomas says:

    These games do exist. Going all the way back to the ’80s: Minecraft, Spore, Black & White, The Sims, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon, SimCity… Many of these are among my all-time favourites.

    Perhaps one reason that they are outnumbered by destructive games is that the constructive games have many more hours of play in them? One can keep building in Minecraft forever, but in Doom 3, there are only so many enemies to kill before you reach the end.

  6. Kort says:

    Minecraft is the obvious as most people have pointed out, but the biggest “creation” game is EVE Online.

    Yes it’s about space battles, but those are all built on a phenomenally massive player run industry. It’s easily the largest creation focused MMO in the world.

  7. Ben Wilhelm says:

    Interestingly, I just ran into this particular thing today. I’m starting a Digital Game Museum (http://www.digitalgamemuseum.org/) with a few other people who have been deeply affected by games. We’re having our first exhibit today, but our first *major* exhibit at Maker Faire (http://makerfaire.com/), which – if you’re not familiar – is kind of like a mad scientist convention. It’s all about building crazy stuff and learning how to build crazy stuff.

    So naturally, we needed classic building-themed games, but these are *very* rare.

    We ended up with:

    Rocky’s Boots
    Night Shift
    Contraption Zack
    The Incredible Machine

    all of which you should probably check out if you want games about making things :)

    @D. Moonfire: Check out Iji, it’s a fantastic indie platformer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iji). The game makes it very easy to play as a killing spree, but you can also beat the entire game without a single kill, and you get a completely different storyline if you do so.

  8. Benji says:

    As those of us who started gaming young grow up, the popularity of construction games like Minecraft will find a larger market than they would have 10 years ago, but I have serious doubts that the ratio of young to old gamers will ever change, simply because of one factor: free time. Kids have the most, and are most likely to use that time gaming, therefore as a giant money hungry Activ-esque corporation, the demographic of your blockbuster games won’t really change.

    Adults don’t mind games that are based more closely to “real world” dynamics, but kids don’t even care if they’re buying into the 5th cash-in game in a tired series with cliche main characters.

    There is definitely a more adult market, but I think that’s largely why indies are appealing to it – it’s more work than getting to use the same engine/graphics 3 games in a row :)

  9. AlexV says:

    SpaceChem is worth a look. It’s all about encouraging you to design a solution that ‘does better’, to your own personal value of better.

  10. Miles says:

    This isn’t an exact fit, but think about Eve Online. When Eve makes the news, it’s because of a giant battle where hundreds or thousands of players gathered together in the most valuable ships in the game to break each others’ toys. But the story behind all of that is the incredible amount of mining, researching, building, and shipping that is required to make that happen.

    To establish and maintain a player-run empire in Eve requires a tremendous amount of cooperation, sharing, and building. Players have to make or buy everything to keep the alliance running, and moving materiel from place to place can be a major undertaking. At the highest level of play, Eve online is at least as much about construction as it is about destruction.

  11. Scott says:

    Yeah, and I buy it for the articles too…

    Seriously, when did it become wrong to enjoy a bit of gratuitous violence in an imaginary setting? If I want to build something I’m going to go out into the real world to do it. That’s where it has value. If I’m going to play a video game I want big explosions, ridiculously proportioned characters and crude humor and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s escapism, people. You’re not supposed to build castles in the sky, but it can be a lot of fun to knock them down.

    Stay good, but don’t let your inner 14 year old die!

  12. Markus says:

    The original Sim games are probably the prime examples of construction. The SimCity series, SimEarth, SimLife, SimIsle and SimAnt. Many of those are extremely dated now. The SimEarth system for example is something that I think might work well if it was redone and helped with modern processing power and algorythms.

    And as a reader above posted, as a lover of RPGs I must confess that I do miss alternative ways to complete (or do most of the game) in other ways than simply kill everything in site.

  13. Eric says:

    I love building games. Dwarf Fortress is my current vice. I don’t even like building death traps in DF, I just like building things. Sometimes stuff needs to be killed, such as a pesky cave dragon eating the masons, but for the most part I like building peacefully, ensuring everyone is healthy, happy, and the only deaths are due to old age.

    The Sim series games were also great. I spent a lot of time with SimCity games.

    Other great building games are the Anno series games. Its all about building trade networks to supply lavishly decorated cities in the age of sail. Fun times. :D

  14. Fraser says:

    The building genre seems to be a big hit on facebook… admittedly part of it is “keeping up with the joneses” but you’re building yourself a bigger farm/restaurant/city/whatever.

  15. adam says:

    Testosterone peaks about 30, not at 13. jsyk

    There is an iphone game called Burger Queen, all you do its serve customers. Its begging to be made into a 3d fast food restaurant empire management sim with serve customers bit built in.

  16. Arowx says:

    What about a Cure ‘Em Up! Using your honed destructive skills to battle disease and infections from your handy nanosub…

    http://cancerwarsgame.org

    I think that games that look deeper into why wars and battles are fought you will find it’s mainly just a way for one ‘tribe’ to take something from another of value. And as such is always a skill that ‘tribes’ like to maintian although we tend to call them armies.

    Anyway I thought GSB had a more territorial layer with sectors/planets and battles for control now?

  17. Where are the games where you get to construct a farm, a city, a restaurant or a frontier cabin? I believe there are a lot of them on Facebook. 250 million people play them every month. What’s more, they’re free to play

    :-)