First Person Shooters

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First-Person Shooters (FPS) are a video game genre in which the user plays the main character in the first person perspective, using firearms as the main form of gameplay. First Person Shooter games may be single story modes, co-operative story modes, or in multiplayer arenas that connect remote players together via an online network. After the introduction of FPS games with Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, first-person shooters have become the most popular video game genre. While some have seen the positive effects of playing first-person shooters, such as cooperation and advanced mental functioning, the increasing popularity and ever growing player base, especially of young users, have many people wondering about the ethics of first-person shooters -- largely in regards to violence and gender bias seen in the game designs of first-person shooters. Efforts are still ongoing to make these game designs, which seem to praise violence and sexist themes, promote more ethical values in their players, as well as opening questions for analysis as to where the values for these negative designs are rooted and the impact they may have.


Doom (1993), one of the first first-person shooters
The early foundations of first-person shooting games can be traced back to 1974, and can be accredited to the video games Maze War and Spasim[1]. The main rise to popularity of first-person shooters began with the games Wolfenstein and Doom [1]. These games were the first to employ modern graphics and mechanics and were followed by numerous other successful first-person shooting games near the end of the 1990s like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, and Counter-Strike.

The earliest version of first-person shooter games were strictly on PC, but the expansion of the genre to console gaming opened an entirely new audience to first-person shooting games. Halo:Combat Evolved released in 2001, and displayed the powers of FPS games using the Xbox console. Halo’s success paved the groundwork for the development and focus of game companies of producing first-person shooters for console gaming, and the widespread success of the first-person shooting genre.


There are occasional disagreements about the definition of what it means to be considered a first-person shooter game. A first-person shooter cannot see the body of the player, but rather the point of view is through the eyes of the player. Deus Ex and Bioshock are two games in which the definition of first-person shooter is blurred. While they may be considered first-person shooter, they could also be considered role-playing video games. Similarly, there is a game called Portal in which there is no direct shooting element, but it is still a first-person perspective in which the player must solve puzzles. [2] It is important to distinguish first-person shooter from light-gun shooter. Light-gun shooter is a game in which a user aims at targets using a gun-shaped controller. The term "light-gun" comes from the idea that there is a light sensor. [3]

Online Multiplayer

The popularity of first-person shooting games saw a marked increase with the addition of online multiplayer modes. Services like Xbox Live expanded the market for simpler connections of players to an online service, as games before like Quake and Counter-Strike typically faced issues with slow connections and dial-up broadband services. Halo 3, a first-person shooter developed by Bungie, was able to use the online aspect of Xbox live to make their multiplayer mode be widely successful. The same year Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, released with similar success to its online mode. These games are coined with helping pioneer the online rise of first-person shooters and serving as a template for future first-person shooters with multiplayer options.


The addition and widespread use of multiplayer and online modes have also led to a rise in competitive gaming and E-sports, as players of first-person shooters are able to play each other on a global scale. The first e-sport tournaments came with the improvement of internet connectivity which improved the poor quality that came with previous technology. Games such as Quake and Counterstrike became games played in the Cyberathelete League. The support of competitive first-person shooter games has improved greatly since then as the prize pool for ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier 2018 was 1 million dollars[4].

The E-sports community has grown an extreme amount due to the growth and participation in competitive first person shooters, namely Counter Strike Global Offensive. In 2017, the major tournament for this game saw a viewership of 31 million unique viewers and was watched for over 20 million hours.[5] This number rivals some of the largest E-sports games in the scene such as League of Legends and DOTA 2, which are more traditional competitive games known as MOBA's (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). This type of viewership for Counter Strike not only added to the popularity of first-person shooters but also gave it much more monetary value and brought money into the gaming industry as a whole. As E-sports becomes more of a mainstream and widely accepted sport, many longtime fans of first-person shooters are appreciative that their genre of game helped pioneer this growing sport.


