Advanced warning, as this is a blog about violence it will contain material, and links to material unsuitable for younger, readers, as such if you are below the age of 18 and continue reading this then its the problem of your parents for not monitoring what you're doing and stopping you. That is if they feel anything in this blog is inappropriate for you and are about to complain
So Violence in games. Itís seemingly the mediaís new chew toy to once again bring up the debate on violent games as though itís some shocking great demon thatís just been found again. Now before we go on I want you to watch this.
What you just saw essentially was 4 people beating up an old man with pool cues to the sound of Queen. What purpose can that possibly have in a debate about violence in video gaming ? Well it shows violence being used to play on the comically absurd. You probably wonít ever see four people beating a old man up to the sound of Queen using pool cues in your life, unless you live in an particularly rough area with rather deranged people. Comic violence is a brand of comedy in is own right.
So the main claim against violence can be summed up nicely by this ďWithout choice there is no morality.Ē So should all games be offering morality as this is an interactive media ? Well yes and no. Yes in the sense that games with choice should happen. No in the sense that every game shouldnít be forced to try and let the player choose, if youíre trying to tell a certain narrative then adding choice in can break that narrative or make the choices themselves seem meaningless (unless thatís the aim of them). Say making a game about Star trek, no not the original blast the bolche alien one the next generation but without diplomacy. Star trek is the perfect example of a way people could be given choice in a game and it make sense as you can either go with just shooting the aliens, or being diplomatic and trying to solve the problems your own way through words.
To anyone who claims violence is wrong and should have no part in gaming. I put this forward for you to watch.
For those who donít know thatís possibly the most famous scene in whatís known as a classic film, itís from Reservoir Dogs. So to say violence has no place in gaming is to deny the potential of gaming and a medium for storytelling.
The most obvious call for this can be seen in the seeming misconception as to what gaming is. The best and most recent example I have was of someone claiming they would never let their grandchild play COD Black Ops II due to the content in it being so violent. My simple reply to them was this ďWould you let your grandchild watch Psycho or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ? If not then see no reason to complain about the content of Black Ops II as they are also 18 rated products just as Black Ops II isĒ. The idea of violence being a bad thing in the industry is in itself denying adults choice. Should Game of Thrones be less violent and adult orientated ? No because itís clearly marketed for adults itís a choice to watch it. If little Timmy gets hold of it then itís not the games fault. During a recent visit to Gadget show Live here in the UK I had to show my Id no less than 5 times, Iím 24 and I had to show my ID to play games at a public show, on the show floor because they were rated 18. Some of the companies even had the game in enclosed areas completely blocked off from the view of the rest of the show floor. Companies get this mostly now, they realise the importance of making sure this is communicated to customers.
Iíll happily play games with violent content and I donít think Iíve ever turned round and ever said ďyou know this is good but it would have been better without the violence in itĒ. This is normally because it serves a purpose. Even in the game being shown in the article header it has a purpose. In Splatterhouse the game deliberately creates a Ludonarrative dissonance between the essential love story with Rick fighting to get back Jennifer his love and the amount of creatures Rick is butchering along the way rather brutally. The game then breaks down this Ludonarrative dissonance and questions if this is in part the nature of love. It asks if all this violence is enjoyable to Rick and if this is his true nature. Comparing the strong emotion of love and the strong primal concept of violence asking how you can shun one and accept the other so much. Or in the case of the US shun certain things associated with love but be fine with violence.
To say Violence has no narrative role to play would be to deny for example in literature Romeo and Juliet. The whole story is both about love and violence, two families basically at war. The death of Mercutio at the hands of Tybalt accidentally, Romeo taking revenge then being banished. Violence is a key part of the events of the story, so to remove that would remove part of the impact and potentially break the narrative.
Violence used well in a narrative can and does work as a tool to tell the story, a method to portray symbolism. Just like any other narrative tool used well it works, used badly it seems sloppy and poorly done.
You wouldn't think this was a love story would you ?
