Ex-GTA developer explains why he'll never go back to violent games

"I think it's often easier to do violence than it is to generate meaningful, interesting conflict," says ex-GTA producer Jeremy Pope.

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Former Grand Theft Auto producer Jeremy Pope has spoken about his personal decision to never work on violent video games again.

Speaking to GamesIndustry International, the Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City producer said that his personal decision to focus on nonviolent development is similar to wider industry trends occurring right now. "I had grown up playing all types of games, violent games included, and worked on Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto," said Pope.

"I would always kind of defend the games we were making and I was pretty proud of being involved, but then when I would visit my grandmother in highly religious Alabama and have to explain what I do for a living, I didn't feel so great about explaining to them that I was a part of 'that game' they've been hearing about. I think that's what sort of planted the seeds of me wanting to work on different types of games."

Pope adds that his decision to work on nonviolent games doesn't detract from his admiration of Rockstar's work. "I definitely want to make a point of saying that I actually love Rockstar's games and I think that it's unfortunate that their games were specifically called out and targeted by the media, because their games--and we all know this--are really masterworks."

But thinking of ways to create nonviolent games is important to generating meaningful narrative in games, Pope adds. "I do agree that we need to be pushing ourselves [as an industry]. With any storytelling medium or any medium at all, you want to have conflict because that's how you can generate interest, and oftentimes the simplest or most base way to do that is through violence that isn't necessarily tied in to a deeper, more meaningful story."

"I think it's often easier to do violence than it is to generate meaningful, interesting conflict through nonviolent ways. I would agree in that sense that we need to push ourselves and get away from sequels and rehashing, and taking what technology affords us and using that as a primary means to justify another rehash; in other words, we're just souping up what's already been done."

Pope also thinks it's easy for the games industry to come under attack--from sources such as the NRA--because it lacks an ambassador. "We had the same problem 10 years ago and it still persists today," he said. "We don't really have a great ambassador, if you will. The ESRB does what it can, but it really shouldn't fall to the ESRB. And because it's such a large industry growing at an incredible rate, it's really difficult for any one body to emerge to become that [ambassador]. I feel like that's a large part of the issue. And then you see the NRA has one guy who goes up on a podium and gives a talk, and whether you agree with it or not there is a clear single voice and something to react to. I think that's a big challenge for us [as an industry] and I'm not sure how we get there."

"The industry has really only begun to take off in the last 20 years," added Pope. "So we'll get there; you kind of see more and more developers exploring mature themes in a more creative and responsible way now that we have less of a distribution roadblock and we have more platforms where developers can kind of flex their creative muscle a little bit."

Pope now works at a mobile startup called Rally Games, which he founded in 2011. Its first title, the free-to-play robot racer Top Bot, was released for iOS in April.

Discussion

423 comments
mommahasagun
mommahasagun

I love the GTA games, love them. But, I can't have them in my home because of the violent content.  Would it be possible to have a non-violent game mode for our younger players?  One step that would remove (or change) the missions, send the ho's inside, take out the bad language, and remove some of the weapons?  Leave them the amazing sandbox world and the hours of exploration, the driving and modding of cars, planes, trains, motorcycles.  The kids could do the police and paramedic missions,  let them drive the firetrucks...  there is SO much here for the younger guys...  and I have to constantly say no!  I realize that this is a game made for adults, yes, but a lot of us adults have kids.  If there can be a funhouse mode in San Andreas why not something like this?  I'd buy a copy... or 3!

Jedo
Jedo

Dear Jeremy Pope, 

1. Games are entertainment first and everything else second. Violence is entertaining. Violent games are therefore good. But as producer I am sure you know this.

2. A producer is a person whose job it is to produce something profitable. A calculator should not pretend to be a brush.

Sorry, I am a cynical axhole - can't help myself.

ChocolateAddict
ChocolateAddict

excellent choice! one day, all developers will make meaningful games instead of mindless violence for the masses.


