The always passionate violent video game debate’s bonfire just got a few more drops of fuel, but the fire is burning for all the wrong reasons. We are using the wrong ruler to measure what’s “too much” violence in video games, and unless we change it, the debate will never end.
June 14th was Bethesda’s showcase at E3, and despite Fallout 4 arguably stealing the show, it was DOOM that sparked a debate online on – you guessed it – violence in video games. What was shown of the game was what fans of the franchise expected – a thrilling ride into the depths of the underworld, filled with blood, guts and massive weapons. Naturally these elements caused a fuzz online, both from those outside of the gaming community as well as some of “our own”. Some called it “unimaginative” and “excessive”, and even some gamers found it to be “too much”.
Anita Sarkeesian was not surprisingly amongst the critics of the showcase, and in one tweet she mentioned how “troubling and depressing” it was that the crowd cheered for the game and the “bodies being ripped apart”. John McIntosh followed with similar views, on both the crowd and the game, calling it sick and depressing that audiences were “cheering loudly at scenes of brutal dismemberment”.
Despite this sounding like an echo of the critique the gaming industry has received the past few years by mainstream media, what separates it is that Sarkeesian and McIntosh are, in a sense, part of the community – they’re gamers and do (or at least used to) love video games. What I want to ask them, alongside every other gamer who critiques violent video games is – what exactly is “too much”, and how do you suggest we control this?
The game Hatred has been in the spotlight the past few months because of this exact reason, that people found it to be “too much”. After Steam deciding to release the game after removing it, some cheered while others despaired. For in Hatred it’s not just the violent behavior that’s troubling, but that the protagonist, who only wants to kill as many people as possible, has no compassion or deep backstory. The game itself is cold and heartless, and driven by an evil most of us condemn. The question of whether or not this game should have been released or not however is especially important, since the objections to the game lie deeper than the violence. Here, it’s a question of the game’s moral (or lack of), more so than the actual violence in it.
Several other games have received the same kind of critique the past few years, not about the amount of violence, but concerning the underlying message and intention that lies beneath the surface. We saw the game “Kill the Faggot,” removed from Steam Greenlight this year, a game which is exactly what you think it is. In this case, like with Hatred, it wasn’t the violent element that was the problem, but the offensive nature of the game, and few opposed the decision to have the game removed. It was clearly a game meant to offend rather than entertain.
Of course it is important that games that are as obviously offensive as “Kill the Faggot” be removed from larger distribution platforms like Steam, but where should we draw the line when it comes to games people want removed because of the amount of violence? If a game doesn’t have an offensive or unethical intention like “Kill the Faggot” or the anti-Muslim game “Muslim Massacre,” but is like DOOM a game without any intention but to entertain through over-the-top violence, what can be defined as “too much”? And can we ban one and not the other?
Australia has been especially active in censoring and banning games the past few years. Grand Theft Auto 5 was removed from several stores, the amount of blood in Left 4 Dead 2 was censored and Manhunt was banned completely. These games are the perfect examples however of how the ruler we use to measure whether or not a game is “too much” is wrong, as the games can’t really be compared. They all received somewhat similar critique, but how can a game where you hunt for zombies be compared to game where you execute human beings?
In the violent video game debate and whether or not a limit for violence should be set, we need to first separate entertainment from intention. We can’t compare a game where you shoot at fantasy monsters with a game where you shoot human beings with a specific ethnicity, skin color, sexual orientation or other similar elements. We need to separate gore from purpose, and even if these unethical and “evil” games will hardly change a person’s personality in the real world, they should be discussed and possibly censored, just like comment sections of newspapers are moderated and movies get strict age limits.
Violence exists amongst us, on our TV screens and in the news, violence that isn’t merely pixels on a screen. To remove violence, even the most brutal kind, completely from games like Grand Theft Auto V, which can be considered a somewhat exaggerated reflection of society today, would be wrong. Violence exists, and should therefore exist in all entertainment mediums. This doesn’t mean you should by Call of Duty to your 12-year old however.
Most gamers know that violence in games won’t lead to real-life violence and affect a person’s psyche, like the media often tries to convince people is true – but if we as gamers want to show the media that this notion is wrong we need to stop saying that games like Hatred should be banned because of the violent nature of it
Gamers need to be more vocal in why some games should be banned over others, and express ourselves in a way that explains that the intention is what we find troubling, not the violence or amount of blood.
Gamers and non-gamers can protest against games like Hatred and state that the violence is too much – but using the violence as reason for it to be “too much,” while justifying a killing spree in Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t work. We need to look at the context. We need to take a stand against those who believe violence is the only way to measure a game’s explicit nature and if it’s “too much,” and rather say that the reason behind the brutality should be what matters. Playing as Trevor Phillips in Grand Theft Auto 5 is different than playing as the protagonist in Hated, even though you might be doing some of the same actions in both games. While playing as Trevor is more about satire and gamer freedom, playing as the Hatred-protagonist is about executing a genocide.
I am one of many who are looking forward to DOOM, not only because it looks great graphic-wise, but because it’s silly, over-the-top and fun. Playing it however won’t make me less sensitive to real-life violence, just as Hatred might not do the same – difference lies in that DOOM is meant to entertain, while Hatred wants to shock, frustrate and start a debate.
I therefore ask you – are these the types of game we as gamers actually want, or would we rather shoot Nazi-zombies? Sarkeesian and McIntoch can say what they want, but in terms of video game violence I feel their critique is a product of narrow-mindedness.
The amount of blood in a game shouldn’t be the scale when measuring a video game. The evil beneath the violence is much more suitable.