Iím not a violent person. I did Judo for a while and quit because despite my best efforts to prevent it I caused some people some injuries during it. The coach at Judo was forever telling me to really go for it as he knew I was holding back for fear of injuring people and honestly I lack the killing instinct as such to go for it as I never wanted to harm people. Luckily the worst of the injuries was a broken arm but I still felt terrible for it. In games however its often not real brutal violence is stylised violence. Iím not killing real people with real backstories and real families in these games. The operator of the Peter Molydeux twitter account once suggested having a game like call of duty but every time you kill a person it triggers a short cutscenes showing flashes of their life and family. The idea of the tweet being to illustrate the clear disconnection between real life violence and video game violence.
Why would we deny violence ? Because of the children ? Please childrenís make believe is just as much fantasy violence as video games. Do you see most parents going round telling their kids to play lawyer rather than soldier or cowboys and Indians ?
Why should violence be something left out of games when itís stylised violence and often does not depict the brutal reality. Iím saying this as someone who has been threatened to be beaten to a bloody pulp before and with potential Nuclear war with North Korea on the horizon. To say violence is somehow irrelevant to modern society is honestly nonsense. Violence in games has a place and stylised ultraviolence also still has a place just as it does in films and books. You donít see people coming out to say that Frankenstein girl vs vampire girl or Tokyo gore police would be better without the violence and just the narrative.
I will say one thing and that I have slightly against violence in games itís more of an indirect effect though. The lack of actual kids games about. The Wii and now Wii U might be seen as the childish console but honestly they seem far more balanced than the other consoles. I may be old enough to not care much but when I grew up with games like: Banjo Kazooie, Super Magnetic Neo, Toy Commander, Sonic adventure and of course Mario games. Outside of Nintendo consoles and a few titles on the other consoles. Mostly Kids seem to get the shovelware and donít really get the higher quality games so much, itís very much like companies are simply piping out low budget cash in to play on brand recognition with kids. Even compared to last generation when apparently a few Sponge Bob games were passable, now this console generation checking up Iíve found one Sponge Bob game, a silly crappy little party game. The only multi console kids game I can really name from this generation are Rayman Origins and Skylanders / Giants, Skylanders being a rather obvious money sink aimed at Kids getting their parents to buy them more little toys. You could also argue that Lego games are for kids but then again theyíve always been around from the days of Lego Racers really, and yes Sonic still exists but they arenít the blockbuster things they were, gone are the days when youíd walk into game and ask for a Sonic game only to be told they sold every copy in their batch before 10am on release day. The quality isnít there.
What this appears is more of a chance to capture a larger audience by aiming at the larger group with more disposable income in the shape of the teenager / young adult demographics. It seems while Skylanders is proving that kids games can be successful still most companies are trying to appeal to an older audience and as such think violence is the way to go, which to an extent can be said to be true. This in part explains why IOS and tablet gaming is expanding with games aimed at kids on those platforms more. It can also go some way to explain the runaway success of the Wii as when in the longest generation of console for a while, it seems strange that there have been the least really great kids games. And not Kinect doesnít count.
This is again very much like the comic book scene where the 90s had dark brutal re imaginings of characters and could be said to have gone away from being what it initially was, a form of entertainment for children. Again comics have bounced back and do appeal more to all ages now rather than their rather brutal time in the 90s. The fact there have been shows such and Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans and Young justice shows that bounce back. I think next generation we might see a bit more of the bounce back as publishers realise how neglected the kids games market it and how they can gain a bit less ire from the media by making sure they also supply childrens' titles. So if the media does point and say "oh look at this horribly violent game" Publishers can turn round and say "Well we also published this one recently, see the nice 3+ label on it compared to the 18+ on the game you're attacking, we clearly aimed a game at kids and one at adults. I don't see you objecting to the 3+ game not tackling complex morality issues. "
So violence really does have a place in gaming, like it or not we live in a violent world and to claim ďviolence is bad in any formĒ results in the question of where the line is draw. What do you consider violence, is Mario stomping on a goombaís head violent, is Kazooie firing and killing an enemy with an exploding egg violent ? If people want to claim violence shouldnít be in video games, short of Tetris and Peggle thereís not many other pacifist games even in the kids genre. Even chess in a certain light is rather adult.
I put it to you dear reader that violence is just another tool to tell stories, one which can be used well by a skilled craftsman or poorly by an unskilled one. Rather than blaming the tool maybe the workman should be blamed if the violence is seen as poorly done or perceived that way and people not simply calling for the tool to be removed entirely from gaming. For in a world without violence can we have any triumph, can we still have the epic clash of good and evil ?