Gedden
Gedden

It really all goes back to rock and/or roll.

dogbert784
dogbert784

World War 1&2 happened before GTA. "Video games produce violent people" argument is invalid. 

Nintendo_ltd
Nintendo_ltd

GTA only gives bad ideas to a lot of young dumbasses

rigbybot127
rigbybot127

This is what happens when you let people's judgemental thoughts get to you.

Marinus11
Marinus11

Admirable man, this Pope. But violent games are and will be the future of gaming, I fear. Well, I don't deny the pleasure I take in killing someone online, but that's ONLINE and VIRTUAL. If some crazy ass $%^&* can't tell the difference, then that's an extreme case. We'll always have extreme loonies in our midst and the banning if violent games won't stop it.

RpG2013
RpG2013

He is completely correct it is easy to dwell on the negative instead of positive side of gaming.

vivalatour
vivalatour

wish all the violence away and it will vanish ! and if needed get grandma to wish with you ...

 if guns are outlawed then only _______ ___ ___ ___  !

wilson336
wilson336

Is it true that watching violence affects some people? Yes....but it is like a Jedi Mind Trick; it only affects the "weak-minded". Those who are generally unbalanced or easily persuaded will be affected, while the vast majority of folks can distinguish fantasy from reality. Every generation has a scapegoat of this sort which is blamed for violence. In the 20s and 30s it was promiscuity and showing too much skin in public; in the 40s and 50s it was Rock and Roll music. In the 60s and 70s it was Hippies and Communism. In the 80s and 90s it was Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal. In the 2000s it has been video games.

presidentperez
presidentperez

What The GTA series, in particular, has tried to and tries to do, is showing the more "ugly" and "evil" side of humanity. 

Maybe in a bit of a satiric light, but stil a very honest view on the perverse and the exetreme that u can find in society. 

Many people dont recognize Gaming as a media in witch you can interpretate society and try to tell a message, like with music and movies, which also once were restricted because older generations were afraid of the possible negative effects it could have on the youth

today many people think of the gaming media as an educational tool which can teach young boys to kill and maim 

hopefully they will learn 


vicke32
vicke32

Wait, what? Shooting does not equal violence, melee and point-blank is violent, but when you're just sitting behind cover shooting stuff it's not violent at all, it's actually pretty boring.
But I guess that if you removed the pointless combat (id est. almost all of it) from GTA then the game-length would be decreased to an hour or two. 

A good enough game can have any level of violence.

CatAtomic999
CatAtomic999

Yeah, I've got a preachy Southern grandma, too. She loves the idea of invading countries countries to kill Muslims and thinks poor people ought to starve. Maybe his isn't like mine, but I don't much care what my grams approves of because she's basically an asshole.

Deaho
Deaho

I love gta games but I have to say one word for you respect.

JusXice
JusXice

I'll be happy as hell making Rockstar games if i was in his shoes. Why join a company that ONLY specially make violent video games in the first place. He should of stop making that first game and realized what he is getting himself into. I love Rockstar games and if i join them I would be proud to make violent video games and defend my work. 

splinter10
splinter10

Your decision. As long as you're happy with it.

bnarmz
bnarmz

I commend him on recognizing that violence in media does affect some people in a negative way (as with other forms of violent media). It not only desensitizes a number of people in the world it also motivates them to be more insensitive, aggresive, and disrespectful. I can admit to liking violence in gaming but if the industry can make games with less of it, and actually make them fun....I'm all for it, you'll get my support.  I have no problem with bettering my themes for entertainment, and to witness others making those same commitments can be even more inspirational.    

