A Little Less Violence Wont Hurt Anyone

By William Shelton

Warning: This is going to deal with the dreaded topics of “Politics” and “Current Events” and the way they inform the gaming landscape. If you are one of those who are so easily bothered by the mere presence of these kinds of discussions, I encourage you to leave now as I don’t want to deal with your bitching in the comments. So we all agree not to act like a bunch of dipshits, yeah? Good.

On Sunday June 12, 2016 fifty people were shot an killed in a nightclub in Orlando Florida. For many this sparked conversations regarding Gun Control, America’s Lingering Homophobic Domestic Policies and the normal sweet of conversations that are brought up by those who wish not to see this kind of thing happen again. But some in the gaming community chose to have a different conversation one relevant to that days events and one relevant to the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which was being kicked off the following day. Some looked at these two events an asked:

Why are games so violent? Why does our beloved medium, one that holds near infinite ability to create wondrous fantasies keep defaulting back to “Just Kill Everyone”?

I’m not going to sit here and try and sell you some bullshit notion that I dislike violent games or that there is no inherent artistic value to violent media as both those statements are false. The tradition of western literature is based on a story of violence, and between sessions of writing this very paper I have been spending my time playing Black Ops 3 Multiplayer (I’m sorry, I’ve failed you all) Dark Souls 3 (on my third play through) and making my way through my Netflix queue which mostly consists of action movies. I have no issue with violent media, but when it comes to games I do have an issue with the lack of alternatives. More importantly, I have an issue with the blow back this conversation usually receives.

The abundance of violence in games isn’t hard to understand: violence is an easy way to establish a goal, a hurdle to overcome and a way to conquer the obstructions in a verity of ways that keeps the digital obstacle course from feeling stale upon revisiting. This same format works for most action movies as well: good guy, bad guy, minions in between, fight! But here’s the thing, I can think of several movies, some even counted among my favorites of all time, that don’t rely on action and violence to entertain and immerse the audience. So why is it so hard for games to do this?

Well, that’s on us guys. As much as I would love to blame lazy developers or greedy publishers, the fact of the matter is we gamers, as a whole, kind of suck as people.

Late on Sunday Bob “MovieBob” Chipman sent out a tweet saying “E3 exhibitors: NOW probly a good time to go through your shooter presentations and ask ‘is any of this going to feel in poor taste?’”. To anyone who isn’t a complete waste of skin this is nothing more than a plea to presenters to act with basic human decency and make sure that LGBT gamers or those who were effected by the previous days events wouldn’t have sit through gratuitous glorifications of real life fears. For many in the gaming community however, this was “validation” that “moviebob hates video games”. And this wasn’t an accusation only thrown at Chipman over the last few weeks. Pretty much everyone with any name recognition in the press side of the game industry has made some comment on the topic, and each time a flood of “games journalists hates video games” is there to meet them.

While this is a stupid assertion, I can see the beginning of the bastardized logic being used: journalist are paid to be critical of video games, and I can see how the intellectually deficient might confuse that with hate. If that’s all this was I wouldn’t have bothered to sit down and write this. Stupid people confusing criticism for condemnation is nothing new, and will never go away. What makes this disturbing is when these same dumb idea’s are also applied to game dev’s themselves.

I recently reviewed “Gone Home”, a beautiful game that sprung up around the time “Walking Sims” were starting to boom. Doing some research on the game before writing the review reminded me of how often people used the line “this isn’t even a game” when talking about these kinds of games. While I do agree that there is a discussion to be had about the effectiveness about limiting interactivity to just walking, but that was never the discussion people were trying to have. All most people wanted to say about Gone Home, Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture and the like was “there’s no combat, this isn’t a game”. The reception a lot of these games received was just vile hatred over “SJWs” and “feminists” were trying to ruin gaming by taking away there hyper masculine violence. While many people did point out that the development of these games did not diminish the number of action orientated games, that just wasn’t enough. For too many gamers, the sheer idea that some wanted to make and play games without violence in them meant that outside forces were trying to ruin gaming.

