Violence is a fun subject, one I think we see talked about a lot but I don't think we see a lot of the right conversations being addressed or discussed. So this isn't going to be about how violence impacts the player, this is how violence impacts our industry and some of the things we may not want to admit about it that are really hurting our industry as a whole.
Lets get one thing out of the way, I like violence in videogames. I thought it was awesome to saw someone in half with a chain saw the first time I played Gears of War, I thought shooting someones head off in Fallout 3 was entertaining and I surprising never got bored of the 'bloody mess' perk within the game (which does exactly what you'd expect). So despite all the things I'm about to say, I do like violence in games and I don't want to see it go away. We have a rating system for a reason and its enforced at least where most people buy games. It works, it doesn't need fixing (maybe a little tweaking) and everyone calling out to ban violent videogames needs to calm down and do some research about what nonsense they spout before they actually do it. That said...
We have to many violent videogames – Simply look at the games released thus far in 2013 and you can easily follow my train of thought. Out of the several dozen games released thus far this year more then 90% are violent games, mostly M-rated games. From Bioshock to Devil May Cry, Gears of War to God of War, Tomb Raider to Dead Space. Everything centers on violence be it with guns, chain saws, shotguns, to everything Kratos does in God of War. There is violence everywhere, and very little else. Yes, it is what people like but I think we can all agree we enjoy other things as well, and most of us are begging for verity at this point.
Despite this, all we get is more and more violent games and looking at the later half 2013 not a lot is changing. We've got a new Grand Theft Auto coming, Assassin's Creed 4, Battlefield 4, I'm sure we'll see a new Call of Duty as well. All that I mentioned are HUGE titles and clearly violence sells but its not the only thing that does sell, and even then despite some of the huge numbers many of these games bring most are considered failures. Square Enix has called Tomb Raider a failure, EA said Dead Space 3 wouldn't be a success unless it sold 5 million units (hint: it didn't). I won't be surprised of Gears of War and God of War both have very lax numbers in comparison to previous titles.
I think that this shows that were tired of the repetition, we want something new, can it still be violent? Sure, but the main thing is, it doesn't have to be.
Forced into M – Why are some games even rated Mature? I look at a game series like Halo which has always been rated Mature but compared to everything else out there it really feels like it should be a Teen rated game. If they toned down the game somewhat it could easily lose that Mature rating. So... Why don't they? Because theirs a very common misconception within this industry that M rated games are the only ones that sell. To a point this is true, however by making the game M rated you limit your marketing potential. M rated games have age gates on trailers, many can't show actual game play on TV commercials, so while sequels end up doing well on name alone many new IP's have a lot more difficulty with that M rating.
There is one company that understands this (well maybe 2 if you include Nintendo but I'm pretty sure you can count the amount of M rated games they've published on 1 hand) and that’s Sony. Two of Sony's biggest IP's this generation have been T rated, I'm talking about Infamous and Uncharted. Two of the biggest series Sony has put out this generation are Teen rated and for new IP's they've done amazingly well.
Sony has created two huge system selling titles for its next generation system in this generation much how they did with God of War on the PS2 and they did it without resorting to either game needing a Mature rating. I think a lot of other gaming company’s can learn a lot from this, they just seem to want to ignore it because god forbid they actually have to try and do something original again.
We need to grow up – What is the number one complaint by gamers in the popular media? We get blamed for everything bad in the world. Every time there’s a school shooting, someone going crazy and killing people, whatever happens the media does everything it can to link it to videogames. We are the scapegoat of this generation much like comic books, music, and many other things before it. Those industry’s eventually grew up and outgrew the negative reception and the media went on to blame something else for all the worlds woes. We however have a problem, we are not growing up with it.
Recently while I was playing through Bioshock Infinite for a second time I wanted to show my dad why the game was so amazing with its story so he sat down and started watching me play it. What he as an outsider noticed wasn't the amazing world of Columbia, the technical marvel that was Elizabeth, or the uniqueness of the story with its crazy twists and turns. What he noticed and quickly got sick of was the level of violence in the game. From shooting peoples heads off with a sniper rifle to blowing them up with fire bombs to the melee executions with the sky hook that get right up in your face. He got sick of it quickly and decided he didn't want to see the rest of the game because of it. I was surprised because while the violence in the game didn't effect me that much (as I've seen just as much if not more in other games) to an outsider who isn't used to seeing it its a huge turnoff and likely one of the hardest things we have to overcome.
We as gamers are not desensitized to real world violence, Jim Sterling made that very obvious in a video he posted on the Escapist several months ago, however I think we as gamers are desensitized to violence in our games and this is why we have to grow up. We can't just get used to seeing it and thinking its okay or that’s what we want, sure ultra violence has its place but if it continues to become the norm all we end up doing is alienating ourselves more.
We as an industry have to grow, we need new fans to replace older fans that eventually can't afford to buy every huge AAA game, and when we make every game M rated, every game have ultra violence even when it doesn't add anything to the game we do nothing but alienate new fans from getting into gaming. Say what you want about the Wii and its shovel ware but Nintendo was the only company in this generation who seemed to realize we need to expand our market. They've done a horrible job actually taking that idea and running with it since then but at least they've done something.
Square Enix, EA, Capcom all are not meeting there sales goals for their biggest titles (all of which are M rated and generally highly violent) and one part of that is that none of these titles bring in new gamers or new fans they are made specifically for the people who were fans of the previous versions or fans of games like those that are already around. If they want to meet their sales goals they have to realize that if they don't do anything to bring in new fans then many of them will likely go the way of THQ and simply disappear. It's not just innovation we need at this point, we need new gamers and with the levels of violence the way it is in most mainstream games today I'm not sure we have even a slight chance of doing so, and that scares me for our industry as a whole.