The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 12
I picked up a shotgun in Fallout: New Vegas yesterday. I fought my way through the Powder Gangers' prison fort, made my way into one of the cell-blocks, entered V.A.T.S., and watched as the game cut to a cinematic shot of my enemy's head being blown into teeny-tiny little pieces. It didn't offend me, I'm able to separate the violence of Fallout from the reality of that shown in a war documentary like Severe Clear, but it did make me pause.
I thought about it for a fleeting moment, a fraction of a second, and then went about looting the room. I didn't think much of it until it happened again, in the next room, and then three more times against a large group of enemies in another building. After pausing the game and walking away for a minute, I came back and turned off the game's kill-cam system. I realized at that moment: the violence wasn't there for a reason, it was just there to exist. The writing of the game and the visuals of its setting do more than enough to convey the brutal, desperate culture of Fallout's Wasteland on their own. There is simply no reason the game needs show such detailed violence to me on such a regular basis.
E3 2012. Perhaps more than any time in the event's past, this year was surrounded by controversies. Some, like the debate over how women are portrayed in games, have been picking up steam and came to a head during one of the industry's most active periods; others were sparked directly by what was shown at the show. The controversy sparking trend that seemed the most prevalent, not just to me but also a good number of those that watched the press conferences, was an overall level of violence that bordered on the obscene. What may be even more striking is that much of the violence appeared to be violence for the sake of violence and nothing more.
From the very start of this generation M-rated games have changed. When I was a kid playing PS2, the number of blockbuster T-rated games and blockbuster M-rated games were relatively equal - maybe even with a slightly higher number on the T-rated side. Violence was more often cartoon in nature, and even in the most serious games technology made it difficult to create something strikingly violent without a fair amount of effort. Fast forward to the release of Gears of War and suddenly we've got under-barrel chainsaws ripping subterranean menaces in half and splattering their blood across the screen while bits and pieces fly off in every direction. At some point a line was crossed where M-rated went from being defined by a game with adult themes to a game with extreme violence.
At the same time, the industry has come to embrace the M-rating. Picking up the top 12 issues on my stack of unsorted, but recent, GI magazines I found 8 of those were covers for games that would undoubtedly be M-rated. Another two, The Elder Scrolls Online and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, could wind up going either way due to still being in development. Only the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron covers were actually rated anything other than M. Many of the games that will define this generation are M-rated. BioShock, Fallout 3, Halo 3, Call of Duty, The Elder Scrolls, Gears of War and Assassin's Creed... all are M-rated and all have sold millions. While there are exceptions, such as Rocksteady's Batman series or Uncharted, the M-rated section of any retail website is still an embarrassment of the industry's most highly touted releases. A search for T-rated games, on the other hand, is just as likely to turn up bargain bin titles as it is anything worth a $60 price tag.
This brings us back to E3 2012, where almost every notable game shown will likely receive an M-rating. Assassin's Creed 3, Farcry 3, Tomb Raider and The Last of Us all showed off brutal action in their trailers, making them locks. Despite the relatively tame presentations of Watch Dogs and Beyond: Two Souls both of those games will also likely receive that big black M on their boxes. While AC may have been only slightly more extreme in nature than its predecessors, it's hard to ignore what else was on display. Whether it was Farcry's up close and personal first person perspective, Lara Croft's desperate alternate application of arrows, or the downright disturbing end to The Last of Us demo, violence ran like a current through the press events. I can't help but sit here and wonder if, like that kill-cam in Fallout: New Vegas, any of that is necessary though.
None of it seemed to serve a purpose. Displays like the Hitman Nun fight trailer and the footage shown off during E3 press conferences have me, for the first time in my life, saying that I am genuinely disturbed by what I am seeing. Not because it is violent, but because it is violent in a way that isn't justified. It's violent in a way that doesn't seem to fit. It is violent with a level of detail that is, at times, excessive. Perhaps that feeling comes from the fact that we're seeing these events out of context, but it may very well turn out that the violence is simply gratuitous. I really hope the former is the case, because at the moment it just seems wrong that Joel would attack unprovoked with such ruthless aggression or that Lara Croft would suddenly turn into the type of person who stabs people in the face with arrows.
