Unnecessary Roughness? – A brief look at violence in gaming

Posted on 30/05/2009




Essentially, violence is everywhere in gaming. Some games approach it carefully, others just go ahead and quite literally throw it into the players faces. Most games that feature any kind of conflict offer violence as the only solution to it. And with the increase in graphical capabilities, the brutality of the violence depicted is increasing from year to year. Or so it seems.

In some instances, it appears developers are consciously turning the brutal-o-meter of their creations up. Whether that happens randomly or maybe by choice is unclear to me. Sometimes it seems like a stubborn reaction to the public condemning the work of developers worldwide as “murder simulators”. You want brutal slaughterfests, FOX-news and friends? Fine, there. There you have it! Slaughterfests. Happy now? In some instances that seems to be the attitude behind the design decisions for some of the most and most hotly debated violent games out there.

Additional detail, or gameplay element?

Additional detail, or gameplay element?

The Manhunt 2 controversy seems to be the picturebook example to this. In my country, the first game is banned from sale. Which surprisingly doesn’t happen to as many games as one might think.

The developers, Rockstar, already were front center in the media’s attention, the GTA series delivering one global scandal after the next. So it seems like Manhunt 2’s atrocities were quite deliberately placed as flame-bait for the media.

While other games completely slip under the media’s radar since they never proved to be involved in a big scandal while being just as brutally violent as the ones that don’t. No kid (yet) shot up his or her school while having a copy of Condemned: Criminal Origins at home. While I think the game clearly is a lot more violent, brutal and dehumanizing in the depiction of its enemies than, say, GTA. Monolith gave the violent-o-meter of what’s possible to pull off and get away with successfully in a game a good yank.

Ultimately, I’m aware that approval or disapproval of this sort of brutal video game violence essentially is a matter of personal taste. Personally I doubt that I’ll ever shy away from a game I’m interested in because of it’s content of brutality.
Some people like splatter movies, others don’t. It’d be wrong to construct a moral judgement about a person liking or disliking one or the other out of that.

But then there is a question oftentimes asked by the people not approving of violence:

What benefit does gore and brutality bring to the gaming experience?

Essentially, violence, brutality and gore especially are nothing but added flavour. A coat of painting over the gameplay.

Thinking of the gore-fest Dead Space, the core gameplay would be possible in it’s entirety without a drop of blood, without anything menacing or brutal. Your “gun” could shoot pink, fluffy hearts instead of death rays, and the enemies could be friendly Care Bear-like creatures. This wouldn’t change anything about the core gameplay.

There are however examples, where a basic level of violence is and will always be part of the action. Condemned would still be something of a boxing game, just without the splattering blood and enemies teeth flying around. Interestingly, most shooters can be made more abstract, since the player could just shoot something that’s not harming the enemies, causing them to withdraw or sit down, while most games based on hand to hand combat would still retain the action of physically touching somebody.

Not quite the same as Condemned, yet both have punches to the face as a central gameplay element.

Not quite the same as Condemned, yet both have punches to the face as a central gameplay element.

And there are games, where violence is contextualized into being more than just a coat of paint, where being brutal actually is part of the overall narrative, or where it’s expressively not desired to be brutal, although the possibility is given to the player.

Games like Chronicles of Riddick actually benefit from being nasty, even though games like this specific example tend to up the general trend of higher levels of brutality across the board.

And it’s the games where this higher, extra level of violence is NOT contextualized that put gaming in genral in a bad light. I’m somewhat hesitant of naming names and pointing fingers, since I personally tend to like most of the games that would come to mind now and have no problem with them sporting a red, gibby coat of gore.
But still I must admit that the extra violent flavour added to so many contemporary games doesn’t really work towards their benefit.

All coat of paint - no substance? Postal has made a name for itself being the most notoriously, unnecessarily violent game in existence.

All coat of paint - no substance? Postal has made a name for itself being the most notoriously, unnecessarily violent game in existence.

And just to add this to the whole topic of gaming violence, the cartoonish side also shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s another one of those arguments oftentimes heard in the discussions about violent games, that it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint the exact necessary, acceptable level of it in a game.

Even the Mario games are essentially violent, since all conflicts are settled with fireballs, or stomps to the head.

As I said initially, most games that revolve around conflict resolve conflicts with violence.

Pretty much the only exception from this would be RPGs, or games actually featuring RPG like options to choose from how to handle a given situation.

Maybe it’s even possible to argue that violence is a basic component of most kinds of entertainment, and that due to technical difficulties it’s become the predominant solution to most conflicts presented in gaming which involve an active antagonist, and not just an abstract one like puzzles.

Gore is a nice addition if it serves the narrative context, and more of a unnecessary detail when not.

Still I would rather prefer a gory game that is just brutal for brutalities sake in an uncut form, just as with movies.

Maybe the developers did include the added violence for the wrong reasons, but if they DID include it, I want to be able to experience it, so I can come to my own judgement.

Which is essentially very much a German problem, but since Australia started banning brutal violence too, we’re no longer alone with this issue.

Posted in: comparative, gaming