Rethinking Mass Murder

The above panel is from issue #25 of Grant Morrison’s phenomenal run on DC Comics’ Animal Man. The pale guy is actually the author speaking directly to the character he’s written for two years at the point and the statement he is making is specifically about comic books and the state of the medium circa 1990. It’s a reflection on how grim, dark, gritty, and graphically violent comics had become in a rush toward feigned maturity and mainstream acceptance. It’s a statement about how the gee-whiz wonder and optimism of the Golden and Silver Age had been washed away by writers and artists over-eager to Frank Miller everything up, to darken the vibrant palette of comics to reflect the real world. I read this issue over the holidays, not long before the Connecticut school shooting.

Of course, neither that tragedy nor Animal Man have anything to do with violence in the real world, regardless of the pundits and opportunists that would have us believe that media is a causative factor in increasing the number of murders or violent crimes that we see on the news. People make choices, people have problems. Consumer media doesn’t make those or create those. Ironically, even the bloodiest, most brutal video games are less socially harmful than any given car commercial that promotes an illusion of American affluence or a reality show that celebrates crude, unbecoming behavior.

Between reading Morrison’s rather profound, simple statement against the darkening tone of the comics medium and thinking about twenty- twenty- children shot to death, I’ve been thinking heavily on violent video games content and in a way that I never really have before. Maybe it’s something to do with getting older, maybe it’s something to do with being a parent. Writing as someone who has never had an issue with violence in video games, movies, or any other kind of entertainment, I’m rather shocked to find that for the first time in my life I’m really kind of sick of being entertained by mass murder.

Brace for unpopular opinion. The anti-video games crowd isn’t entirely wrong about violence in video games. They’re wrong because they don’t understand that games aren’t non-stop slaughter-fests oozing with blood and rape. Most of the people that make comments about video game violence have barely played the games they’re talking about, if at all. It’s the exact same situation as with the Video Nasty, Satanic Panic, and Gangsta rap controversies in the 1980s The moral watchdogs don’t understand that video games have finer literary qualities like narrative context, signification, satire, and metaphor.  And that they are entertainment, and that it is OK to be entertained by darker, more questionable material. They don’t get that video games are an artistic medium that can- and in fact should- represent all aspects of human life including violence and death.

But what they are, at least in part, right about is that it has become too pervasive and there is a certain climate of brutality, nihilism, and devalued human life that games (along with other media) are promoting in the larger cultural spectrum. Witness any number of games released in 2012, where the primary action is killing somebody or something. Witness any number of games where the environments are broken, destroyed, or otherwise ruined. Witness any number of video game covers where the central figure is a “chin down, eyes up” killer of whatever stripe. Witness the aggressively macho, roughneck tone, sound, and visuals of many games. You cannot possibly claim with any degree of credibility that video games do not glorify, reward, and celebrate the taking of simulated life. Achievement unlocked, there’s pixelated blood on your hands.

Lionizing murder is one thing, but stripping death of all of its finality, meaning, and immense power is another. Video games are practically founded on frivolous representations of death without consequence or meaning, barring games such as Dark Souls that make dying an important mechanic in the game. But rare is the game that comes along saying to the player “hey, maybe killing all of these people was a bad idea”. Spec Ops: The Line did that in a particularly chilling way. The victims of a white phosphorous attack are revealed to be innocent civilians, not enemy combatants. I can’t think of another game that really shows the player what happens when they press a button and lots of people die. People that shouldn’t have died.

Video games have always been criticized for violent content. I recall reading a video games magazine sometime around 1983 or 1984 that had an article about what could happen if video games were made illegal because of their violent content. At that point, the most violent game you could play was the old Death Race arcade game. Decades on, and slaughter has become casual and in fact expected of the medium.