DamnILoveGames
DamnILoveGames

I think his decision is perfectly ok, and that if he doesn't want to continue working on something he doesn't find fulfilling that's fine. Though I don't agree with him when he says that it's easier to make a violent game than something meaningful. Ok, sure violence can be more simplistic in terms of what you do, but it can still be pulled off in a meaningful way. For example, when John Marston died at the end of Red Dead Redemption that struck me as meaningful and quite emotional as opposed to simply adding violence for the sake of it. Also, as much as I do admire deep games, it can be quite a hard concept to pull off, which is why I don't think we do see many of them. It's not violence that is simply an easy thing to do, but that making something deep and original is harder as time goes on and more ideas are used up.

ck10304
ck10304

I admire his decision and his reasons for wanting change are very valid. I especially agree with his point that the games industry needs an ambassador, someone to defend it from all the attacks it is receiving from people trying to deflect the blame of all the violence going on in the states. Maybe a big-name developer like Cliff or Gabe, someone who has the respect of the majority of the industry, could fulfill that role

bottaboomstick
bottaboomstick

I'm laughing how he quits making landmark masterpiece games because they are violent and meaningless. He urges the industry to do the same...meanwhile he makes a racing game with robots. 


moonlightwolf01
moonlightwolf01

In a lot of ways he's right when he says that its easier to do violence than create meaningful conflicts in games. But part of the problem both for games and the rest of the creative industries is people forgetting that even violence can and should be meaningful. Compare the silly yet incredibly meaningful hill of gravestones in Cannon Fodder with modern military shooters. Rockstar are actually one of the few companies that do understand the concept of making violence meaningful just look at the storylines of Nicco Belic or Max Payne. Yes you shoot you're way through armies of goons yet these actions are shown to have consequences for the characters both on an emotional level and though direct results of their actions. part of rockstar's message in these games seems to be that violent lives never have happy endings.

I'm all in favour of games tackling different kinds of conflict that don't involve violence but the idea that someone should be embarrassed because biased news reporting painted your game as something its not is ridiculous, artists who allow society to censor them have never produced memorable or meaningful works. I hope he goes on to create great games but if his motivation is self censorship rather than art I doubt it will happen.

SupaTrupa
SupaTrupa

Leave him alone, he's grown up and evolved as a person, something I think a lot of other "gamers" these days could stand to do.  You can also represent violence in games without all of the over-the-top blood, gore and dismemberment.  

Ducez_III
Ducez_III

I disapprove of Pope's reasoning. If you want to work on non-violent games, that's fine, but don't do it because you are ashamed or embarrassed to talk about your work to your religious family. There's nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

If you are a creator you should try different things for the sake of challenging yourself, not because you care what other people think.

Karmazyn
Karmazyn

Hahhahahahah LOL. Funny.

Pac1Man
Pac1Man

Pope blames religion. You heard it here first.

vivalatour
vivalatour

The story made me cry , it's just a game in fact a purty good game so lighten up !

Wolfkcing
Wolfkcing

I think that hit job Katie Couric did proves we do need an ambassador. No big industry person went on her show in our defense after all.

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

I find it interesting that so many people take issue with him not being proud of his work in front of his grandma.  Isn't it natural to want to make your family proud?  Would they really be proud of him making games with a great deal of violence in them?  He didn't say he's not loved and accepted by his family, he just said he isn't proud of those games around them because what he makes is offensive to them.  He's made those games, and is now making games that his family will be proud of.  What's wrong with that?

H0RSE
H0RSE

@bottaboomstick  

The point being made

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.

.

.

.

your head.

ck10304
ck10304

@moonlightwolf01 I think the story and ending of Red Dead Redemption totally exemplifies that idea, that the violent lifestyle is ultimately not worth it because you can lose everything that you fought so hard to protect. And I don't think he's coming from a self-censorship place, he's just become tired of contributing more violence, even if the games he makes do violence well, to an industry already saturated in it where the majority of games do not explore the consequences of the player's actions at all

Jock9
Jock9

@moonlightwolf01 you're right, where Rockstar has made some games that seem to just play up the violence, like with Manhunt. But with games like Max Payne, and Grand Theft Auto they explored the idea of violence, retribution and the idea of death, even if in subtle ways. He has grown up, but he should understand the difference between his games that he worked on, some were masterpieces in narration and substance, and others were just made to appeal to the violence lovers out there. 

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@SupaTrupa  

"Grown up" ?

