Violence in games

I am going to discuss some aspects on game design that I have some opinions about that I need to air. It will be about violence first, then games made for children and then about game universes. I would warn you on some strong imagery, but I rarely see people react to them anymore.

From Manhunt
All human entertainment has at some point contained a large portion of violence and brutality. The circus of the Romans was the bloody massacres of gladiator fights, and other old forms of entertainment like public executions are actually still alive some places today. Like in Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia (where a 13 year old girl that had been raped was buried to the neck in the middle of a football stadium and stoned to death in front of 1000 people for adultery. Her name was Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow.) And in some manner or other, whether or not as horrific as the execution of a child in public --violence has always attracted a crowd. Like dog-fights, rooster-fights, bull-fights, even fist-fights - and I could go on.

And when we humans feel sophisticated enough to rise above these primal activities, we find other ways to depict our carnal, violent desires, as such in poems, paintings, books, cartoons, songs, films or, more "recently" in games. And most violent entertainment is often a sort of game, or at least "a competition" to the death, or to the first blood. But on the other hand the most peaceful, unifying activities are also games (though I would argue not all people take peacefully to losing a round of Yatzi). And that is what I am trying to bring across here, in my own, digressing ways.

Though we have a long tradition of worshipping heinous acts as entertainment this is not at all synonymous with saying that all games have to be this way. Though I am personally still surprised to this day on creativity brought into "action"-games (that usually means you are meant to kill things in it) - like a complex and well composed story (Like in the first-person shooter Max Payne!)
From Postal 2
Violence is often brought into games if they lack interesting gameplay, or lack meaning altogether - a lot of gamers appear content smashing things (I think I've played so much Soul Calibur II it might have had permanent effects on me). But there is a difference here, I think designers need to have more respect towards their audience, and most of all - themselves. If you are sitting in a meeting when collaborating on the game concept and idea and decide that it's going to be a shooter game with zombies because you don't have any other interesting ideas that contain any sort of substance. I hope you will have the integrity to reconsider.

And I am not saying it necessarily is a bad thing with violence in games. It can be a very powerful tool for creating an immersion for your audience. But I am definitely not saying it is a good thing either. I know 14 and 11 year old kids that play Modern Warfare 2, and more surprisingly - with their parents blessing. "Because it is less violent than a lot of other games". And I partly agree to this of course, MW2 happens to be a very well-composed game, I admit. And though it really is a lot less violent than a lot of other games... It is still a lot more violent than say - at least a quarter of all the other games on the market.

So what we need to recognise is the essence and the message of what we are trying to convey with our game. I really do hate when people try to give meaning to things that are not meant to have a meaning. Like paintings. It really gets to me sometimes. But if your game is meant to be "a mindless shooter" then I will have respect for that, it is all the mind that is being put into it eventually that scares me. You can't deny that any game will contain some kind of message, whether intended to or not. Tetris, Bejeweled and Pacman not included. So when creating a simple-minded game it is important to remember the complexity it eventually will hold when it is being played by your audience.

You have to weigh every battle and every drop of blood on your conscience and think just how mindless this will appear to the 11 year old child of some "open-minded" parents* and just how much meaning it is going to give to the seasoned 33 year old gamer. Your message is going to be given out to all of those who are up to the challenge, and it can be ever as subtly glorifying violent behaviour or condone acts that in society are unforgivable. The shock-value of extreme, gory violence is down to a nil. Throwing intestines, brains, unborn children and still-beating hearts above your head by a chainsaw will give about as strong a reaction from today's audience as a crab taking a shit on another crab, on a beach. It is worth absolutely nothing. So we got to ask ourselves, when violence only work as some sort of "filler", is it really necessary?
From Postal 2
I applaud the minds that find new ways of making videogames interesting and still not include any violence whatsoever when running out of ideas for what the game should contain. Games are to me one of the most incredibly versatile and powerful mediums we have today - you don't deserve to create them if all you do is to slip into a pattern as old as mankind - that the best entertainment is served hot, with a lot of sticks and stones.

* I will clarify here that developers can't be responsible for their content when it's not viewed by the appropriate audience as stated by age-limits and approvals. What a child brings into a household is completely the parent's responsibility.

Me and my stomach

I did get your attention. Thank you Kronk!

My stomach and I are not friends.

We have a very bad way of communicating to each other. I can't really understand what it is trying to say when it is aching, expanding and making me feel horrible. And it certainly doesn't answer when I am trying to figure out what is making it upset.

It is like having the most cryptic girlfriend communicating only through domestic violence.

