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June 29, 2012 at 4:06 PMComments: 9 Faves: 0

An Unlikely Result From E3

By E.M. Wollof from SLN More Blogs by This Author

"Physical love is unthinkable without violence."

                                                - Milan Kundera

The largest gaming conference on the planet, E3, recently wrapped up its proceedings and the unlikelyresults could be considered confusing, to say the least.

Violence in video games has been a topic of discussion since, well, since the advent of violence in video games really. Frequently the discussion has been started by those who were opposed to the fact that the violence actually existed. This time the discussion originated from an unlikely source...the developers of the games.

Many developers, after seeing what the next generation of games had to offer, voiced their concern that it was becoming a worn out theme that was too far over the proverbial top. The fact that the violence was in the games didn't concern them as much as the fact that it is becoming a staple in the games, overpowering some of the more intricate themes and elements.

"We have to stop loving it. I just don't believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it's in bad taste. Ultimately, I think it will cause us trouble."

                                                               -Warren Spector (Epic Mickey/Deus Ex)

"One encouraging thing from E3 this year was all the online comments questioning the unlikelysenseless violence in some upcoming games."

                                                               -Ryan Payton (Halo 4)

"What's with the backlash over the fact that some of the games at E3 were 'ultra-violent?' There's room for all kinds of games out there. Most games that rely on the violence as a selling point and nothing else tend to rightfully fail."

                        -Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War Franchise)

As a gamer, coming to terms with some of the internal backlash has been interesting. Attempting to separate the competitive edge gained by calling on a common detractor in video games and actual concern being the highlight of this process.

When it all boils down to it, I don't think violence in video games is avoidable. Entertainment platforms are created to immerse ourselves in aspects of life that exist but that we may not have the opportunity to participate in on a daily basis. Obviously, that doesn't mean that we all want to participate in world wars on a daily basis, but it doesn't erase the fact that violence is a major unlikelypart of the human genome. Every single person on the planet is predisposed to aggression, some choose to control this urge, some do not.

To look at video games, a massive entertainment platform that allows you to participate in a multitude of amazing tales, and say that violence is far too prevalent is to discount the very nature of the beings that play them. Furthermore, people continue to love participating in it, feeding a primal urge that will never go away.

Now, this does not mean that violence should be the only artistic creation to come out of the industry, and that is where most of these guys are coming from. To that extent, I agree.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

(I would like to mention that I ask this question to people who actually play games, not to those who form opinions based on other opinions about something they have never experienced.)         

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9 Comments

  • I love the movement in the last ten years or so toward full world games. I love being able to go anywhere, do anything, and live in a different world for a time. That being said, it seems that violence has saturated these types of games. Now, granted, I agree that the fact that we can "do anything" means that if you want to pound someone into the ground, that is your right. But where my question lies is in the fact that these games force you to commit violence. The bulk of missions in most of the full world games revolve completely around killing people and committing other crimes. So, can't we have the freedom to do what we want without brutally murdering people? Now, of course, I am not talking about GoW or Ghost recon or some other war game. Those should be exactly what you expect. But can't I have a game where I have the freedom to act without the necessity of killing people? I'm not saying that if that is where your lust lies that you should not pursue that. But it seems to be in most of the games out there. Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough for a new game, I'm not sure. Anyway, as a gamer, those are my thoughts.

  • Rex, this is an extremely interesting and relevant point, one that crossed my mind as I was writing it. My question to you is: How else would you navigate through the common protagonist vs. antagonist story in an engaging/fulfilling way?

    Set aside Real-Time Strategy games like Civilization where you have the opportunity to build your society around diplomatic means, but with very little story, and look at the core games. When building the story, the developers set up the good vs. evil plot and you engage from there. How else would you navigate your way to a resolution, in a video game, other than violent means, it's really the only way to engage in action. For instance, should Mario and Luigi have called a week long summit to negotiate the proper exchange of hostages with the Bowser clan?

    Now, games like Deus Ex show me exactly what progress in video games means. While there is violence in the game, you also have a "mini-game" every time you have a conversation. Each time a pivotal conversation comes around, where you character needs to extract some information from a NPC, a heart rate monitor, personality gauge, persuasion gauge, and a brief description of the person you are speaking with come up to allow you to engage in convincing this person to give up the goods. You can choose which route you take, gentle, firm, aggressive, anyway you want to take it. SquareEnix did a marvelous job bringing the complexities of conversation to a game.

    Another way that games are taking the focus off violence: allowing the decisions you make to influence the path of the game, ie Mass Effect.