First person shooters have also found support on streaming websites such as, a popular streaming website recently acquired by Amazon,[6] which allows users to subscribe to streamers they enjoy by paying a monthly subscription. Battle Royales, a subset of first-person shooters where the items you acquire are random, have become very popular on Twitch. Richard Tyler Blevins, more commonly known by his streamer name Ninja, a Battle Royale streamer, has the most subscribers on Twitch with 21.8 million subscribers in the month of April which equates to around $500,000 a month. Due to his online success, he was featured on the cover of ESPN becoming the first professional E-Sports player to be featured making a breakthrough for E-sports into traditional sports. [7] A few of the most popular Battle Royale games include Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Player Unkonwn's Battle Ground. As the popularity of this game type has seen a major surge in recent years, the number of streamers playing these games has also seen a drastic uptick. Famous streamers such as Shroud have thrust their video game hobbies into entire careers by playing many popular first-person shooters such as Overwatch, Apex Legends, Player Unknown's Battleground, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Rainbow Six: Siege, just to name a few.

Positive Outcomes

There are multiple studies which point to cognitive benefits as a result of playing first-person shooter games. An experiment conducted on a group of non-gamers which measured the participants' neural processes before and after playing. To begin the study, the researchers split the non-gamers into two separate groups; One group played the first person shooter game Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and the other group played Tetris. After the final tests the researchers realized that the group of non-gamers who played Medal of Honor: Allied Assault improved their scores significantly better than the group who played Tetris. These results concluded that FPS games could not only enhance people's attention, but also their perception skills. Scanning a video screen to look for potential enemies increases the players' ability to find small differences in visual cues. These heightened skills may help prepare players for potential careers down the road, such as air traffic controllers -- requiring trained perceptual skills. These cognitive skills learned through the engagement of the games and can provide credentials to employment in fields requiring real-time decision making.[8] Another study reports that because of their inclusion of high speed, high perceptual and motor load, unpredictability and peripheral processing, action games (although violent) have been found to influence various aspects of processing. Some examples include multiple objects tracking spatial resolution, central attention skills, and peripheral attention skills. Scanning a video screen to look for potential enemies increases the players' ability to find small differences in visual cues. These heightened skills may help prepare players for potential careers down the road, such as air traffic controllers -- requiring trained perceptual skills. These cognitive skills learned through the engagement of the games and can provide credentials to employment in fields requiring real-time decision making. [9]

Any online multiplayer FPS game teaches valuable team working skills and how to work cooperatively. Popular games, such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Seige support and encourage audio communication between team members in order to achieve the game objective. Players will confront people of different play styles and beliefs which challenges individuals to communicate and work together to be successful[10]. This human to human communication skill is carried over to any occupation in the workforce.

Ethical Implications

Promotion of Violence

A screenshot from Doom (2016), labelled as "gloriously gory"[11]
First-person shooters have faced criticism for their promotion of violence and other aggressive values. Critics of first-person shooters have cited that many mass shooters such as Adam Lanza, the Columbine shooters, and Cho Seung-Hui, were reported to have numerous hours spent playing violent first-person shooting games[12], often linking their behavior and these video games together. In fact, the American Psychological Association released a policy statement in August 2015 stating research implies a link between "violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior ... and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement." The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines for media which included a warning that violent media could be dangerous for kids saying that video games "should not use human or other living targets or award points for killing, because this teaches children to associate pleasure and success with their ability to cause pain and suffering to others." [13]This link between video game play and violent behavioral patterns has brought into question whether or not the values promoted by first-person shooters can influence our identities and the values that we hold. First-person shooters then must be examined by their embedded values, which is the concept that a computer or technology system can "promote or demote particular moral values and norms"[14].

However, there are other studies which suggest there may not be a significant link between first-person shooters (or other violent video games) and a manifestation of violence. A study done at Western Michigan University attempted to investigate the connection between kids playing violent video games and violent behavior, on the premise that kids who enjoy violent games may already be predisposed to be aggressive. The results suggest that playing even the goriest, most violent video games does not predict violence. In fact, the study suggests that an added benefit of playing video games is keeping young boys out of trouble by keeping them busy with something that interests them. [15]

Embedded Values

In first-person shooters, the player is able to distinguish the promotion of values including violence and aggression, and demotion of moral values pertaining to empathy. Evidence of these embedded values of first-person shooters are present in studies, which have indicated that video game players often idolize the aggressive and violent character traits of the protagonists in violent video games, or emotionally desensitize the players of violent video games.[16][17] The act of shooting can also be seen as a built-in consequence to first-person shooters and as a result, can make them an aggressive genre of video games.[14] These values that are imparted onto younger and more impressionable players can leave them more aggressive and hostile in their everyday lives, as they mimic the actions or behaviors of their favorite protagonists, who may not be the best role models for the real world.

