Concern regarding violence in games is nothing new. Usually the conflict comes from outside of the industry in the form of congressmen, parents and lawyers claiming games have a severely detrimental effect on society. Yet every time their arguments have proven impotent and erroneous. Lately however the conflict is coming from within the industry as many of us ask the question, “Is violence really necessary?” It’s an impossible question to answer with a simple “Yes” or “No”. Just like any other topic worth discussing, trying to reduce it down to simple black and white variables is misguided and pointless. This is a piece discussing how violence is simply another tool in a game developer’s tool belt, and not worthy of being the current taboo hot button in games.
Jack Thompson was one of those ignorant people who believe games were the source of all youth violence
First off let’s separate the terms “Violence” and “Gore”. Violence can be portrayed in a plethora of ways while gore is simply the bloody and visceral mangling of a living being. While Gore is not always needed, Violence sometimes is. The need for violence is the same as the need any other game mechanic. It’s the same as including a soundtrack, dynamic lighting, ETC. Violence is simply a basic form of conflict and is perfectly suited for the medium. Why is it necessary? The answer is pretty obvious if you think about it. Imagine one of your favorite games. Let’s use Final Fantasy 7 for example. Now, if you took all the violence out of the game what would you have? There would be no battles, no weapons, no conflict. Also, one of the most iconic scenes in gaming history, the death of Aerith, would never have happened.
If you take the violence and gore out of God of War, what do you have? It's kind of the point.
Now let’s take a moment to emphasize how Gore is sometimes needed to lend credence to a game. The amount of Gore helps convey severity. Let’s say that you’re playing a game and one of the characters is tortured to death. Would a small bit of blood on the corner of their mouth be effective? Or would a swollen, cut and bloody mess be more effective? The answer is fairly obvious. To convey the severity of the character’s suffering, to convey the importance of the situation, more detail and gore is necessary.
Want to know what Mortal Kombat would be like without gore? No you don't. (MK for the SNES)
Before I mentioned how violence and gore are simply tools much like music, visuals and mechanics. Misuse of these tools can be detrimental to the game as well. Over the top use of gore can garner a poor response from players as well as too little gore leading to players feeling disconnected or not interested in the game. Misusing violence and gore is the same as replacing all the music in Mass Effect with the Benny Hill theme. It would effectively ruin the game.
Manhunt was another game where the violence and gore are very intentional and orchestrated to elicit stomach churning emotion. It's supposed to make you feel sick.
It’s also important to discuss the affect see violence has on the human psyche. In a study a by McGill University it was determined that the sight of blood greatly increased the amount of pain and stress the human mind undergoes when seeing blood. Two people who received similar injuries reported wildly differing pain levels when one of the injuries introduced the sight of fake blood. The same effect can be seen in video games. To create tension and stress developers have access to this powerful tool and should use it.
The over-the-top blood in No More Heroes can be seen as a character in itself.
The end result of any discussion regarding violence in game design really should boil down to one simple thing; it’s a tool that can be used to elicit emotion and tone. On the other side of the coin, it’s a tool that is sometimes better left in the tool chest. Either way, it’s not a question of whether violence in games is necessary, it’s a question of WHEN is it necessary.
WARNING! VIDEO CONTAINS MATURE CONTENT (Violence / Gore)
It's that time again. I took a little bit of time to look through my catalogue of games, reached in and pulled out three gems. This time I'm focusing on licensed games. Licenses games, more of then than not, are pretty crappy. Not these though. These shirked the norm and managed to be quality titles. Please enjoy.
Radiata Stories was one of my favorite offerings of the PS2 generation, and it deserve more attention than it got. I decided to pay tribute to this fantastic game in the form of a quick video review. Please enjoy.
Ever wonder if it's possible to write and record a review while suffering the effects of various cold medicines and anti-biotics? Let's find out shall we?!? This time we take a look at one of my personal favorites from a few years ago, Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. Please enjoy.
Over the last decade we’ve been lucky enough to see the game industry change from a focused and “bro-centric” market to a much broader market that encompasses children and retired grandmothers. During this change some developers seem to have lost sight of what their real goal should be; to make great games. These days game developers wear the hats of not only designers and programmers, but of marketing and PR as well. Publishers and investors urge developers to make a game that is highly profitable rather than simply fun to play. They require micro-transactions and a slow methodical pacing to keep players steadily addicted rather than just having fun. This method is fundamentally flawed as it forces design conventions that might not be the best course of action.
World's Best Game Devs
You may be asking, “What does this have to do with the Underpants Gnomes?” Some would call it erroneous but honestly the Gnomes’ approach to making money is brilliant in its simplicity. For those unfamiliar, their process is;
1. Steal Underpants
This doesn't mean developers should be clamoring to sneak into bedrooms and pilfer through people’s unmentionables, but it does bring an interesting philosophy to the table. Your first step should be to accomplish your real goal. If a developer is too fixated on steps 2 and 3, then they end up making a “product” rather than a “game”. Their focus should be to make a great experience and figure out how to make it profitable afterword. The methodology of game development really needs to be;
1. Develop a great game
The Perfect Plan
Publishers and Marketing departments have the job of step #2. If Step #1 is executed well by the developers, the game should succeed. This is assuming the Publisher and Marketing department do their job. A developers’ frustration is understandable when a game is a critical success, but marketed poorly. This frustration can lead to developers wanting to take this process into their own hands, but that is a very dangerous path. Game developers are artists and need to be allowed to create their games without fear or concern of another department dropping the ball. Their one and only focus should be on the game, it’s someone else’s responsibility to figure out how make money from it.
Beyond Good & Evil was a great game for its time...but it sold like a hat full of butt-holes
There is a caveat to this philosophy though, and it’s not one that sits well with developers. When a game fails commercially, who do you suppose is the first group to get hit with lay-offs? We’ve seen this happen with companies like THQ, EA, Activision and countless others. The developers often, unjustly, suffer the brunt of an unsuccessful game while publisher CEOs continue to collect multi-million dollar bonuses. So while a developer’s main focus should be on the game, their frustration is understandable when their (critically successful) game fails.
Seems simple enough, yet some people still can't grasp it
It hurts to put your heart and soul into a game, to spend countless hours away from your family, only to have that labor of love thrown under the bus because another disembodied department failed at their job. That being said, it’s of the utmost importance that developers keep the Underpants Gnomes in mind when creating their game. This goes for developers of all sizes. From the 400 person strong teams working on this holiday season’s triple A titles to the small indie teams with just a few (or sometimes one) members. Don't hold back for DLC, don't lock content away purchases. Make the best game you can, and the money will come.