I know I have a very varied diet, and especially for being a student. I eat a lot of vegetables and a lot of whole wheat bread and other stuff that is meant to be good for you like green tea, fruit and a lot of snap n' crackle.

Seriously though, It must be some sort of allergic reaction, and it occurs more often on Fridays than on any other day of the week. Which doesn't make a lot of sense, and I assure you it is certainly not stress-related. You might know me, and because of that I wont have to explain. I don't have very well-developed stress glands. So it must be something that I'm eating. But what? I'm not consuming anything now that I haven't always eaten every now and then.

But yeah, this weekend my diet will consist of toast and Biola until I get better.

My trip to Istanbul

Some delicious looking mosque
Okay, flay me alive and call me a suitcase! I actually came home from Istanbul on SUNDAY, which is several days ago. And I am so sorry for not telling you "all about it" and posting pictures, or anything at all. Accept my humble apologies!

But yes. I wont bore you more. Here are all the juicy, not so juicy and all the dry details!
Dad and stepmum enjoying some  Lokma Tatlisi
I travelled with my dad, my stepmum and Helge last Thursday like at the crack of dawn. The trip was originally a gift from my dad for my 18th birthday, which is three years ago. And now we had finally found the time to go! We had a flight connection through Riga, Latvia and landed at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul where we sat and watched our own perspiration for half an hour because the driver was stuck in traffic. They really do drive like mad men those Turks! I tell you that much. But somehow he got us to our small hotel close to Sultanahmed on the Golden Horn (which we may consider the "old" part of town, even though most of the city is so old anyway that it really doesn't make that much sense).
Balik Ekmek! Nom nom!
The staff at our hotel were so strange. During a power cut one night we approached the hotel doors and the receptionist pretended to give us a sci-fi face scan in the dark with sound effects and all to see if we would be allowed to enter. It was hilarious! And the waiters at the rooftop restaurants were so animated and gesticulated so wildly that we were entertained every minute we sat there. It would appear the Turks have a really inclusive sense of humour.
All over Istanbul there were old Hamam's (Turkish baths), mosques, remnants of Byzantine city walls, fantastic wooden palaces and parks, pavilions, side walks the size of dachshunds, and stalls selling assorted Turkish fast food. Of which I loved the most the Simit (the skinny bagel-shaped breads covered in toasted sesame seeds),  Lokma Tatlisi (sweet, deep fried doughnuts smothered in syrup, cinnamon and ground pistachio), and the Balik Ekmek (fresh grilled fish sandwiches with onion).

They also had stalls all over selling grilled or boiled sweetcorn, roasted chestnuts and their famous "stretchy" icecream, Dondurma. Of which the latter the Turkish eat a staggering 2,8 litres each a year! This strange icecream is made of a product derived from orchids called "salep" and also arabic gum ("mastic" - not the same as gum arabic!), which is why it is so stretchy. I thought it was quite nice, but as with all other Turkish desserts it is intensely sweet. I wonder what they think of our desserts.
The Bagdad pavillion inside the palace
Detail from a door inside the harem
Anyway, we visited the Topkapi palace which was the home of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years. It was extremely big, and we got to hear of the grand viziers and the concubines - which was exotic to say the least. By the way the audio tour is a grand ripoff and it basically just reads you what it says on the plaques positioned around the palace. Actually - it doesn't even do that. It said less. Anyway. We didn't get to see the treasury because of all the crazy tourist people that had formed a line the length of the great wall of China. We did however get to see the relics - including a golden cast of the hand of John the Baptist, the turban of Joseph, the sword, a cloak and some of the Prophet Mohammed's beard(!). Oh, and of course the staff of Moses - which if I may add - looked very springy despite being about 3500 years old.
Detail from one of the harem windows.
The view from the palace was grand, the harem was the most interesting bit, we saw the guards gigantic mirrors that allowed them to keep watch around corners - the hamam (Turkish bath) of the concubines, the sultan's mother's quarters and even the sultan's toilet! We also visited the large swimming pool "where the dwarves did tricks" according to the audio guide. The dwarves were not mentioned before nor after this statement was made during the tour. But apparently it was probably good entertainment when you were sick of toying with your 300 concubines. 

We also saw the Blue Mosque which wasn't really as impressive as I'd expected. First of all it wasn't nearly blue enough, and though the grand dome and the intricate iznik tiles were very splendid indeed - the spectacular mosque seemed somewhat smaller on the inside because of the low wrought iron chandeliers that hung low above the floor. But now I've been there and at least that's one more thing checked off my list!
One of the gold streets in the Grand Bazaar

We did spend hours traversing the Grand Bazaar which is one of the largest indoor markets in the world. They mostly sold a lot of junk to be honest, we did buy Turkish tea, teacups and a gunmetal hookah that is quite awesome if I may say so myself. I also got a longer gold chain for my opal necklace. The carpets and the jewellery was simply amazing and among the things that are definitely worth purchasing when in Turkey.