He quit working on games he was proud of, and for a company he clearly adores, all because his misinformed Grandmother didn't like the stuff she heard on the news about 1 or 2 of his games.

SupaTrupa
SupaTrupa

@Ducez_III - I'm sure he cares.  He's allowed to feel however he wants, doesn't need your approval.

bottaboomstick
bottaboomstick

@Wolfkcing i'm glad they stayed away. soon they will realize how silly they were blaming video games. Just like how they feel silly about blaming Manson for the colorado school shootings.

HairyMetalHead
HairyMetalHead

@paulsifer42 I think, really, its more of an issue with them being too close minded. Yes, he would like to make his family proud, much like everyone else. But family also have to be proud of the work he did. The fact he was ashamed of speaking about it shows me that his family aren't very understanding to begin with. 

I can understand if he chooses to attempt making games which have a meaningful narrative without violence as a creative choice, but basing the decision on what his family thought of his work rather than his own opinion seems more like pressure to do it rather than actually wanting to do it

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@Jock9

I think Manhunt was just as much exploring the idea of violence as the other titles. Yeah, they may have gone over the top with the violence, but I think that was done on purpose to help emphasis their point.

The main character was kidnapped and forced to perform acts of violence in order to entertain people, gaining better rewards the more gruesome (entertaining) the kills were. If that isn't a social commentary on violent video games then I don't know what is.

It's not without it's faults of course. Nothing is perfect. It could have been handled the narrative a bit better, but I think the over-the-top violence is important to getting the message out there. Unfortunately, people couldn't see passed the violence and gore because that's all the media talked about.

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

@Scorpion1813 @SupaTrupa Or could it be that he just didn't feel good about doing it anymore?  I think too many people are viewing this as his grandmother saying, "I want you to quit Rockstar!"  That's not how it is.  He personally feels he cannot do this anymore, and the fact that he feels ashamed by it means he still has a bit of mortality in him that was taught to him by his family.  That's what being grown up in this particular instance is all about.  Respecting yourself, and respecting your family. 

SupaTrupa
SupaTrupa

@Scorpion1813 @SupaTrupa - He clearly said that "started it," but was not the entire reason behind it.

Yeah, trust me, when you grow up emotionally and spiritually (I am not religious) you tend to want to do more complex and meaningful/fulfilling things than run over prostitutes and giggle.  But to each his own I suppose.  I wish him well and can relate.

Sue me.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@SupaTrupa

"He's allowed to care what other people think, but shouldnt' care what you think".

That's what I get from your comment.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@HairyMetalHead

Not to mention that his religious grandmothers only exposure to those games are what the media portray. So she is only going to hear negative things - because if it's not bad news, it's not news at all.

moonlightwolf01
moonlightwolf01

@JustPlainLucas @Scorpion1813 @SupaTrupa The question is really whether or not his motivation is because that not the kind of issues he wants to address anymore or if he's motivated by self censorship. He's no more grown up now than he was making GTA he has simply decided to take a different direction. There's nothing childish about GTA which studies everything from illegal immigration and the divide between rich and poor to relationships and western culture's obsession with celebrity. Equally theres nothing wrong with saying you want to make different kinds of games so long as you're doing so for the right reasons.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@SupaTrupa

"you tend to want to do more complex and meaningful/fulfilling things" 

Like making a racing game with robots.

Yeah, he can do what he wants, but he should be doing it for himself, not for other people.

So he went from making adult games to making childrens games - I don't think robots racing is anyway near as meaningful or fullfilling as a satirical look on the world of crime.

He may be more satisfied because he doesn't have to defend himself against his close-minded family. But he's not exactly "generating meaningful narrative" with a robot racing game.

BlazeKingz
BlazeKingz

@SupaTrupa@Scorpion1813i like gta games not because i "run over prostitutes and giggle" but because i have a choice to do so if i wanted and i never do. The game is all about choices. If your an asshole in real life and want to be in games you can, but your never forced to do so.