A Brief History Of Video Game Violence

Author’s note: After seeing what a wet blanket most of Hotline Miami 2 is I figured I’d dump this here and see what everyone thought about it. I wrote it awhile ago when it seemed like the whole #GamerGate thing was going to turn into some expressly anti-violence desensitization thing. — Worm

This is Rampage, arcade version!

The first violent game I remember seeing would probably be Rampage. Now I know this isn’t a traditionally violent game but it’s where it began. After all you could pick up people and eat them whole, that’s pretty violent. Certainly Mario smashing Goombas wasn’t some grand gesture of peace but this is the first time I remember killing people, innocent people, and it was fun. I wasn’t really defending myself in Rampage, actually I found that the most fun was fighting against the helpless civilians rather than the military units that actually could drain my health and cause me to lose a life. Most of the fun in Rampage was killing helpless women and men, plucking them out of their apartments and eating them whole.

As I got older I played Smash TV (which I found infuriating) and Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat was pretty interesting at the time since the more extreme violence was hidden behind a code for the Genesis while Nintendo owners where shit out of luck. I still remember playing it over my Dads because he had a Genesis. There was something a lot different about actually ripping the losers head off when compared to the beaten faces you’d see in Street Fighter.

I remember as I grew up there were cut off ears in Diablo to signify your PVP conquests, the chunky gibs of Quake, the wonderful grotesque deaths in Fallout, chopping people’s bodies apart in Ultima Online, wound texturing in Sin and Kingpin, and finally it all culminated in Soldier of Fortune, probably the first game I remember not being allowed to purchase on my own.

To setup or view keys so you can play, hit tab!

Discounting a handful of exceptions it felt like real video game violence died right there with Soldier of Fortune. After all to stop the game from being sold to people under 18 years old Soldier of Fortune was classified as pornography. For German release the game actually had to be remade into a game about robots fully reskinned, and with a new appropriate story.

After time you’d see fewer games even featuring a small texture for entry wounds much less the multiple points of impact and gore that Soldier of Fortune had. Zombie games would mostly retain gore, but even then few of them would live up to the legacy Soldier of Fortune had set down.

3 weeks until launch and I still can’t get cadaveric spasms right!

It’s easy to blame 9/11, Jack Thompson, Hot Coffee, or Germany and I’m sure each of those things contributed a little. But there has to be a better reason your average older episode of The Simpsons features more bullet holes than a modern Call of Duty game. Well I think there’s a combination of issues that have caused this decrease in violence and I’ll go over them shortly here.

One of the most important issues here is the idea of global releases and the desire to have a global product. Since it’s already hard enough modifying a release for Germany it’s sort of unlikely a team is going to want to put their time on features that will get disabled in other markets. You can kind of see this tentativeness in games like Tomb Raider where cutscenes will be pretty violent, but gameplay will be wildly devoid of any bodily damage, up to even the simplest bullet holes. It feels like the game is afraid to let you actually be violent. It’s easy to change a few cutscenes for your overseas release, much harder and wasteful to remove the months of Dev time on getting jaws being shot off right.

Another important factor is the question of if anyone cares. I know I care, but recently I had Wolfenstein: The New Order described to me as a bloodbath, certainly there is blood in it. However it suffers the same issues in Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, or Bioshock where grotesque violence is taken right ouf of the player’s hands and relegated to ’emotional’ cutscenes. People seem to think the game is just as violent as anything else simply for letting me blow off a Nazi head or two. So again what’s the point of dumping resources into something that at best no one will care about and at worst will get you criticized on FOX News Kotaku.

One interesting and much more conspirital angle ties a little into a recent Euro Gamer article. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-02-01-shooters-how-video-games-fund-arms-manufacturers After reading this I wondered if it was some sort of desire to replicate the lack of car damage in Gran Turismo, to provide the fun of dangerous acts without showing the consequences. You get to experience the fun and excitement of war without having to understand or accept what a gun will do to a person … which brings me to my final point.

Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman’s face?

I feel like we are entering into some neo-cartoon violence issue with games that are undeniably all about shooting people to death, but demonstrate the effects of gun violence in a highly sanitized and unrealistic way. Just like Tom being fine right after being hit in the head with a hammer, there’s something about 5 rounds from a Assault Rifle doing nothing to a human skull that enforces a kind of dissonance. It teaches people to not respect firearms and we’re already on our second death caused by having a child fire an Uzi in full auto, you’d know that’s a bad idea if you played Counter Strike maybe not if you played Call of Duty.

However unlike what eventually happened with cartoons, I don’t think the solution is that we move far away from violence with games like Gone Home or Proteus. I feel like so-called ‘regressive crap’ scratches an itch and people will always want it. Instead I suggest we should put the gore back. Now certainly I don’t really need cadaveric spasms or viscera, just a few bullet holes would be enough I think. Something to give some weight to the act of taking life. If you want to design a shooter for kids why not make something like Splatoon or Elebits?

In games that are aimed at adults, yeah I would like to see games like Soldier of Fortune again. There was something a little similar in Hotline Miami which used violence (among other things) to make the character somewhat uncomfortable with what they were doing. It’s definitely something that games like Spec Ops: The Line could have benefitted from, but it would have been better if it was actually fun. If you want to drive home some sense of “hard choices” there’s no better way than showing people exactly what it looks like when you empty a clip into someone’s head.

Beyond the possibly implications of seeing nearly photorealistic human beings suffer gun violence deaths less violent than those in a child’s game of Cops and Robbers. In games without hard choices, where you are the righteous protector of all that is good it’s naturally rewarding to completely destroy the evil bastards. Seeing your opponents destroyed is just FUN. It was fun to watch guts spill out in Soldier of Fortune, it was fun to rip off heads in Mortal Kombat, it was fun to chop off limbs in Dark Messiah. There’s just something undeniably fun about that, and I won’t apologize for it.

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