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Indie game developers discuss the appeal of videogame violence.

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we're still discussing this? wow.

Nice article and I pretty much agree with it all. Especially the last sentence

Maxwell Patterson:
Games as pulp entertainment are as good as they've ever been, but I have to wonder if modern technology and game design can offer us a title that addresses violence with the gravitas of a Saving Private Ryan while still retaining the fundamental player involvement that makes the medium unique.

Games are very good at systems but appalling at narrative. To maintain interaction each time the player makes a meaningful choice it requires vast amounts work for each of the story branches. This breaks the immersion because the player wants to go in one but finds themselves pushed down the rail lines of someone else's narrative. The closest to getting squaring the circle of freedom versus narrative is MMO's. Particularly EVE with it almost limitless freedom and the on going to story being defined by the players actions. The downside is when there are no limits in MMOs they tended to be dominated by the those most willing to adopt extreme behaviour, making it a rather unpleasant experience for everyone else.

A great article!

I remember playing Soldier of Fortune back in the day and feeling a little queasy at the realistic (for the time) gore effects, compared to the more exaggerated and hyper-real splatter effects of the games I was used to (like Unreal Tournament).

Maxwell Patterson:
Games as pulp entertainment are as good as they've ever been, but I have to wonder if modern technology and game design can offer us a title that addresses violence with the gravitas of a Saving Private Ryan while still retaining the fundamental player involvement that makes the medium unique.

I think you need to look at the purpose of the individual game when considering this sort of issue. Whereas in the past games could definitely and simply be classified as 'entertainment', the lines these days are being blurred between 'entertainment', 'art', 'simulation' etc. and the level of personal investment and expectation on the part of the player varies widely.

Whereas games like CoD are definitely going for the blockbuster action-movie vibe, others like the original Flashpoint and ArmA strive for simulation of reality. What you lose in scripted pathos, you perhaps gain in role-play immersion and understanding of the consequences of violence.

And yet the vast majority of modern AAA games are still marketed as if they are Hollywood summer action-movies. It's like the big companies don't know how to sell the products they have...

As long as the gameplay itself is about perpetuating violence then I don't see how you can escape from the action movie feel, with all its dumbed down / cartoonish violence thrown in. A puzzle or adventure game set in a violent landscape is the only way you could actually have serious violence that makes the player think about the content in a more harrowing way.

Wow, i never thought of the violence ratings like that before. VERY good point that should be obvious but really isn't. Hmmmm, now i must think.

It seems strange to me how so many of the people that work in games can have such intelligent things to say about the medium and yet they still churn out so much exploitation trash. It's a miserable industry that knowingly produces inferior merchandise because it believes the good stuff won't sell.

I believe that as we hit the theoretical ceiling with graphics (as budget constraints become an even further hindrance), we will start to see the social commentary and philosophical side to the violence start to grow.

It arguably involved the removal of "traditional" gameplay elements, but Heavy Rain reached for strong emotional introspection when you decided to cut your finger off as opposed to say, ripping your opponents finger off and beating him to death with it in a game like Mortal Kombat. There's room for both approaches obviously, as popcorn action flicks involving the death of hundreds coexist with something like Saving Private Ryan or Inglorious Basterds.

I actually think there's two limits being reached. In Sniper Elite V2, there's a divided camp of those who are gleefully entertained by a bullet ripping a scrotum apart in vivid x-ray detail and some who can't stomach it as the next logical step despite being Call of Duty veterans. As for the Saving Private Ryan analogy, there's a lot to be said about the interactivity and immersion inherent in gameplay. I can stomach watching the film, but couldn't fathom participating in the D-day invasion or even pretending virtually in the most realistic fashion possible if graphics reached a hypothetical level of photorealistic graphics and 7.1 "MOMMYYYY!!!" sound effects.

As I grow older, I'm liking my video game escapism to be fantastical and completely impossible to find on Earth, as opposed to ever increasingly realistic portrayals of horrific events in our history or theoretical future. It's important to remember that video games need to grow on their own merits, and not necessarily in a quest to become "ever more like film." That's somewhat like saying games are less than film, when they have their own merits that can be further explored and expanded.

Thanks for the comments everyone, a lot of good points raised.

disappointed, I definitely see your point but to play Devil's advocate I think there's a few mitigating factors as to why so many games hew to a few set genres. I think if you look at the output of other mediums, the lion's share of it falls into a similar, if you'll pardon the term, escapist wheelhouse. Not everyone aims for a deep, groundbreaking experience, and there's no reason we shouldn't celebrate stuff that's just fun, be it The Avengers or Harry Potter or whatever. The problem with games isn't so much the developers making those types of games, but the fact that the alternative voice isn't there to provide a balance. To use a cludgy metaphor, we have our Sam Raimis, but we lack our Ingmar Bergmans. Which, I think you correctly assessed, is largely related to market and audience. I'd say the best way to counter that trend is to spread your support between the lighter fare the quality indie work like Lone Survivor and Dear Esther that tries for a different tone. Personally I tend towards a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio on my Bergman.

And Evil/Drunk, it's interesting you mention being slightly squeamish about a game's gore, because having recently picked up Max Payne 3 there was a definitely a "whoa" moment the first time I saw the slow-mo exist wounds and arterial sprays. Granted, by the end of the first level that feeling had pretty much worn of, and by later in the game when I had guys hopping around spurting blood through multiple holes Daffy Duck style it occasionally became comical, but it's been a while since a game's violence has actually given me pause. It's one of those hindsight is 20/20 scenarios that this article is coming out now, as by some accounts it seems like Spec Ops: The Line might very well handle the violence issue beyond just adding fidelity to it, which is something I'm curious to see.


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