Why do people like Call of Duty more than the latest Tetris clone? Survival values. The tension and adrenaline rush from cortisol, noradrenaline and testosterone create a since of desperation and tension that people crave but don't always want to experience in real-life, according to an Iowa State University professor.
NPR did a brief report on the attraction to violent video games; why violent games sell the way they do and what the appeal is over non-violent games. I could have summed it all up by saying that it's a heck of a lot cooler to be a space marine on some distant planet that you'll never visit in real-life, saving the entire galaxy from a corrupt, ancient race of menacing space aliens than it is rotating a few color-coded blocks and lining them up at the bottom of the screen like a flaccid old man giving coffins a test run before kicking the bucket.
Nevertheless, National Public Radio wanted something a little more concrete, a little more palatable for the science-side of the discussion regarding violent video games, and they found it in ISU professor Douglas Gentile, who stated that...
"There are two things that force us to pay attention," ... "One is violence; the other is sex. Whenever either of those are present in our environment, they have survival value for us."
Except I don't want to be punched, but I don't mind feeling that same physiological rush of adrenaline as if a non-physical punch landed or was thrown and a full-on fist fight followed through. In fact, 20 million gamers each year look for that same rush with Activision's annual Call of Duty, 12 million gamers sought that experience in Assassin's Creed III (which focuses more on melee combat than gun violence), nearly six million people wanted that thrill from Borderlands 2 [via CVG] and nearly 5 million gamers craved for that experience in Far Cry 3.
While Gentile explains that players crave control, playing with others and the competence of feeling skilled at the game you're playing, there's a much simpler explanation as to why violence sells.
Violence sells because it's violence most sane people don't want to experience in real-life. You don't get to respawn in real-life and if you want to experience war first-hand there's a high chance you won't come back the same as you went in, assuming you come back at all. Once you're dead, that's it...game over.
Being able to rush onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day or parachute in behind enemy lines while being shot at by AA cannons during World War II creates a rush and a feeling of repeatable excitement you can't find in real-life without potentially losing limbs or your one and only life.
Selling experiences you can't find anywhere else has become the business of game makers, ranging from the overtly violently (i.e., Mortal Kombat) to the overtly artistic and thought provoking (i.e., Journey) and absolutely everything else in between.
NPR's look into why game violence sells the way it does amidst all this controversy trying to pin blame on the interactive entertainment industry over real-life gun violence answers itself if you're a gamer. As noted in the comment section of the NPR article, there's no denying that any form of influential media will influence the player in a wide range of ways, from cementing a daughter's love for her father [via StickSkills], to helping bring a family closer to together [NPR comment]. It's always going to be a different experience for different individuals, and only those of the unstable and inherently violent type will employ – out of sensitivity and an inclination for violence – the material they experience in any form of media or literature.