It’s a problem in videogames that’s downright elemental. It’s one of the most legible forms of conflict possible and unfortunately maybe one of the ones that videogames are best equipped to simulate. We’re a long ways off from making videogames that we can have a conversation with, or dance with (I’d say games like DDR, we just dance in front of them, we’re not dancing with the game).
I can’t decide if games like Splatoon are better because they’re a further abstraction of fighting by removing the ugliness of violence, or worse because it’s just being somewhat cowardly about what it is the game is still about, which is aiming a ranged projectile launcher at living moving targets.
I think I’m more interested in asking what seems to make violence in videogames feel less shallow or more cohesive. Chernobylite seems extremely stupid because it’s clearly made by people who were either setting out to create a shooter and settled on that as a theme, or couldn’t think or any better gameplay genre to bolt on to it (also maybe they just hadn’t played or heard of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at all).
Maybe this makes me a worse person, but I think I feel more engaged in the fighting or violence of a game if I’ve been ideologically sold on the purpose of it. It feels cheap to need to fight to save a fantasy world, but with something like FFXIV, yeah, I’ll throw down with this revolutionary people’s army to boot out the occupying colonizers any day of the week. Or maybe it’s when it feels justified due to the hostility of the world. John Darksoul doesn’t have a whole lot of options other than kill or be killed.
Those two examples are not what you’d call classic power fantasies either so there’s that!
I’m tired and heading to bed but two extremely good games where your player character engages in no violent actions whatsoever, and also have a common gameplay approach between them come to mind: the Ace Attorney series and Return of the Obra Dinn. Of course… they both feature violence. You just don’t do it.