No spill blood – Do popular games need a violent element?

Posted on 20/01/2010


Gears of War is outstandingly violent, but through the eyes of non-gamers, most games are.

So, if games do transport these deep meanings underneath, then why are they all about violence, bloodshed and shooting people in the face” a colleague asked me when I tried telling him about how modern games are a lot more than just gorefests.

So yeah, when I recall the games of late that actually had some messages, that pushed the envelope on “meaningful” gaming – without being “serious games” that is – then I mostly recall first person shooters. Bioshock. Far Cry 2. Games that on the surface are actually all about gruesomely murdering other human beings.

Why is that so? Why can’t Far Cry 2 be a game in which the goal is to pass by the armed militias without them opening fire on you, in which you’re not on a mission to murder people, but to do your part of conflict solving in a non- or “low” violence way of things?

Why is the only way of interacting with others in Bioshock shooting them in the face – with bullets or bees? Wouldn’t it be much better for the tale of human ambition gone wrong if there was actual interaction, not just slaughtering people?

I’m playing devil’s advocate here, I think I understand in how far the shooter genre serves as it’s own kind of medium to serve up interesting narrative, which is something people who don’t play games because they can’t see beyond the violence won’t.

But the question is valid nonetheless, even if we gamers won’t have a problem with shooting other “people” in the face. Is it the market? Would a game that doesn’t fit the genre pattern, that actually doesn’t reward gratuitous use of weapons sell a lot worse than one that does? Is it the developers, can they not think of other ways, of other usages of the medium than to produce gorefest with paper thin meaning and message after the other? Is it the producers, not willing to risk their money for something that might be closer to The Constant Gardner than to Rambo: First Blood II?

Playing peace always seems to be harder than playing war.

So when talking to people who are not gamers, should we try to be quiet about the latest multi million $ production value gorefest, and instead talk about some indi-game that is easier to sell to people who might not dig violence?

And is it even necessary to make games appealing to these?

Gaming as such already is mainstream. The sales numbers are solid. But most gaming Blockbusters tend to be action movies. There might be something tarantinoesque going on with the likes of Suda, and some neat small indy-games reflect the meaning of life and death, and that’s it.

There seems to be a hole in the middle. It’s like games have the SFX Oscars, and Slamdance. And nothing else in between.

Games are either gimmicks, or straight out entertainment, with little or no deeper values attached.

Or maybe I’m just playing the wrong games, looking for those things I’m missing in the wrong corners. Or am living in the wrong country, talking to the wrong kind of people, who knows…