To some degree, it’s natural. Simulated violence is one of the key elements of any kind of play. When animals play, they mock fighting, competition, conflict, and aggression.  And people have always been entertained by violence from the gladiator arena to the Grand Guignol. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and I do believe that there should be violence in video games because they, as art, should necessarily reflect who we are as a civilization. I’m still going to play shooters, because I love them. Violent video games are entertaining. But I do find that I am questioning why there are so many games that put the player in the role of a mass murderer- regardless of context, cause, or justification. Why is it always about killing?

Think about it. How many digital lives did you end last year, not including online multiplayer opponents whose on-screen personages map directly to a live human being? How many over the entire time you’ve played games? For my part, I can’t count that high. If the world of Tron were a reality, I would be a Hitlerian figure of evil. And so would you. Yet I’ve never once flinched at a headshot or a backstab. Have you? Why aren’t we shocked by decapitations, dismemberments, throat-cuttings, eyeball piercings, or evisceration? It’s all become so powerless, inert, without impact.

This adherence to a standard of killing as core design element is one of the key things preventing, I think, games from progressing as a medium. We- the people that buy and play these games- have set a very, very low standard that appeals to the basest instincts and desires, valuing murder fantasy over creativity, exploration, and transcendental reflection. We got tired of killing living video game people so we started re-killing video game people that are already dead. It just goes on and on, and it’s sad that there’s no end in sight.

There are exceptions, and they are important. Games like Catherine, Journey, and Little Inferno. Games that are about other aspects of the human experience than killing other people. Over the holidays the game I played the most was Waking Mars, an IOS title about exploring Mars. It’s a science fiction game, but there isn’t a trace of the kind of xenocidal, Aliens-influenced bug hunting that characterizes an overwhelming percentage of all the science fiction games ever made. Instead of shooting the place up, you observe lifeforms and learn about the ecosphere.  Yet it’s compelling, fraught with danger, and offers challenges far beyond killing everything and then shooting a boss in its glowing bits. What if Mass Effect did away with all of the shooting and instead was a game about exploration, discovery, and the pioneer spirit? Did Bioshock really need to be a FPS to tell its story or convey its message?   Why can’t more video games follow the example of 2001: A Space Odyssey instead of fucking Pitch Black?

Think about an alternate reality where mass murder in video games wasn’t acceptable- or demanded- by the audience, where creators understood the power of depicting death economically and with meaning. Imagine Assassin’s Creed in this world. Instead of cutting down hundreds and hundreds of random enemies, your character would spend the entire game gathering intelligence, observing, and preparing for ONE murder in a 20 hour game.  How awesome- and more profoundly thrilling- would that assassination be? Imagine more games like the original Rainbow Six, where one shot kills, every bullet counts, and the goal is to complete a mission- not just kill everything in sight as you walk through a shooting gallery toward an “objective marker” to press X and flip a switch and trigger a cut scene that serves as a phony justification for the actual gameplay and actions depicted.

There’s a reason that casual gamers flock to games like Farmville, Angry Birds, and the like. They’re going to games that DO NOT reflect the real world, they aren’t escaping like “hardcore gamers” are into a world of persistent, continual, and endless violence. They aren’t using silly excuses about “blowing off steam” or “getting out some aggression” to participate in this kind of simulated mass murder. They just don’t want to see it, and I don’t think that’s wrong. I think that’s actually more normal than locking in for two hours of constant death and killing during a Call of Duty session. And I don’t want to hear developers whining that games without guns and shooting don’t sell. Because they most certainly do, as evidenced by any number of games that aren’t about shooting versus Body Count, Inversion, Homefront, Syndicate, et. al. It’s just that there are a very small number of killing-centric games that have dominated the AAA market.

But why, developers, do you keep shepherding us down this road where mass murder is the overarching theme of the video game medium? The irony is that these games are rated “M for Mature” when they’re more often than not anything but that. Is there even a possibility for us to have a Cannibal Holocaust moment in this medium where people say “OK, that is taking this kind of entertainment killing and death worship a little too far.” I don’t know that there is, and as much as I like games about fighting, shooting, stabbing, punching, and blowing things up I find myself asking if those things are actually entertaining anymore. Mass murder has lost its thrill, and I’m more excited by a game where I’m watching how water affects a subterranean organism on Mars than I am by a good K/D ratio.