Value Destruction

In Ron Eglash's piece, "A Generative Perspective on Engineering: Why the Destructive Force of Artifacts Is Immune to Politics: Interplay between Engineering, Social Sciences, and Innovation", he examines the many ways that current engineers are creating technologies that are destructive to the values of society[18]. First-person shooters designed to represent highly violent scenarios impacting the values of its players to promote digital violence falls into Eglash's description of an artifact with a destructive force on society. However, the generative approach he describes towards engineering practices could be the solution to the current state of game design. A study on video games found that playing video games has "the potential to enhance life satisfaction and improve individual player’s mental well-being", which indicates first-person shooters and generative forces on society are not mutually exclusive. [19] Proper and conscious game design then should be mitigated towards these game designs which pose ethical concerns to violence.

Gender Bias

Ratio of female players per video game genre
While first-person shooters may be the most popular video game genre, female players only make up 7% of the players of first-person shooters [20]. Such a drastic disparity in demographics has sparked questions as to why the first person shooter genre is so one-sided towards male players. However, nearly double this amount of women, 17%, have been recorded playing the game Overwatch[21], which has been accredited with a more gender-balanced game design (yet still faces challenges and bias in its design).

The disparity in female gamers between Overwatch and other first-person shooters portrays the importance of game design in determining gender bias within video games. This bias in first-person shooters can first be attributed to the values of those designing them. In the game industry, women only make up 22% of the workforce[22]. Expressive values are defined as representing the values of the designers.[14] Since the workforce in the game industry is primarily male, the expressive values within games have drastic disparities in the representation of genders in their design compared to a more evenly distributed workforce. These expressive values can discourage female players from participating in first person shooter games and encourage gender norms and stereotypes in society. Diversity in manufacturing games is necessary to include different perspectives and limit gender biases.

In one study of first-person shooters, for example, it was found that 19% of the games used a female avatar as the main playable character[23]. The other 81% of games in this study enforced that the user play with a male avatar. It also outlined that PC games were generally more gender restrictive in the use of avatars compared to console games.[23] Furthermore, the study found that from 1991 to 2009, only 21% of first-person shooters even made playing as a female avatar possible.[23] This study outlines the role game design plays in gender bias.

To find the implications of what this bias creates, one can look at the final game designs and the values within them. Utilizing the concept of embedded values as a lens to view what these games are promoting, it is apparent that first-person shooters often promote things like male protagonists, overly sexualized female character models, and reinforce gender stereotypes [14]. These embedded values within the design of first-person shooters can impact the personal values which players of these games have. Studies have revealed that playing violent shooting games decreases empathy of violence towards females and creates increased masculine beliefs in its players[24]. This evidence of first-person shooters impacting a player's value system indicates that if left unaltered, the current state of these games will promote values of sexism, stereotyping, and bias in its players. As there are millions of players for first-person shooters, these embedded values then pose a threat to maintaining negative cultural sex roles and stereotypes of genders across a huge scale of players.


Similar to other genre of video games, First Person Shooters are vulnerable to cheating activities within its player community. Mia Conslavo, professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University, pointed out that players have different perspectives when it comes to defining cheating in video games, but most associate cheating with playing the game with external assistances for the purpose of gaining advantages that are not intended by the game's original design. [25] Due to the growing popularity of online multiplayer First Person Shooters and their inclusion in major electronic sport tournaments, game developers have launched active crackdowns, banning the accounts of players who are suspected of cheating.[26] The expanded reward pools of Esports tournaments have increased incentive to win, and by proxy incentive to cheat. A major incident in the Counter Strike: Global Offensive competitive scene during the Extremesland Zowie Asia CS:GO 2018 tournament, a large tournament boasting a $100,000 prize pool. Player Nikhil "forsaken" Kumawat was caught attempting to conceal files of an auto-aiming hack on the tournament PC. The player was subsequently caught via a tweet another user uploaded to Twitter. The aftermath of the incident saw the player banned from the competitive scene and the dissolution of his team, OpTic India, to allow other team members to distance themselves from the scandal. [27] Despite the negative impacts of cheating, some game developers acknowledge the factor of fun in allowing players to transcend regular game mechanics and embed game mechanisms that encourage "cheating" activities that do not impact other players' experiences, usually in singleplayer games. Rage 2, an upcoming First Person Shooter that is expected to release in 2019, even included cheat codes as part of the pre-order incentives for players.[28]

Not only does cheating negatively impacts other players' experience of video games, it can also affect players' character developments. According to Professor Conslavo's interviews, getting stuck is a major reason for cheating [25], however, if players habitually use cheating to overcome obstacles they encounter in games' virtual environment, such behaviors will eventually become part of the players identity and have real life consequences.

