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Too Much Violence in Gaming?

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Too Much Violence in Gaming?


I think there is simply too much violence in video games.

Okay, okay...I should clarify that before you all lynch me. I think there is too much violence in certain kinds of games. Some of you may still be lathering at the bit against that phrase, but hear me out. I promise that statement is not as bad you as you initially think it might be.

I'd like to focus on three big title games that came out recently that serve as perfect examples of violence getting in the way of the plot: Far Cry 3, Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite.

No, no! I promise...just be patient, I'll explain everything.

Where I Explain Some, But Not All The Things

You may be asking yourself, what am I getting at?  Video games have violence in them, who cares?  They are video games.  A valid question and a valid point.  But, what I'm getting at is that video games can tell a story just as well as any book or movie. And there is something that stands in the way when you try to have a conversation with someone about the validity of gaming as an art form.

gears-of-war-2-screenshot-gory-chain-saw-gib

Hint: it's not the story.

But even taking that aside, violence can be fun in games and I don't necessarily have an issue with games being super violent.  However, when it becomes forced or "required due to genre" then it really loses a lot of the fun aspects and turns into a chore.  Let's look at the games I mentioned. I would like to take this time to mention that because I am criticizing these games that in no way entails that I didn't like them. In fact, they are all easily my favorite games of the year so far (Tomb Raider is likely my #1 game for the year, but we shall see what else comes out).

Far Cry 3

pnl_mex_farcry3

Now, I can see that a certain amount of violence can be called for here. The game, though has a story to tell. Have you ever read the book, Heart of Darkness? Yes? Cool, you are awesome like me. If you haven't, don't feel bad, I'm a huge literature nerd. If you haven't read it, essentially a tale of a mans journey from light to darkness. He starts out a fairly pure individual, only to have his morals and world-views challenged and darkened from the experience. See also Apocalypse Now, it's essentially the Vietnam version of this book.

I feel that the writers of Far Cry 3 wanted to have the same feel to their story. You start out as a laid back slacker dude who just wants to thrill seek and have no responsibilities. The game takes great care to show how frightening and alien the thought and action of killing a person is to the main character. It shows his descent into the madness of the island and the mind-damaging violence he must perform again and again to save himself and his friends. It is a powerful story and it shows that we must take care when we look into the darkness, lest the monster we find peering at us from the gloom is simply a mirror.

If you can't tell, I really liked the story. I didn't like the ending, though mostly because I really wanted an ending where you took over as the leader of the pirates and fully became the monster you tried to destroy at the beginning of the game. But the point I'm getting at is that the game play is at odds with that story, initially. After a certain point, it actually makes a whole lot of sense that you'd be running around the island killing people all willy-nilly.

Initially, though, I expected there to be a certain amount of consistency with how your character reacts to death. It seems like there are two main characters, one that you control and one that the plot controls. When the plot is in control, you slowly escalate in your callousness towards murdering people. However, when the player is in control, you are a murderous rampaging serial killer and god help any who dare stand in the path of your bloody destruction.

Do you see the problem? When I played, I ruthless murdered my way across the island, completely wiping out the pirate presence before continuing with the main story (I get distracted easily and also didn't want to deal with pirates as I wandered about on story missions). I used stealth kills, I shot people in the face with guns and a bow and arrow. Then I do the next story mission and all of a sudden I'm back to “oh man, I can't do it! I can't kill a guy! Oh god, I just shot someone!”

Tomb Raider

Tomb-Raider-Reboot

Now, this was a good game. Not perfect, but damn close. The game play was solid, the story was amazing and it was about damn time we got a good female lead in a game. If I have any complaints about the game, it is that it is too violent.

Why? Well, I feel that the game did do a better job then Far Cry 3 in terms of scaling back your mass killing tendencies as the game progressed, but it still had the same inconsistency of character. Lara freaks out over shooting a deer, she shoots a guy in the face and freaks out...and that's it. After that, it's all “I want to bathe the world in its own blood!”.

The game at least addresses it in the end, unlike Far Cry 3, but it still doesn't sit right with me. And in Far Cry 3, at least it kind of made sense. In Tomb Raider, it's just wave after wave of these cultists at appointed spots. And I hate that because it is super obvious what happened there. The feeling of “oh, the game has slowed down a bit, people aren't going to like the game, quick throw something at them to shoot at!” becomes overwhelming at times in Tomb Raider.

The biggest problem I had with this game was the forced nature of the action scenes.  You could easily tell as you went through the game exactly when enemies where going to start popping out of the wood-work and start attacking you.  It was predictable and ultimately kind of boring after a point.  It felt like it was just filler being put in to extend the games play time.  And there are a lot of other games that use this.  It always sticks out and it always feels out of place.