The pale guy up there, one of the best writers that comics has ever seen, says it all but I’m going to quote with liberty.

“They’ll stop at nothing, you see. All the suffering and pain and death in the video game world is entertainment for us. They thought that by making the video game world more violent they would make it more “realistic”, more “adult”. God help us if that’s what it means. Maybe for once they should try being kind.”

 

19 Responses to “Rethinking Mass Murder”

  1. Brandon January 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    I know that you didn’t like it, but one of the reasons I liked The Walking Dead so much was that the game gave you the opportunity to have a positive influence on a character through your actions. I played the game with the intention of teaching Clementine that even though the world had gone to hell, it still meant something to be a decent person, to do the right thing and retain your humanity even if those around you didn’t. You don’t usually get a choice like that in games, so it was refreshing to make that choice.

    • Michael Barnes January 9, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      And I think that is _exactly_ why Walking Dead has resonated with many people not named Michael Barnes. Because there is a _hunger_ for games to have more positive content, and that games can be more than about getting revenge, using intel to blow up brown people, and whatnot. I think it’s why games like Fez and Portal 2 get such a pass from people, because they are promoting more positive gaming concepts. Nobody is saying “man, I wish there were more military shooters.” But almost EVERYBODY is saying “man, I wish there more games like Portal 2.”

      It’s also why Nintendo’s first party offerings remain so popular, year in and year out. Even in conflict-focused games like Zelda or Metroid, there’s still a sense of positivity and _joy_ rather than grim, merciless brutality and struggle.

      I think it’s also why “morality choices”, even though that’s usually a phony mechanic are so popular. People want the choice to do right, and to make positive choices. I’ve read time and time again where developers are surprised that most people will do the “right” thing in a game and play as a good guy if given the chance.

      This is such a transitional period for video games…the opportunity is there for us to get past the whole “dudebro” mentality, all of the shooting and killing among urban rubble, and see games expand into doing something much more than depicting conflict and its residual carnage.

    • Sören Höglund January 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      The single most horrifying thing that happened in The Walking Dead was when I gave in to my lust for vengeance and killed someone who was helpless — and then realised Clementine was watching.

  2. zeowyrm January 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Thing is, I think there is a backlash happening against games that just go too far. Duke Nukem comes to mind. Decent FPS game, but the crudity, machismo, and rape jokes ended up making what should have been a huge success into a huge failure.

    The so-called “hardcore” crowd is getting upset about casual gaming for just that sort of thing as well. Large numbers of women play The Sims for instance. I know, not just women, but the key demographic is women. Children are flocking to games like Minecraft and Terraria. The teenage boys/man-children who adore the murder games are starting to be outnumbered, and they react by crying out “the death of hardcore gaming.” Thing is, I think the studios are seeing the gaming demographics change, and they’re changing their focus accordingly. The breakout success of games like The Walking Dead, Minecraft, Crusader Kings II and FTL were not accidents. The audience seems to be, as a whole, maturing.

    Or maybe I’m just rambling, but my point is, I completely agree with you.

    • Michael Barnes January 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      I think you’re exactly right, the “hardcore” gaming crowd that is reacting so negatively to things like more women (horror!) playing games is definitely a part of this whole equation. And they’re holding on to the M-rated violence games as sort of a last bastion of that 1990s/2000s mentality.

      And I do think that when you’ve got a game like Minecraft outselling AAA shooters with huge budgets, there are definitely signs that a sea change is happening.

  3. fring January 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    I’ve definitely been noticing how fewer games I play where I kill people. And how quickly I stop playing games that do require me to kill people. I think the only game I played to completion this year that involved killing “people” was Mass Effect 3, which is more a testament to how much I like the games (and my history with them, I guess) than anything else.