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Staff, GamesRadar. “A 43-Year History of First-Person Shooters - from Maze War to Destiny 2.” Gamesradar, GamesRadar+ The Games, Movies and TV You Love, 1 May 2017,
  2. “First-Person Shooter.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Apr. 2019,
  3. .“Light Gun Shooter.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Feb. 2019,
  4. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Prize Pools & Top Players - Esports Profile :: Esports Earnings. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. "Esports Viewership Numbers",
  6. Weinberger, M. (2016, March 16). Amazon's $970 million purchase of Twitch makes so much sense now: It's all about the cloud. Retrieved from
  7. Fogel, S., & Fogel, S. (2018, September 18). Ninja: First Esports Player Featured on ESPN Magazine Cover. Retrieved from
  8. Wu, Sijng, et. al. "Playing a First-person Shooter Video Game Induces Neuroplastic Change" Journal of Neuroscience.
  9. Bavelier, Daphne, et al. “Brains on Video Games.” Nature News, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18 Nov. 2011,
  10. Tang, Anthony. Verbal Coordination in First Person Shooters. University of Calgary, 15 Feb. 2012
  11. Bailey, Dustin. “Check out These Gloriously Gory Doom Eternal Screenshots.” PCGamesN,
  12. Lindsay, Emma. “The Trouble with First Person Shooters Is Deeper than First Person Shooting.” Medium, Medium, 5 Mar. 2018,
  13. Scutti, Susan. “Do Video Games Lead to Violence?” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Feb. 2018,
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Brey, Phillip. “The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics.” The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, by Luciano Floridi, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 41–57.
  15. DeCamp, Whitney. (2017). Who plays violent video games? An exploratory analysis of predictors of playing violent games. Personality and Individual Differences.
  16. Konijn, Elly A., et al. “I Wish I Were a Warrior: The Role of Wishful Identification in the Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression in Adolescent Boys.” Developmental Psychology, vol. 43, no. 4, 2007, pp. 1038–1044., doi:10.1037/0012-1649.43.4.1038.
  17. “Violent Games Emotionally Desensitizing.” Violent Games Emotionally Desensitizing - Universität Bonn,
  18. Eglash, Ron. (2018). A Generative Perspective on Engineering: Why the Destructive Force of Artifacts Is Immune to Politics: Interplay between Engineering, Social Sciences, and Innovation. 10.1007/978-3-319-91134-2_9.
  19. Jones, Christian M et al. “Gaming well: links between videogames and flourishing mental health.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 5 260. 31 Mar. 2014, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00260
  20. Yee, Nick. “Beyond 50/50: Breaking Down The Percentage of Female Gamers By Genre.” Quantic Foundry, 14 June 2018,
  21. McKeand, Kirk. “Twice the Number of Women Play Overwatch than Any Other FPS.” PCGamesN,
  22. O'Brien, Lucy. “Women in Video Game Development in 2017: A Snapshot.” IGN, IGN, 20 Dec. 2017,
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Hitchens, Michael. “Game Studies.” Game Studies - A Survey of First-Person Shooters and Their Avatars,
  24. Gabbiadini, Alessandro, et al. “Acting like a Tough Guy: Violent-Sexist Video Games, Identification with Game Characters, Masculine Beliefs, & Empathy for Female Violence Victims.” Plos One, vol. 11, no. 4, 2016, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152121.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Conslavo, Mia,. “Gaining Advantage: How Video Game Players Define and Negotiate Cheating.” Cambridge: MIT Press ch 4, 2007,
  26. Good, Owen,. “More than 1,200 accounts banned for cheating in Fortnite World Cup.” Polygon, Apr 20, 2019,
  27. Good, O. S. (2018, October 21). Watch a Counter-Strike pro get caught cheating during a major esports tournament. Retrieved from
  28. Good, Owen,. “Rage 2 will get cheat codes as pre-order incentives.” Polygon, Apr 5, 2019,