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.


Smylexx said...

Violence in games is usually the soft taget of lazy journalists when it's a slow news day and unfortunately it's a topic that will never go away.

Violence in any artistic medium is always gonna be a good water cooler topic. In the 80s every third story in the Daily Mail was about 'video nasties' and explains why it took 26 years for The Exorcist to get a release by the BBFC.

I agree that many game developers use violence to glorify their games just as many bad directors use violence and nudity to make their cheapy film into something worthwhile.

It would be great if they took a little more time to be creative but the sad thing is that the inclusion of gore can often add to sales -and in a medium that is so time consuming and expensive, game creators will often sell to the mass market, lowest common denominator in order to increase their revenue.

Perhaps you've forgotten what it's like to be a 10 year old boy (you were a 10 year old boy once, right?). Reading through those computer mags, squealing with excitement about how cool it was that you could actually see the zombies brain particles on the wall after you shot him?

Oh and leave Pac Man alone. It almost sounded like you were referring to him as two dimensional and shallow or something. Clearly he is a protagonist in a dystopic afterlife as deep in meaning as any greek tragedy as he relentlessly cleanses the mazes of the unrested spirits while stopping only occasionaly for a fruit cocktail.

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