    I finally gave LA Noire a chance a couple weeks ago and got to some mini-game where you’re chasing a dude who takes a hostage and you pull out your gun and shoot him in the face. I recall that shooting him in the leg while he was running wasn’t a valid alternative. Anyways, I stopped playing shortly thereafter.

    I’ve consistently had the same problems with the Uncharted series, in that I’m just not that comfortable killing so many people. I’ve got really high hopes for The Last of Us, but it’s primarily because I want it to punish me for getting into situations that require killing in the first place.

    On the topic of Assassin’s Creed, I actually played through about 2/3s of the first game without killing anyone besides my targets, simply because I assumed there was some sort of systemic punishment for killing people willy nilly. Then I realized there wasn’t and ended up losing interest a little bit into the second game.

    Admittedly, I primarily play RPGs, which even on the rare occasions they actually do simulate killing people instead of “monsters”, do so in a relatively abstract manner. So the phase out of games that involve killing people has been happening for awhile, but it’s not showing any sign of stopping.

    The way I’d summarize my thoughts is that I play games for the art. For the mechanics, for the imagery, for the story. Unless they’re using killing to augment those things, it’s a distraction, and a lazy and insulting one at that. And I’m not really willing to take part in it.

    PS – Discussions like this always make me think of the Prince of Persia reboot. I loved it even though nobody else actually bought it, but one of its primary goals was clearly to remove the thoughtless violence that had been creeping into the series. I really appreciated that the only thing you did with a life through the whole game was save one.

    • Michael Barnes January 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

      The thing about Uncharted is very telling. All of that character work, all of the great scenarios, all of the oustanding production work…and it’s really just a third-person cover-based shooter. At the end of it all, regardless of how much you care about Elena or Chloe or whoever, it’s a game about killing people. Not about those relationships or adventures. It’s funny because there is actually a point where one of the game’s villains calls Drake to the carpet for killing a bunch of people to get to where he is…but that’s about it. And it’s laughable because Drake- a regular guy, just happens to be an adventurer- kills HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of people throughout every game. What does shooting people really have to do with the storyline? Not much. Then why is that what I’m doing almost constantly throughout the game?

      You just made me want to play that Prince of Persia game…because the “endarkening” of those games with Two Princes and all of that really turned me off. Thinking back to the very first POP, that was a game that handled death and killing really well. Fights were economical but impactful, and death was final.

  4. Dorkmaster Flek January 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Question: Are video games influencing the worship of violence prevalent in the popular culture, or is it the other way around?

    The modern face of video gaming to people who don’t play video games is basically Call of Duty. This didn’t happen until very recently. Sure, there were always moral outrages about Deathrace and Mortal Kombat, but there was a time when if you said the word “video game” to a non-video gamer, they thought of Mario instead of Halo or CoD.

    I posit that in the decade following 9/11, there has been an increase in the cultural glorification of violence, particularly in the US which is now the biggest gaming development hub in the world. The “modern military FPS” didn’t become a thing until CoD 4, which was released in 2007. Was popular culture made violent by every CoD and Battlefield game since then, or did popular culture actually create Modern Warfare and everything that came after it in the first place? I honestly think it’s the latter. Video games aren’t affecting society; it’s the other way around.

    • Michael Barnes January 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

      I would absolutely agree with that, because media does reflect larger (and sometimes latent) cultural mores and attitudes. And I would also agree that there is to some degree a post 9/11 factor involved along a couple of vectors. Like any other artistic medium, a video game reflects the cultural context and time in which it appears.

      But I would argue that there is a degree of reciprocality. Not in the sense that violent video games are causing people to go out and commit crimes or murder or whatever (that’s total nonsense), but in that they contribute to a larger zeitgeist in which running up behind a guy, grabbing him, slitting his throat and having a VO say “let the bodies hit the flo’!” is “cool” and “fun” instead of abhorrent and questionable. It also contributes to a larger cultural attitude that WANTING to view or participate in simulated mass murder is acceptable and expected.