Iskender kebab. Really nice!
I would've bought tons more myself, I am just not cut out for haggling it appears. And being a naive Norwegian I absolutely hated to make purchases. They were always trying to rip you off, quite nastily. And because everything is so sickeningly expensive where I come from - then how could I possibly tell? Luckily my stepmum is a badass haggler and dad drove a carpetseller to the edge of madness. He wanted to sell his 250€ carpet for 50 because he got so desperate when dad didn't want it. Giggle.

So the haggle culture was what I disliked the most, definitely - that and that it felt as if I couldn't trust anyone, they would take my tourist money without blinking if the situation allowed it.

Constantine's Pillar was really nice, and positioned quite near one of the Grand Bazaar entrances. Constantine himself had it brought over at around year 330 to mark the transfer of the seat of the Roman empire from Rome to Istanbul (Constantinople). He also supposedly buried some relics beneath the fantastical porphyry pillar, like the axe Noah used to build the Ark. Yay!

The Bosporus strait
We went on a boat trip up the Bosporus (the strait separating east from west) and saw all the fantastic luxury hotels and houses, the old fortress, a graveyard and countless amazing mosques and wooden palaces.I will definitely recommend such a trip to anyone who wants to see as much of Istanbul as they can if they don't have a lot of time on their hands.

Hagia Sophia from a distance
But there you go. We saved the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofia) for last. Thank goodness, or nothing else would've seemed impressive. The huge structure is a 1500 year old church that served as a mosque during the 1500s and is now a museum. Kind of both, but neither. Underneath painted plaster are amazing, ancient mosaics of Christ and standard motives - while the world's biggest calligraphy plaques are hung in four corners of the dome. The stained glass are with calligraphic motives, there is a mihrab, minbar and outside is an Islamic washing font. A religious fusion cocktail. At the southern entrance there are Byzantine bronze doors that were added around year 800, really beautiful.

The dome of the Hagia Sophia, if you enlarge it you can see the masked and unmasked angels - the faces were discovered earlier this year!

The dome which is almost 60 metres above the floor took my breath away. It was created by some Greek architects that also decided that the centre of the earth was within the church, slightly to the right in the main hall. It was seriously huge. From the outside it looked like a city all in itself, and it still holds many uncovered secrets as a lot of the original mosaics are still plastered up. It was built with a lot of stolen goods from plundered pagan temples such as some incredible Hellenistic porphyry columns. You see the Byzantine were incredible at recycling. It was the most amazing thing we visited that didn't include food on this trip!

Hagia Sophia seen from the side
We ate insane amounts of kebab and köfte (Turkish meatballs) and drank litres of Turkish apple tea whenever possible. We journeyed home, had some depressing "Soviet-pizza" at the airport in Riga (although it tasted nice!) and when we came home our house wasn't on fire. That's nice.

So yes. I don't think I could've made that any more informative and dry. Sorry. But it's all true what happened. And I am thoroughly fascinated, so forgive me. I am guessing it is TLDR anyway.

Sunset over Istanbul.
Thanks for a fantastic trip everyone!

Help needed!

Err, this is an old (quite disturbing) doodle I found that I did in Paint.NET in its day.

I absolutely love snailmail! It is so amazing! It is almost as good as lights, or as lights in different colours. But yes. You people need to help me out some, and I mean it this time. I need a good concept for my NaNoWriMo in November (and I am totally planning ahead, as usual - even though it has helped me SQWAT! before) But there you go. I am a person of irreversible bad habits, like craving sugar first thing in the morning, always cross the road looking both ways (even though I KNOW it's a one way street). But there you go, again. I can't help myself.

I just better never start smoking. Sorry, I'll stop raving -- now, to the point. Yes! I need a concept, ladies. That's what I'm saying. I am usually never stripped for ideas, I have a couple on hold, but none that seem deep enough if you get me. It has to be a 50 000 word-proof idea. And that proves easier said than done. Every year. It has to be novel material, and I guess that shouldn't be all that hard *cough*TWILIGHT*cough* but at the same time we can't all write swooning romantic vampire novels. I guess that would make us all senile.

So yes. I'm happy to take ANY idea, please. Be it funny, sad, fantastic - yes, or even romantic, if we have to. And usually, the more psychedelic the better. It is easier that way. Please you guys, I really could use some input if you hear me, and it can't be more True Blood, because we all know where that'll take me *cough*. Yes.
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