Bioshock Infinite

bioshock_infinite_2

Okay, I'm going to say something that will blow your mind. I've said this to my friends and they all think I'm insane (which I am, but that is beside the point).

Bioshock Infinite did not need a single moment of violence throughout the entire game. Not one. Every single action and shooting moment is a wasted moment taking away from the point of the plot. I am not joking, I am serious. It was unnecessary. Every single plot point that happened could have happened without a single shot from me.  The entire game could have easily been pulled off as a puzzle solving, platforming style of game.  The action mechanic in this game could have been replaced with anything else and the game would have improved vastly from it I think.  Personally, I think it would have done best as a Metal Gear Solid style sneaking puzzle type game, where you have to take Elizabeth from hiding spot to hiding spot, dodging guards and trying to stay out of sight.  I think that some shoot-out style action in the game would have been fine. Maybe a few tense moments where you have to shoot your way to freedom or safety would have been nice little compliments to the game. But it wasn't. It was just wave after wave of faceless, mindless people shooting at me so I can shoot back at them.

The story itself was a deep, psychological one. It dealt with a lot of heady topics that are difficult to wrap your brain around.

wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-o

A big ball of Wibbely-Wobbely, Timey-Wimey...stuff.

But that all gets kind of hard to focus on when I'm shooting people and ripping their faces off with a giant metal hook. All the while the plot is trying to show Shepard as this reluctant killer. You hear him at one point giving the Yoda “wars do not make one great” speech, right before and after he murdered a bunch of cops just trying to do their job.  Again, the action feels forced.  These guys are here so that I can shoot them and that is it.  I just can't help but notice that the times I was having the most fun playing Bioshock Infinite were the times I was not shooting people.

Where I Bring It All Together

Violence and action in video games has become a sort of filler to pad out a games running time. Much like action scenes in movies, really. What is sad is that this is either the result of game designers underestimating their audience, or knowing it all to well. The violence in our games serves no purpose to further the plot and sometimes even detract from the plot itself.

This is why gaming isn't taken seriously. Not ever game that comes out needs to be chockablock full of shooting and killing. Especially when it doesn't align with the story you want to tell. But designers keep putting it in their games and we keep buying them. We need more games like Portal. We need more games where the focus is the plot not the action. Mindless violence in gaming is fun and I am in no way saying to stop making those games. What I am saying is that it doesn't need to be in every video game that gets made.

Just because a game is a shooter doesn't mean it needs to be filled with non-stop shooting.  Designers should never feel trapped in a genre or locked into a style simply because of prior game releases.  Make diversity, or as Neil Gaiman said, "Make good art."

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About the Author
DM Agony
DM Agony

1750 Points, 28 Comments, and 17 Articles.

Since I've been a kid, I've had two talents. Playing video games is one and writing is the other. Mother always said that you couldn't make money doing those things, and she was right. I'll at least keep trying, and hopefully you'll be entertained while I do so. You can contact me at DMAgony@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @DMAgony.

7 Comments
  1. Date: May 3, 2013
    Author: Jenna

    Nicely written, but here is why I disagree with it.

    The three examples you give are Action games. Yes, they are the current generation’s equivalent game to Mega Man, etc, of yesterday. So, I think that you are viewing them in the wrong way. I look at Far Cry 3 as a person that needs compelling to really want to delve deeply into the “Action” genre. But as I played through Far Cry 3 in particular, I felt immersed and like the violence was the perfect compliment to the plot, which was animalistic and dark. But I also played it like I was the character. I didn’t run around killing people willy nilly like the traditional action game. I played through numerous plot missions and felt compelled to play like Jason would actually behave. As he got darker and more brutal, so did I.

    With bioshock Infinite, you felt the compulsion to protect Elizabeth because of the constant assault that conveyed how important she was and how people would stop at nothing to get her back. The violence itself, I also feel tells a story about the contradiction of this beautiful utopia with the reality of what it actually was. And most action games reach a point where the enemies are too repetitive. But I don’t think they have come up with another element that could prolong game play. It was already a very, very short game.

    Your third example was Tomb Raider, which I hate, and will not address in my response.

    So I saw this as the natural progression of a genre that used to have very sparse and often irrelevant plots to one that now uses plot, story, and beautiful art work to make the game more immersive and have a wider appeal to audiences.

    That being said, I wonder how you would prefer these games to play out? Perhaps more like an adventure game? Like Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth if the shooting part of the game didn’t suck? Those would be the genre most closely associated with the type of game that you seem to be desiring in your blog. But perhaps one with better action, larger production value, and better plots and story telling.