      So I think it’s definitely a reciprocal thing, it’s not one way or the other.

  5. Crimson Dragoon January 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I’m glad you mentioned Spec Ops in this (just finished it yesterday, by sheer coincidence), as its the closest thing video games have to that comic panel you began with.

    But I’m right there with you. I’m getting tired of all the meaningless killing in games. I want something different, and fortunately, it looks like things are starting to move that way.

    • Michael Barnes January 9, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

      But Spec Ops undermined its own message by kowtowing to current expectations…headshot achievments, plain ol’ deathmatch multiplayer, glorification of violence as a heroic act. That one part though was so impactful and resonant, particularly after seeing similar scenes in other games where it’s all just “kill confirmed” and you move on.

      I still contend that Infinity Ward wanted to make a similar statement with “No Russian”, to show the player that being an unstoppable ubermensch with a machine gun mowing down innocents was not a desirable thing, but it backfired on them. I’m sure there’s plenty of kids out there that think that scene is so bad ass and they love gunning down the crowd. Unfortunate.

      • Sampo January 13, 2013 at 7:04 am #

        I could not kill a single civilian there. Terrified, I was shooting at the floor and the walls and sure I was about to get caught and die. One of the most powerful moments in gaming for me.

  6. nicthaninja January 9, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    This is going to sound stupid but video games have always been violent. Sure our violence is becoming more realistic in some cases like CoD while in others it’s bright and cheerful as you throw your friend down a pit (New Super Mario). Gaming as I know it is largely kill or be killed. It’s how arcades used to make money even in pacman you eat ghosts or you die. Killing a lot of things people or not became a mark of skill, especially when games had limited amounts of lives, sup Contra.

  7. OnePompousPenguin January 9, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    So on Monday I posted a comment on the Calabder Man post about how I have not really gotten into games lately. Then in Jumping the Shark they had a conversation about how lately some of them have had the same issue. Since then I’ve been trying to put my finger on what exactly the problem was.

    Here is a list of games I’ve bought over the last few years with every intention of playing but for some reason either could not finish or could not bring myself to play (note: these are only games I actually bought not games I wanted to buy just learned my lesson an refrained):
    Dark Souls
    Demons Souls*
    Metal Gear Collection*
    Darksiders*
    Resistance 3
    Batman Arkham City
    Shadow of the Colossus*
    Bioshock*
    Xenoblade Chronicles*
    Eternal Darkness
    Bayonetta*
    Alan Wake
    Amnesia*
    Borderlands
    Half Life 2
    Metro 2033*
    The Witcher*
    The Witcher 2
    Mass Effect*
    Mass Effect 2
    Deus Ex
    Assassins Creed 2*
    The World Ends With You*
    Persona 3/4
    * Actually started and was unmotivated to finish

    Now here is a list of games over that same period that I actually completed and enjoyed:
    Ico
    Rayman Origins
    New Super Mario Bros U
    Portal 2
    Bastion

    With the exception of Bastion (though I became much more interested in replaying the game after it gave me the option of a non-violent ending), non of those games are focused on violence. You could make an argument for Ico but I do not see the shadows as beings, just magic shadows. What the other games all have in common (minus a few maybe) is the focus the gameplay of those games has on violence. I’m just not interested in killing things like I used to be as a kid. I can only kill things for so long before I start to think, we’ll that’s enough of that. So thank you for the article, it helped me put my issue into perspective. From here on, I think I’m going to make an effort to only purchase games with a non-violent gameplay focus. With that in mind, I can not wait for Rayman Legends!

  8. timzania January 10, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    This is a good start toward thinking about violence in video games, but I think we are missing the next step, which is the (mostly imaginary) relationship between mechanics and story and how we should work out the conflict. This tension goes back to the early history of our form and has never been resolved very well.