  • Right, I agree that we cannot hold summits to resolve our issues, and I'm not looking for a game without the normal good versus evil. But can't there be a game that allows for interesting/thought provoking lines of questioning? Also, I pondered this quite a bit over the weekend, and actually spent about an hour of my weekend pouring over used video games to wait to see if I won an XBox 360 (I didn't, but I did get a $10 gift certificate). I thought to myself, what separates what I want from what I don't in a game? And I came to the conclusion that it was not a lack of violence. If I studied the bulk of the games that I have, outside of the sports games, they all have some sort of violence in them. All the way back to Super Mario Bros. for NES, I was squashing goombas (and yes, the racism is not lost on me) and knocking turtles to their demise in a pit or off a cliff. Then to finish it all off, I pulled the bridge out from under Bowser and he fell into lava. What a horrible person I am! And then I looked into the Zelda series, which are some of my favorite games. These are full of violence, trying to stop the evil Ganondorf from making off with my woman, that I never actually end up with. (If I do end up with her at the end of Skyward Sword, you had better not tell me because I don't have the cash to get that one yet and spoilers are the worst things ever!) So, what is it that I am asking for? Then it hit me. I was squashing goombas and hitting things with a sword that didn't ever make a mark on the opponent. This violence, although violent, does not paint horrifying pictures in my head. The games today have filled that lust for violence with absurd amounts of blood, guts, dismemberment, and extremely uncomfortable death scenes. I don't need to cut people asunder with a chain saw. I don't want to shoot them in the head with far too powerful of a gun and have it disappear only to see blood squirting out of their headless corpse.

    I prefer a nice "Humphrey Bogart" type storyline. Figure out the problems with words, work through the issues and then at then end shoot someone off camera. Violence is necessary. But I would prefer it not be so graphic that I can't forget about it.

  • Rex, my friend, you truly must come into the light. I mentioned Deus Ex in my previous comment and it is right in the wheelhouse of what you are speaking about. As a matter of fact, non-violence is actually encouraged throughout the game as you have to navigate through hostile territory without getting noticed. Even the first sequence has you facing down a gunman with a hostage, options pop up to talk him down, blow his face off, or do the unspeakable and let the whole thing unfold in the way no one wants to see.

    The option for violence permeates the game, but it is directly juxtaposed with the idea that it is not necessary.

    As for story, oh brother is it fantastic. The game is set in a near future Detroit, the auto-industry has collapsed and the city is in chaos. A pioneer in cybernetic human enhancements and prosthetics moves in to revitalize the city and is met with fervent opposition by a group that is firmly against the idea that human evolution can be manufactured. You play the head of security for the cybernetic company.

    I hate to sound cliche but....pure epic.

  • Oh, as for Skyward Sword, I wouldn't dare reveal the greatness that is the end of that game.

  • I haven't had a chance to play it, obvious from my comments. I will have to see if it is right for me. I just hear reviews that are pretty opposite of what you have stated. I imagine that I could stay on the path to keeping the peace, but like most of these types of games, the mature rating for the bloody violence usually means that it will be in some way unavoidable. Now, I would never hold prejudice against a game before trying it, but you can see my point, that for the most part these games force you into some bloody conflict at some point.

    Now with that being said, I do understand that these games are for some. They are made with a specific consumer in mind: the one that needs to fill that violence quota. I am not that person. Violence may be necessary along the way, but does it have to be strong bloody violence? I'm not saying that we have to go to cartoonish violence, but isn't there middle ground?

  • Completely understand Rex. I suppose I have a tendency to look past the violence now, having played video games for so long. Immersive fiction is what I look for in a game. If the game has a great story that I feel truly empowered by, I tend to look at the blood spurts as a passing curiosity, not something to focus on.

    I suppose the way that we see the world is reflected in the way that we approach these games as well. I see violence as part of the natural order of things, even a beautiful aspect of life. I say this with violence for a purpose in mind, meaning survival of course. Violence for the sake of violence is pointless, which begs the question: Is including violence in a video game to facilitate a story purely for entertainment or a virtue of the art form?

  • That's it, are they using it to enhance the emotion of the game or is it just there to be there. I think back to Duke Nukem for the NES. Its story was told for a small scroll at the beginning, then you just started shooting at people. The game was created to let you shoot things. Shooting things was not the necessity to explore emotion. I feel like violence may be necessary to create emotions, but senseless, constant violence just seems to be some games point. That I don't understand.

  • That is spot on. Violence can truly drive a point home. When I have invested heavily into a character and I see them struggle to make the choice between a violent or peaceful solution, I feel for them.

    Also, like you said, some games are just over the top. I don't play Call of Duty for the story, I play it for the outrageous set pieces and the gratuitous violence, as well as being able to shoot an ignorant racist in the face without consequence. But I don't go into playing a game like that with the expectation of being moved by the character involvement, though there are moments of storytelling that don't suck.

    Just like I didn't go see the Avengers expecting an art piece on modern day megalomania. I went because it has superheroes, demi-gods, and freakin space aliens that ride mechanical slugs through the air!

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