With my Gone Home Review, The Orlando Shooting and E3 happening so close together it’s been hard not too think about all of this and how these events inform and enforce each other. We live in a world were mass shootings are all too common, yet one of the biggest forms of entertainment to date uses mass shootings as it’s bread and butter, and to question what that means is seen as an act of heresy by many. Like I said, I’m not against violence, but at some point I do have to ask why there isn’t more variation. Why is it that if I want to play a game with out violence my options are mostly limited too sports, sims or browser games? Why are my interactive fantasies limited to the violent ones? It’s not like it would be hard to come up with non-violent games with mass market appeal. I mean, we are in an election year, and everyone in America seems to think they know what it takes to be president, so what if Telltale took their “no right answer” approach to moral choice and made a game where you were the president. What if the team behind LA Noir made another detective game but really doubled down on the investigations and took out the chases and combat (which were widely seen as the worst parts of that game). What if gamers gave creators the ability and incentive to be a little more creative instead of trying to punish them for it?

4 thoughts on “A Little Less Violence Wont Hurt Anyone

  1. Video games tend to focus on physical interactions because verbal/cognitive interactions are significantly harder to program. Using your example with a telltale president game, how would you solve something like the Israel Palestine conflict with a few dialogue choices and a quick time event without being reductive? Real human cognitive interaction and response basically requires AI. I’m not saying it’s something we can’t shoot for, but there is a real technological shortfall in terms of what we can do in this regard. The only way to do video games with these kinds of stories is to dramatically limit one’s freedom of action – having you walk through the story rather then be part of it. As far as the discussions I’ve heard go, this makes up the meat of the objections I’ve heard of regarding that genre.

    I like walking sims, though I disagree with Gone Home being particularly great. How one can have such an interesting conflict as a young lesbian dealing with the realities of don’t ask don’t tell, and then dilute so much of it by filtering it through two passive observers is beyond me. That said, there are plenty that do work for me. However, there is a reason they tend to be shorter experiences. The mechanics involved only hold interest for so long. Any longer, and people start to realize that they’d rather just hear the story rather then have to walk from one point to the next and deal with the downtime in between. From that point on, the mechanics start to become a burden rather then an asset and you’d do better to write a book.

    The only other traditionally narrative focused sub genre I’ve seen do non violence particularly well are mystery games (You could argue puzzle games as a whole, but with a few exceptions the narrative tends to be in service of the puzzles rather then the other way around), but those are still relatively simple puzzles compared to more complex human interactions. It’s simple to program logic puzzles, key phrase searches, and chart organizing and visual cues over canned dialogue. Ultimately, physical interaction driven narratives will tend to be the rule rather then the exception because it works best within the confines of what we can do within the medium mechanically, and it’s the mechanical element that separates this medium from others and keeps people interested in it.

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    • Going to bulletpoint these cus there’s a lot to go through here, sorry if i miss something:

      1) how would you solve something like the Israel Palestine conflict with a few dialogue choices and a quick time event without being reductive
      a) first off, i was just spitballing. the conversations about the “hows” are for admittedly more creative people than myself but…
      b) keep the option of going to war open, but keep the core engagement off of fighting in it, something the president doesn’t do.
      c) focus the game on another topic, like being a world leader in a time of a disaster. there are plenty of stories this could open itself up too without focusing on violence.

      2) The only way to do video games with these kinds of stories is to dramatically limit one’s freedom of action – having you walk through the story rather then be part of it
      a) a fair complaint, and one i made mention of both here and in my review for gone home. the question is though, why is that the “only” way to go about it. answer, it’s not. but inorder to break away from that notion is for devs to want to try something new and for gamers to be open to a new style. that isn’t a reality in the modern gaming landscae, and that’s an issue.

      3) However, there is a reason they tend to be shorter experiences.
      Shorter is fine with me. I do think we need to reevaluate gaming price structure, but that holds true regardless of game length. The lack of any real budget titles is an issue regardless of content, and if shorter,non-violent games were to step up and take that role i’d be fine with that.

      4)Ultimately, physical interaction driven narratives will tend to be the rule rather then the exception…
      And i’m fine with that overall. like i said, i have 0 issues with violent games. But verity will never be a bad thing, and it is something sorely missing. And the sad truth is, the reason it’s missing is because, in part, gamers in general are the kind of people who get pissed when someone dare say “maybe the day after a large scale mass shooting isnt the right time to get hyped about getting to play games where you commit large scale mass shootings”.

      5)…and it’s the mechanical element that separates this medium from others and keeps people interested in it.
      True, i’ve said so myself numerous times before on my old blog. but interactivity and violent interactivity are not the same thing, and people getting pissy because of that statement are not helping anyone, lest of all the game industry.

      I think i hit all the major points here. thanks for the comment.

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