    Tetris, as usually presented, is all about mechanics. It engages visual/spatial ability and reaction speed, with no story about why we are stacking these blocks, and nobody really cares why. The line of motivation is obvious; you play Tetris for its own sake. Clearing blocks feels good.

    If you heard some mumbo-jumbo about how “story” was necessary for “real art”, maybe you’d turn the blocks into little monsters; maybe you’d call your game Dr. Mario. Suddenly the game is about killing. You are killing “viruses” and not people, but they have faces and dance around, so what sort of viruses are these?

    Everyone who plays games knows that it makes no difference to the player. The storyline of Dr. Mario is a sham, or perhaps a silly little joke. Our brains are not engaged some different way compared to playing Tetris, except that maybe they are engaged a little less overall since Tetris has better mechanics. There is no more sense of violent action than there is stomping Goombas, which are allegedly corrupted mushroom people (analagous to zombies, perhaps?).

    No, mechanics-based games, with their blocks or crystals or maybe little birds just don’t engage the player emotionally. We might call them mindless. Nobody remembers that entire planets were supposedly destroyed in Meteos. It’s probably for the best.

    Yet, artists by nature want to engage more of the player, to see them as something other than a visual reaction processing device and more of a human being. And nothing lights up our brains like other people. Not surprising, then, that designers want to make game worlds which are full of humans, or very human-like creatures. Same reason that (2001 notwithstanding) Hollywood rarely makes films about blocks.

    Of course all these humans are fake, just as they are in movies. The dilemma is that in video games, these fake humans are supposed to be interactive. We have the technology to make some pretty darn realistic-looking people, but we can barely make them walk around an obstacle reliably, much less simulate a conversation. Workarounds like dialogue trees may be fun for a while, but are not really compelling by themselves. The artifice is just too bare, like you are selecting tracks from a playlist rather than talking to someone.

    So in the end what we do to these automotons in human clothing is mostly kill them. It’s just about the only human interaction we can simulate. They pretend to pose some threat to us, and we pretend to clear that threat, and then there is a new bigger threat. It doesn’t escape our notice that they are essentialy being cleared like Tetris blocks. Maybe we react to the imagery if it reminds us of something unpleasant. I don’t mind this in essence but it largely fails to grab me after a while. Maybe some feel more of a bloodsport rush from it all, but sometimes I think the argument is more about aesthetics than values.

    Going back to Tetris, you could imagine Tetris with little people instead of blocks, who blew up with blood everywhere when you cleared a line, and you could call that “violent” I guess (or maybe you could call it “Hotline Miami”). More likely it would be a weird artistic statement on the meaning of violence in culture, and it wouldn’t be a very deep one. When I think of what a truly “violent” game means, it’s not “massacre simulators” that come to mind but rather something like Dishonored. Dishonored, the most violent game I’ve ever played, starts off agreeing with you about nonviolence then baits you into killing. While effective as art it is quite disturbing too, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Making the death toll smaller, and the motivations clearer, certainly makes the murdering feel more immediate.

    That’s not to say that games like Hotline Miami are OK and games like Dishonored shouldn’t be made. I think that it’s a hard question to understand what kind of culture we should have. What I’m saying is that it’s not enough to just ask why there is so much killing in games, since we already know the reason, more or less. I think there’s more fertile ground in asking what the violence in different games is saying. In most of them it isn’t saying much. Rather than saying it’s horrifying to kill so many, I might argue that it’s uninteresting.

  9. Matt Thrower January 10, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re suggesting in this piece. You seem to start out by saying that violence in video games is related to a perceived lowering of the value of human life. I would contest both that there’s a relationship and that culture has become increasingly nihilistic and brutal. Indeed I would say quite the opposite is true.

    However, you then steer away from that, wash your hands of it, and say that violence is actually okay, and pretty entertaining, but it’s over-represented in games to the point where its preventing innovation. That I will agree with to some extent. But the situation isn’t as bad as you make out. Violence may be prevalent but it’s not overbearing. What about sports games? Platformers? Life-simulators? Puzzles? Indie-art games of various kinds? There are popular, critically acclaimed games in all those genres that don’t conform to your stereotype.