    I see these games as Action games and while I can see the violence was very graphic and depending on your play style could seem like that was the core element of the game, I don’t hold them to any other standard than to previous Action titles. And in that regard, Action games have made huge gains in appealing to people that need to be immersed into the plot and story as well. Otherwise, I’d rarely touch them.

    My actual gaming preference is the RPG or even point and click adventures. So I understand that action games are the descendants of Mario, Rygar, early Tomb Raider, Master Chief, and their kind. Perhaps, my measuring stick is different, but I find the violence stimulating and necessary to keep my attention in that Action game genre.

    [Reply]
    • Date: May 3, 2013
      Author: Jenna

      *as a person that needs compelling plots

      [Reply]
  2. DM Agony
    Date: May 3, 2013
    Author: DM Agony

    1750 Points, 28 Comments, and 17 Articles.

    I get what you are saying, and I’ve actually gotten a lot of similar responses before when I was complaining to people about Bioshock Infinite.

    Most people would respond with “It’s a shooter, what did you expect?” And my response is simply that I expect that games publishers and designers shouldn’t feel shackled to conventional gaming categories.

    I see no reason why an action game can’t tone down the amount of forced violence, especially when for me the action scenes mostly feel like padding to lengthen the over-all length of the game.

    My favorite parts of Bioshock Infinite was the beginning bit up until the auction. It was completely immersive and I felt like I was actually experiencing what it would be be like to walk around in the city. That all swiftly changed after the action began and the killing ramped up.

    I’m not saying we need to stop making games with mindless action, I’m just saying that games can be better then that and maybe we should think about making some games that reflect that.

    [Reply]
    • Date: September 8, 2014

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      It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant
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      [Reply]
  3. Date: May 3, 2013
    Author: ryanjohnson

    5410 Points, 93 Comments, and 4 Articles.

    You’re right that the majority of games in general are geared towards violence when they don’t necessarily have to be in order to tell a story, but I just want to reply on your example about Bioshock Infinite.

    Bioshock Infinite certainly could have been made without the “violence”. However it wouldn’t have been exciting. It wouldn’t have kept my attention. But if you took out the violence and the FPS mechanic, is it even a game anymore or it an animated film? If you take out the action, does it even need you to play it?

    If I only wanted the story, I would watch a movie. That doesn’t require me to actually do anything except observe and analyze the characters and the setting and immerse myself in a story.

    But I play video games because I get to actively participate in a difficult challenge that requires skill, strategy and persistence. A Bioshock Infinite without action would just be me walking from one cut scene to the next. Which doesn’t really require my active participation. Yes, I would get the story without the violence, but why even make me play it at all? Just show me the cutscenes and let me enjoy the story. Is that what you want?

    I could understand if there was some other mechanic in place that required me to actually play it, such as solving puzzles, choosing paths, etc. In that case, then yes it could exist without the violence. But to say that the action was unnecessary is simply not true. It was absolutely necessary. Without it, Bioshock Infinite would have ceased to be classified as a game.

    You’re thinking that the story is the most important part of a video game, and the mechanic and game play only exist to strengthen the story, when it’s the other way around. The story is only there to add to the gameplay. It’s an added bonus.

    Super Mario Brothers was a legendary game, but it had the simplest of simple stories. It was the gameplay that made it a video game. The story is just added for people that are interested, but it’s optional. The gameplay is NOT optional.

    World of Warcraft has a massive amount of story, but you don’t even need to know it in order to play and love the game for years and years. Seriously, some devoted WoW players don’t know much of the story, and don’t care.

    I’m also not hating on stories, because I love them. I just don’t think it’s what defines all games.

    [Reply]
  4. Date: May 3, 2013
    Author: ryanjohnson

    5410 Points, 93 Comments, and 4 Articles.

    Woah… Line breaks don’t work in the comments. Adding that to the list of things I need to fix! :)

    [Reply]
  5. Date: May 4, 2013
    Author: Gonzo

    Your points are consistent, but they don’t really argue for less violence in game, only for a more consistent violence.

    Anyway, I hope this is a topic more widely debated. I think there is a wide use of unnecessary gore in games, which is bad because it takes the impact of a moment where it would actually be called for.

    I also think there is place in the industry for pure FPS games and mixed gameplay mechanics. The problem is, if you think abou tgraphics and whatnot, the path to improvement is clear. When talking about gameplay, this is not so. In other words, innovation is a big risk, one that almost no mainstream publisher and lots of dev comapnies don’t want to take (and within good reason, it is business after all).

    [Reply]
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