Video games have been connected with a string of bad press over the years due to violent content and the supposed effects this could have on the people playing such games. Games have been banned, police statements have been made and bloody torsos have been sold as ‘collector’s edition’. There is no doubt that violence is fairly prevalent in video games and the video game culture. The real question is have these games become too violent?
At the risk of sounding like an old codger (I’m 25) I’m going to recall part of my childhood experience with video games for you now. You see, when I was a youngster video games were primarily a pre-adolescent activity. I grew up with an original Game Boy playing the likes of Donkey Kong and Super Mario Land, a hobby passed onto me by my dad who was of the generation of kids that hung around the arcades every evening playing Pong and Space Invaders. The video game industry has long since passed the days of Space Invaders at the arcades and now caters for the more mature gamer amongst others.
That’s not to say that the Pac-Man games of our parents generation don’t exist today, they have just become a lot more intelligent. Kids are now entertained by augmented reality and motion control and gadgets like the iPad and smart phones have largely replicated the style of gameplay the arcades used to provide. This in turn means that in most cases, adults who still wish to play video games need a ramped up experience in order to keep them entertained. If you were to take a look at the data for all time video game sales for the PS3 (provided here) you can see that games with high levels of violence feature heavily. God of War III, GTA IV, Killzone 2, Red Dead Redemption, Resident Evil 5 and numerous Call of Duty games all feature and are all 18 rated games.
So it’s clear that the video game industry caters largely for the older gamer, but in my opinion adding an age restriction to a game does very little in terms of discouraging younger gamers from playing. I don’t want to turn this into a debate about age restrictions and if parents should or shouldn’t be buying games for their children, so instead look at it this way. Games are often compared to films in terms of cinematic experience and story telling ability. Great games are noted as being enjoyed for generations, just as great films are. So would films on general release to the public, be allowed to show the same level of violence that we find in games today? I’m talking about the detailed knife takedowns in Battlefield 3, the torture scenes featured in more than one Call of Duty game and the brutal decapitations in Dead Space 3.
A good example of a game that has matured with the times is Tomb Raider. Now Tomb Raider has always featured a certain level of violence, but it’s thanks to the recent reboot, rated 18 that the level of graphic violence has been pushed to the next stage. I’ve read a few arguments from loyal fans questioning why that level of violence was ever deemed necessary in the first place. Other younger gamers are disappointed that they are no longer able to buy a game that, at least in my eyes, was seen as a fairly family friendly game. Other titles such as Skyrim, a game that has won numerous awards, offer perks that will increase the level of violence as you improve your character.
Not every game is heading in the direction of increased violence however. Games like Borderlands 2 and Gears of War: Judgement have menu options that cut the level of violence and profanity making them more available to younger players. An idea for developers to consider would be that more games could have options like this, but making them permanent implications. This way two versions of the same game could be released with different ratings allowing access for gamers of varying ages. I’m not saying content should be cut, just simple menu options like those mentioned above.
There are various reasons as to why popular games are becoming more violent. Part of the rise could be down to the popularity of first person shooters such as the Call of Duty series. These shooters (of which more than just CoD are included) generally don’t hold back on the violent scenes and are aimed at all out action and adrenaline. An example of this in Call of Duty would be a torture scene during the first Black Ops game now famously known as the glass punch. Other games may in turn try to emulate the popular gameplay structure of these games, eventually turning such scenes into the norm.
Another reason could be that the video game industry simple wasn’t able to fully realise its artistic visions in the past. The whole industry has advanced so incredibly in the past 10-15 years that super detailed games with huge environments are expected for most AAA releases now. Violence has always been commonplace in video games, but if games like Carmageddon (which was widely criticised upon release) were being made with today’s graphics would there be as much of an uproar?
While I myself am not adverse to a little bit of video game violence as long as it’s in context, It’s clear to see that as a whole the levels of blood and gore contained in popular games and the culture surrounding them has increased and some people might not like it. With next-gen consoles just around the corner the potential for this to increase even further is definitely there, but as it stands I don’t personally see it being too bad, aside from a rare few occasions (such as Hitman Absolution’s Facebook app).
Do you think video game violence has become too extreme, or is it all just fun and games? If you have any views on video game violence feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to reply to you.