    If your central thesis is that violence is taking the place of creativity in gaming, then yes, that’s true. But it’s true because of the oft-bemoaned problems with innovation in the industry, the rising costs and lowering returns, and all the stuff we’ve covered before.

    Whatever angle you come at it from it seems to me that violence in gaming is the symptom, not the problem.

    • vexxin January 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      The last statement you made rings true with me. If we as a consuming public didn’t want or care for violence in games, then developers would be shepherding us to whatever direction sold better. We the public love our violence.

      It’s not a news story when the millions of people who enjoy them also live healthy lives. It’s a knee-jerk reaction (as Barnes has already stated) to something that isn’t fully understood, much in the way Marilyn Manson took heat for Columbine, or that rap took for inner city violence.

      Art is a product of truths. Our violent video game culture is a product of our collective mentality.

  10. slothboy January 10, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    I won’t pretend for one minute that I haven’t enjoyed the hell out of many games that involved guns or sharp objects and the combining of those things with living creatures. I’ve also enjoyed many games where I simply move objects around or solve puzzles.

    Gamers like variety as much as moviegoers or fans of literature. Nobody wants to be in an entertainment rut. Big gaming companies, on the other hand, want the safest path to a profit. So when the latest FPS Combat military action dealie sells like hotcakes then everyone jumps in to crap out a carbon copy.

    The same thing happens in the movie industry. Look at it lately… they go so far as to just continuously remake the same movies over and over. It sold once, it’ll sell again. Let’s do another Spiderman! Let’s remake Total Recall! Blah blah blah. It’s a safe bet so it happens all the time.

    I have gotten very bored with new FPS games, personally. I still like a lot of the ones I already have so when another number in a series hits the shelf I ignore it. The only new FPS I got this year was Halo 4 and that was just because the high pitched whining from my friends who wanted to play it online with me eventually wore me down.

    That is why I feel like we are entering a golden age of video games. The relative ease with which independent gaming companies can deliver new concepts, and do it successfully, has revolutionized what we play. The App Store, Steam, Kickstarter even, all these things make it possible for someone to come up with an original idea and then actually get it to market. This completely avoids the “big publisher” problem and allows the gamer to decide what is worth playing or isn’t. There will obviously be more failures than successes, but when a game like minecraft or angry birds turns into a license to print money, eventually the big companies will take notice and their catalog will start to expand beyond the generic, violent, action games.

    TL;DR – The prevalence of violence in video games is more indicative of lazy publishers than bloodthirsty gamers. In the nightly news, summer blockbusters, video games, history books and the Bible… if it bleeds, it leads. Independent game developers will help break the cycle.

  11. catstronaut January 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Great article, and one I definitely agree with. I don’t think violent video games are causing violence, but all the same we have a culture that seems to deify violent acts. It would be nice to see more games tone it back and celebrate fun. Sure, Nintendo games might be “violent,” but there’s no reveling in death. I think there’s a noticeable line somewhere between depicting death and celebrating violence, and a lot of the time big blockbuster games feel extremely juvenile to me because they cross this line without even considering its impact on the story. A lot of the time it feels like they just have death and blood and gore because that’s what they’ve always had, rather than conscious design. It feels sloppy and stupid.

    I think one major thing that’s happened as video games have become increasingly Westernized is that we’re no longer primarily fighting moblins, metroid, and reploids, but rather human beings, and I feel that’s a great loss. I love tackling cartoon villains in a cartoon atmosphere, and video game violence is becoming increasingly inane. I’d love to have some good alternative games that stress fundamental gaming skills while shifting the emphasis from killing others. It’d be cool to have a highly narrative game where every action plays like a fully fleshed-out minigame. We don’t necessarily need less violent games, but rather more great games that de-stress violence.

    I’ll be interested to hear your views on Dredd in light of this discussion ;D

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