Anyone who's played video games knows that some of them are horrifyingly violent. Take Half-Life 2, in which the player has to shoot his way past any number of enemy soldiers. The gun looks real. It sounds real. And its effects look pretty real, too: you see the blood flying, spattering on the ground and on walls. Here's what I did to one poor soldier who got in my way.

What happened to one poor soldier who got in my way.

Now I'll admit that games like Half-Life 2 are thrilling to play. The adrenaline flows. You become fully engaged in the moment, running, jumping, crouching, peering around corners, and shooting the hell out of anything that moves. It is a lot more exciting than working at a desk. (Some months ago I wrote about the addictive qualities of games in a posting on Angry Birds. It got a surprising number of hits, and got me a few interviews on radio shows.)

But now that I'm 48, I'm less interested in adrenaline and macho fantasies of power and destruction. My focus has changed. What I now most enjoy about games like Half-Life 2 is that they are spectacularly beautiful and immersive. They are fully rendered, photorealistic worlds in which you can walk around and peer in all directions, enjoying the way water is rendered in flowing brooks and the play of sunlight off of rock and wood. When you turn on a flashlight, shadows move in exactly the way you would expect. The game’s physics are eerily real: there’s one point where you have to pile cinderblocks on a seesaw ramp to get it to tilt up so you can reach a ledge. The ramp teeters back and forth exactly the way a real one would. It is so much fun just to walk around looking at things.

I wanted to play Half-Life 2 without killing anybody.

Which turned out to be easy. I hit the ~ key to bring up the control board, typed “sv_cheats 1” to let me issue cheat codes, and then typed “notarget.” Meaning, I was no longer visible to enemy soldiers as a target. I could walk right past them. And I did. Leaving them alive to go home to their virtual families and virtual children.

Now they live to go home to their families. Electronic families, but still.

Of course, they didn't have families in the game. But I think they should. I think in future games like this, every time you kill a soldier a text box should pop up saying something like this: “Larry Jones, aged 32, wife Bridget, two kids. Enjoyed painting watercolors. Adored his dad.”

That would really take the stuffing out of kill-fest games like Half-Life 2. And you’d have a lot more players playing in notarget mode.

Liked this posting? Follow me on Twitter @MikeChorost, and read my posts on How To End Gun Violence and The Turning Point: The Moral Example of UC-Davis Students. I've got lots more; see my website.

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