"[T]he younger Haldane found the First World War 'a very enjoyable experience' and freely admitted that he 'enjoyed the opportunity of killing people'."
- Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
"I think for those who are in combat, it very swiftly can become an addiction. In every conflict that I have covered, you reach a point — and I think I reached this point in,certainly in El Salvador — where you feel that it’s better to live for one intoxicating, empowering moment than ever to go back to that kind of dull routine of daily life. And if your own death is the cost of that, then that’s a cost you are willing to accept."
"Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result."
-Winston Churchill, The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War
"'I think typical [Japanese applicants to the French Foreign Legion] are those who, like Saito, had experience in the (GSDF) airborne unit and wanted to experience a real battlefield,' Hatanaka said.
Asked what his reason was for joining the legion, Hatanaka said he wanted stimulation in his life. 'I probably wanted to experience something like a war,' he said."
-"Saito just one of many in Japanese in French Foreign Legion", Japan Times, May 12, 2005
I am not a violent person, and I don't generally believe that violence is a good thing - I even moreso don't believe that war is a good thing. However, as somebody with a little bit of experience of full-contact bare-fisted sparring, I can personally attest that being hit very hard is fun, the feeling of euphoria afterwards is addictive, and having a body covered in bruises makes you feel fantastic. So while it would be pretty embarrassing to mention myself in the same sentence as a professional boxer, say, let alone a soldier who has fought in a war, I can stretch my imagination sufficiently to envisage how somebody could come to enjoy and even crave violence. Not because of sadism, but rather the opposite: the sheer rush you get from putting your personal safety on the line. I find the thought fascinating.
And I also believe that violence and war in RPGs are good things, because they are enjoyable, challenging, exhilerating, and never fail to expedite something interesting. They're one of the only occasions in any game where the players actually feel that slight rush of adrenaline because their character may die, combined with an opportunity to think tactically and carefully about their environment. It's a combination of mental challenge and excitement that is hard to beat. When lives are on the line, even fictional ones, things matter.
In the last couple of days I've come across a few comments here and there on blogs and G+ arguing that violence in RPGs is a bad thing or to be discouraged. I wish I could remember where; at the moment I only have this post bookmarked:
"The problem is that real violence usually creates more problems than it solves. Even if a person or group of people seems evil, using violence against them is rarely a good option. There’s a little thing called the cycle of violence, showing that when two groups are in conflict, violence from one side always leads to violence from the other."
I tend to take the view that all the usual arguments - violence causes more problems, it is rarely the best option, it perpetuates a cycle of violence, it is often morally repugnant, it has bad and unforeseen consequences - are absolutely correct, but that's why it's so interesting. Isn't that what any RPG campaign should aspire to? The DM thinking carefully about the consequences of fights, making sure they come back to bite the PCs in a believable way, playing out foreseeable cycles of violence, providing other options and having the players make difficult choices? Isn't that one of the things that makes a D&D campaign good? The way to deal correctly with violence in an RPG is to try as closely as possible to make it like real life, to make it matter, so that sweet spot of challenge and excitement is hit right on the nose. Not to try to jury rig things to avoid it.