Violence & Video Games

All throughout the month of February I’m going to examine specific aspects of video games as a medium. (Yes, I know it’s not February yet, shoot me.) This week I’m going to talk about how video games portray violence. First let me address what everyone thinks about when they see ‘Violence” and “Video Games’ in the same sentence. Video games do not cause violent behavior; there is no scientific evidence that supports otherwise despite what a certain US Senator may think. And let me be clear that when I say violence, I mean violent crimes: murder, assault, arson, etc. Now that that’s out-of-the-way let’s begin.

The overwhelming majority of video games feature violence, at least in some capacity; some games are far worse offenders than others. Games like God of War, Gears of War, and any military shooter (I’m looking at you Call of Duty) market violence as a selling point of the product, whether it’s through the context of the military or just wanting to see blood and gore. I don’t think I need to go into detail about why video games are so violent…but I will anyways. Violence is fun when you know it’s not real. Whether it’s beating up bad guys in Batman: Arkham City, killing zombies in Left 4 Dead, or slaying dragons in Skyrim, violence is a release. There’s nothing wrong about any of the three games I just mentioned, the problem is the unbalanced portrayal of violence in video games, which is far worse than any other medium.

Nothing says anger management like ripping off a guy’s head with your bare hands.

Almost every single video game that features violence, does so as a solution rather than a problem. Think of how murder is portrayed in video games. It’s almost always seen as necessary to accomplishing a goal relevant to the player. Killing is never a problem, it saves the day. The fact that murder is necessary in these scenarios isn’t even looked at. Sure, there are plenty of games like Mass Effect and the Walking Dead that frown upon murder in certain situations, but these games usually frame this within a decision, leaving it up the player what to do. This is an improvement but the problem with this is that it allows the player to justify killing someone because it’s a “valid” choice. Let’s face it, in the real world, murder sucks. Even if killing someone is necessary I think most sane people would agree that being forced to kill someone would be a horrible experience. To be fair, video games aren’t that does this, plenty movies and tv shows portray violence as a solution but the difference is that there are also movies and shows that do the opposite, that is portray violence negatively. Out of all the games I have played, I can think of one game in which the player is forced to murder someone, and suffers for doing so for the entire story. That video game is Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit outside of North America).

Indigo Prophecy opens with the main character murdering an innocent person whilst in a trance. The character awakens from the trance, realizes what he’s done and then the player is given control. For the rest of the game, the main character is on the run from the police and the entire plot is set in motion because of this event. At no other point in the game is the player able to kill someone else (with the exception of the antagonist at the end). The murder that opens the narrative does not further any of the player’s goals, in fact it actually furthers the goals of the villain. Indigo Prophecy is notable in this regard because it’s one of the few games to portray murder in a completely negative light. While the main character doesn’t dwell on this for long, he is still burdened by a murder he didn’t even consciously commit, therefore the player is burdened by this. The game focuses more on who was actually behind the murder than the direct consequences, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Looks like his life *sunglasses* just went down the toilet.

I’m not expecting video games to become less violent or not feature murder in any way, what I want is for there to be more video games that question whether violence is a solution. I’m not cynical, there are new games that are starting to ask these questions, games like Spec Ops: The Line (which I haven’t played yet) which actually satirizes the desensitization of murder in military shooters. There are always going to be excessively violent video games, I hope and think that in a few years, for every few Mortal Kombats of Call of Dutys, the industry a deliver a Journey or a Walking Dead. Hopefully then, no one (other than FOX news) will point the finger at video games the next time there’s a shooting.

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About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on January 31, 2013, in Game Design and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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