Are Video Games Too Violent?

The violence in video games debate seems destined to continue into the unforeseen future, but there is another question that is often overlooked: are video games too violent from an artistic perspective? Regardless of whether violence in games in some way translates to violence in reality, or is a reflection of it, it may well be the case that the medium could do with less of it and still remain fun. Herein, the artistic merits and necessity of violence in video games as well as its importance for the fun of games will be discussed.

Against Violence in Games

Dead Space 2 Cover

The success of games such as Sim City and The Sims indicates there is a market for games that are not violent. It is not specifically because these games lack violence that the sold, but because they offer compelling game-play despite the lack of it. This leads to an interesting point concerning violence, which seems to be that it can be used as a cheap tool to create interest where game-play and ideas are lacking. Simply put, we respond to violence emotionally relatively easily, whereas inspiring interest in a puzzle game requires far more effort. This is not a critique of violence per se, but it is a critique of using violence to cover up uninspired design.

Another criticism of violence comes from Heavy Rain developer David Cage, who holds that violent themes are overdone and prevents gaming from having greater variety. It is simply uninteresting for every game to have violent content as a selling point, it grows old. The belief that it is required seems to rest on the belief that the audience simply cannot appreciate something greater, but the amazing success of The Sims surely suggests otherwise.

The final creative critique against violence is that too much can render a scene ineffective. Violence exists in reality, but it is rarely explosive in the way it is in some games. Dead Space 2 was a good horror game and obviously required violence, but some of the scenes were so absurdly over-violent that they moved away from horror and into the land of comedy. Toning down the violence would have increased the emotional effect of that violence. Just because you can put the volume up to full, does not mean its the right creative decision.

For Violence in Games

Mass Effect Miranda Gun

Violence is a staple of media and story telling, from Homer to Shakespeare to Scorcese. As a feature of reality, a constant threat, it makes sense for games to explore themes related to it. Furthermore, where we cannot reasonably act violently in reality against forces that annoy us using the threat of violence yet that we also need, such as police, we are free to act against a simulation of that very force in a video game. Grand Theft Auto has built its entire franchise around just this concept, and sold exceedingly well.

The next argument in favor of violence is that it is simply fun. If a game can be as far away from the peace, but often boring, day-to-day world then it should do so. If that means a mixture of violence, sexualized characters and little in the way of consequences for stupid things then this is fair. Games can be an escape from reality and there is nothing wrong with doing this, provided it is in moderation.

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