I don't mind the violence, but I really think the industry needs to start considering its application more than they do now. There's so much content in these games that violence at the frequency of a Hollywood movie can easily turn a gunfight into a gorefest. These acts of brutality are things that players will commit, in most games, more than once throughout the course of a story. Something that might be alright a single time, for a split second, in a stylishly edited action flick may transform into an entirely different beast when playing out in real time, at the whim of the player. Like so much else in the video game industry, this is a topic that developers must learn to tackle without any precedent... I just hope it doesn't wind up turning me off some otherwise great games before they figure out a proper balance.
Good blog. I actually enjoy the violence in games it adds to the experience for me anyways. Especially when you get that oh man moment that was pretty raw. To me it helps me get into the story and character more and understand what they are going through. I do agree their is some stuff that is put in their just for the heck of it but for the most part I think it is good for most games.
Ever since Battlefield: Bad Company, I haven't seen 'strong language' on a T-rated game. And one of the guys said that Watch Dogs was defined by violence, so I'm sure it's getting an M rating.
Well, violence is often part of a game's artistic flair. Some don't need it and still have it, but if not for violence Gears of War's bleak, brutal world would feel toothless, Dead Space wouldn't be the cavalcade of body horror that we love it for, and all the fun would be gone from Bulletstorm (well, they'd still have their colorful vocabulary, but you get my point).
I agree. I think that violence should be used a bit less frequently. The number of characters in video games that kill without a second thought and sometimes in ways that are unnecessarily gory, is really upsetting. I've only started playing M rated games in the past year, but there are many that I feel are violent for the sake of being violent.
I couldn't agree more. The industry seems to be obsessed with more "adult" subject material and imagery. I honestly think it extends further than you touch on here. The industry wants so badly to match Hollywood and that shows in the AAA games. It's those games that try to match movies like The Lord of the Rings, Drive, 300 etc. etc. in their production and style. I'm rambling. Like Mojo said, we talk about this on our next podcast so when that goes up, you'll hear all my thoughts on the matter.
Unfortunately there's no easy answer. Or rather, there IS an easy answer, but it's an uncomfortable one: human beings, left without a sense of moral values, will please our basic instincts for entertainment.
As a society, we believe violence in real life is bad, but only because someone actually gets hurt. Our collective moral system is very generic, and not equipped to handle a concept like merely depicted or thought-out violence still being harmful in some way. Ditto things like child abuse, sex, alcoholism, and drug use, although all those things have their own separate issues.
Like you said it doesn't offend me, but I would like to see some T or E rated games. GoldvsSilver up there kind of took the words out of my mouth, like he said at the end of The Last Of Us E3 demo, he blew off a guy's head, then the crowd went nuts. And videogames have started glorifying violence, like Gears of War. Today, we have games where chainsaws tear through people, brutally in some cases. Like I said, I agree wholeheartedly.
I never really gave this much thought. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I have to say after reading your blog, thinking about some of the games I have played; looked back at some of the games I have played esp. fps. I would say that the violence level is disturbing; for certain games, Medal of Honor, Ghost Recon, and a few others, the violence level is justified b/c it tells a story of war and its realism.
I definitely think it's starting to get a bit out of control. I think with some games, the violence can benefit the story, or atmosphere. For example, Dead Space probably wouldn't have the tension it does, if it weren't for the violence.
But it also seems like some are just trying to be violent, or going too far with it.
Good blog. I'd have to say I disagree though. I understand what you're trying to say by violence just being ther for the sole fact of being there, but in the games you pointed out (mostly FPS) thats kinda the point. Since the tech has finally reached the point that the games look sireal its only natural that the violence gets noticed. No one really cared when the chunky bits of "flesh" from a unreal tourniment game hit the scene, because that was the point. In games like The Last of US, I think its trying to simulate what life would really be like should you ever be in a situation like that. Why shouldnt a skull explode into a pink mist if you shot it point blank with a shotgun? It just means that the games have matured along with its majority aged audience. As a final thought I'd say it boils down to the fact sex and violence sell, and since we dont see much sex in games, violence becomes the default.
Violence in games may seem gratuitus, but how is our brain responding to it. It may not add anything to the story or the gameplay but if it sparks the old fight of flight chemical cocktail in the brain then its doing its job. We get a rush, or a crindge or whatever and we are affected. The game is remembered. The next game will have to increase its power (through iether sex or violence) for the same e.ffect