I remember fondly, traversing the wastelands, until suddenly a group of bandits began to attack me, I'm scrambled at first as I try to spot their position within the derby of a forgotten life. I take cover, picking them off one by one, watching their brains cascade across the ground in slow motion, this was violence I most certainly delighted in. However, I also remember stabbing a crazed farmer with a pitchfork, feeling satisfied in my revenger, until a little girl squealed in horror at my actions, I realized what I had done and regretted it instantly. That was violence I did not delight in.
When discussing whether videogames are too violent or not, you have to take things relatively. There is a big problem with the way people criticize not just games but anything today, people judge everything as though it is appealing to be a masterpiece of art representing the struggle of the human condition. The question isn't why are video games so violent? The question is why do people take everything so seriously?
To take my first example, Fallout 3. You play as a young man, or woman, escaping a vault you've been locked in all your life. You go out into a post-apocalyptic world, for the first time, to find your father who escaped the vault for reasons unknown. This is a game which features creatures called SUPER MUTANTS, robots that deliver dead pan jokes, and failed superheroes, amongst many other things. Why on earth do people feel then that a game like that has to use violence realistically and make people feel bad for using it?
Similarly, in Bioshock Infinite, a game which is at the forefront of the discussion right now. You simply play as a man trying to wipe away his debt by rescuing a girl from the city of Columbia. Only wait, it's a floating city in 1912, which you can use things called "sky lines" to navigate through at death defying speeds, becoming your own personal roller coaster. People are then shocked that it has quite a bit of violence in it, violence which is anything but realistic. Both the previous examples do contain serious elements of story, which others argue is undermined by the violence. That however, negates the idea that you can have fun then think, or be ridiculous then serious in the same game. Seriously though when you execute people with the sky-hook have you seen how far you fling their bodies?
The aforementioned games are not trying to be completely serious, the violence in them certainly isn't. They are both mainstream titles, they are both attempting to frame their stories within contexts which are fun and engaging for the player, and since when did that become a bad thing? I was just as moved by the end of Bioshock Infinite as I was by the end of Journey, so why should I then become snobbish toward Bioshock just because I had to use violence to get there?
Understandably sometimes violence can seem out of place, like in the recent Tomb Raider where Lara cries because she has killed a man for the first time, but before she can even wipe the tears from her face she has already sent arrows through the skulls of another five. In that example violence doesn't make sense because of the narrative, but when you're a man traversing a deadly post apocalyptic world filled with mutants and raiding bandits, you can imagine some people are going to die. Similarly when you're an ex-Pinkerton agent, with a violent past, rescuing a girl from a place that houses a cult with a leader that will do anything to stop you, you can imagine some people might get hurt.
There seems to be a mentality that you have to be 100% serious all the time, and use violence as you would in real life otherwise your work is nothing. Violence is fun in videogames and I don't say that because I'm a psychopath or anything, but it is! The reason? Because I am in these fantastical worlds and situations, I'm the hero fighting the bad guys, I'm a badass and the violence is not in anyway real or realistic. It's pure escapist fun, pure fantasy. When I execute someone in Skyrim I don't expect my character to spend the next ten minutes being sick and crying, followed by months of regret and depression. That would seem more out of place than the violence itself.
However, there are times when violence is portrayed in a way that made me feel awful for it. Namely, games like Spec Ops, which admittedly there are less of, but why paint all these games with the same brush? Why criticize a game that uses violence for being too violent, when it's not trying to comment on its own brutality? When it simply is trying to provide the player with entertaining gameplay. It would be like playing through The Walking Dead and then thinking to yourself "right if all games don't match this level of emotional intensity, or give me real moral dilemmas, or portray violence as something I don't like resorting to then it's shit, Mario go fuck yourself."
Are Video games too violent? No they're not! Stop being so elitist and suggesting that if a video game relies on violence within its gameplay mechanics it is then void, artistically. People play games for many reasons; people make use of any type of art for many reasons. Believe it or not it's not always because they want to be sent deep into thought questioning the very nature of all they know. Have some fun, in art sometimes we just want to look at a pretty sunset, and that's ok. Bioshock Infinite is fun, and it also has a brilliant story. Why not just lose yourself in the world, enjoy the experience and come out feeling for the main characters because isn't that what interactive art is? Don't you want people to enjoy themselves, be engrossed and ultimately moved? Fictional violence isn't a problem, obviously like everything in life it can be taken too far, and it can be out of place, but why let some people spoil the fun for everyone else?
When it comes down to it people need to stop treating fictional violence, in games, the same as real violence: it is not always treated that way by the developers employing it. If you are using violence within a story and you choose to portray it as realistically as possible, great, because violence can be an ugly thing. The same can be said for the opposite, if you think violence is always bad and the same no matter what context surrounds it or what game it is in, you are wrong. That would be like saying the violence in Irreversible, a film by Gaspar Noe, and the violence in Evil Dead 2 are one in the same, when there's not a chance that they are. Similarly the violence in Bioshock and the violence in Spec Ops are not the same, and both are viable pieces of art which, on separate occasions, made me realize why I love games so much.
Now let's all fire up GTA and go on the ultimate crime spree.