Games are 'way too violent' says Gears of War writer

Tom Bissell says games not entirely blameless in the ongoing debate about violence, developers "consistently underestimate" audience intelligence.

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Gears of War writer Tom Bissell believes games are, in large part, overly saturated in violence. Speaking to The New Yorker, Bissell suggested that games should not be left out of the ongoing violent video games debate.

"I've been asked a few times to weigh in on the 'violent video games' debate, but I hesitate to because I feel like the N.R.A. set a trap by shining a spotlight on video games," Bissell said. "Which isn't to say that I think that games are entirely blameless. Games, generally speaking, are probably way too violent."

Since the December 14 schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn. that left 20 children and six adults dead, games have frequently been brought up in the ongoing debate about violence in the United States. A new report this week claimed the Sandy Hook shooter was a "deranged" gamer, while West Virginia senator Jay Rockefeller said the industry must lessen the "obscene levels of violence" in today's games.

Bissell was also quoted in The New York Times this week, where he discussed the difficulties of crafting compelling story for shooter games.

"The storytelling possibilities of the shooter are fascinating but they're also very, very constraining," Bissell said. "A shooter story, just by virtue of the fact that you the character, you the player, spend 99 percent of the game looking down the barrel of a gun, there’s really only so much stuff you can do."

He added that developers have made a habit of underestimating the intelligence of gamers.

"Being completely mindful that there's this mysterious person called the player sitting out there, who you're trying to give context to, is the really addictively fun part," Bissell said. "But it’s also the really, really challenging part. I think game developers right now consistently underestimate the intelligence of their audience."

For more on Bissell's latest work, check out GameSpot's review-in-progress for Gears of War: Judgment.

Discussion

471 comments
feral_warrior
feral_warrior

All I can say is that this is pretty ironic coming from a writer of one of the most over-the-top violent video games available on the market. There's good and bad in all creations and good and bad in all intentions. But if we didn't have the games, the movies, etc, then we would have a coliseum, an arena, a boxing ring because, as humans, violence is, for better or for worse, a part of our lives as it has been since the beginning of our time. I hear about this and read about this so often in my life that it's like a broken record. If it's such an issue then maybe you need to create other media forms. Oh but there's a slight problem. Violence sells. The facts speak for themselves (Call of Duty anyone?).

BlackSquare
BlackSquare

Fahrenheit 451. Every person should read this book in school. At least our democracy wouldn't be going down the tubes. So lets see, video games first? Next? TV, Movies, Books, Internet, etc. etc. Just an excuse for more government.

TBear7130
TBear7130

Maybe I prefer the OBVIOUS answer... video games are "too violent" because violence against humans and our environment is inherent to our nature.


We make no qualms about attacking someone financially or even socially, but still having physical competition & tribalism is "too violent". For us humans there will always be an us & them, aliens, criminals, or other nations/factions that need killing. As long as we as individuals want to be better than our neighbor with a nicer car, better healthcare, there will always be people taking by force or other means of violence. ie financial, social, & physical inequity contributes to violence far more than video games.

Seems like the problem is the human factor. We can eliminate violence in games, but as long as one country/neighbor does not trust another(with or without cause), we will bare arms or commit violence as in the words of Bush even preemptively without violence committed on "us".

Typical, think they have a solution without addressing the problem.

Ruster25
Ruster25

Cue 300 hundred screen addicted video game playing psychopaths who tell their mum and dad to F off when they dont get an iPhone for Christmas.

My complaint isn't that theres too many violent video games. Its that there isnt enough decent AAA video game titles that ARN'T violent. There is no differentiation in top tier games, just more lock load and shoot anything that doesn't agree with you games.


Im 27 and do I feel more violent, beligerant and angry at the conclusion of this generation of consoles and PC games? You bet your ass I do.

super_voltron
super_voltron

funny how japan has the most violent entertainment (games tv movies) yet its crime rate is far lower than the us and canada

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

This whole interview is pointless dreck. There is no need for the gaming industry to be introspective because of an asinine debate that has raged for 30 years for no reason whatsoever. Games aren't too violent. As many have said, they aren't violent enough. Just because Wayne LaPierre, a complete douchebag tool who does not by any means represent the interests or opinions of 80% of America (Gun-owners, numerically at least) tried to deflect the blame for America's chronic mental health problem onto video games, does not mean you need to defend your industry more than you were doing before.

dmdavenport
dmdavenport

Bissell seems like a very intelligent guy who is frustrated by the lack of creativity in game writing. Can't say I blame him.

DarthaPerkinjan
DarthaPerkinjan

Its not just games.  Society in general has an unhealthy fascination with violence and gore.  You dont have to be a wild eyed teenager to like the violence and gore shown in TV shows like CSI.  A kid that enjoys watching a spine ripped out in Mortal Kombat is no different then an adult who likes to watch gory deaths and mauled bodies in CSI.  

The entertainment industry has figured out shocking people with violence and gore sells.  Thats why you have the SAW and Final Destination movies,  and thats why games have gotten more violent and gory.

Its a problem with society and the entertainment industry as a whole,  not just gaming.  

eubanks249
eubanks249

To be fair this is just stupid.


I think it's just like  anything else, (Drink/Drugs/Music/Games/Movies), everyone is affected in different ways. I've known people who get smashed on drugs and they are perfectly fine and other people who just get paranoid and aggressive. It's all in the mind and how your body works.

I've played games since I can remember. I've played all the gory/bloody games and I've never thought about going on a massacre or being violent. I'm super chilled out! Maybe that's because I blaze weed and maybe can't be arsed to go on a killing spree (Ha) but still, my whole life I've never been psychically aggressive and a lot of my mates haven't either and we all play games a lot!

It's definitely the individual who it affects and it's not right how they are trying to fuck everyone over for it.At the same time thought it would be hard to target people individually because that would require a lot of work and the persons consent to go see a psychiatrist, which they probably wouldn't agree to any ways. It definitely needs some thinking over but it's wrong just to single out games for being the cause. Remember when Rap/Hip Hop was apparently the cause of people getting violent? Nothing happened there so I think it'll be OK.. hopefully.. lol


Coheedrocks27
Coheedrocks27

Okay im going to go out on a limb here and agree with the statement that games shouldnt be left out. 

But alot of what the media is doing is saying that its JUST because of video games. They are just one side of the entertainment industry coin. They need to look at movies, music, pictures, AND video games. 

I have been playing video games since i was like 2 or 3 with my dad and now im 26 and a perfectly normal adult, played all the really violent video games it seems like carmageddon, doom, gears, ect...I'm not going to be one of the few that says it does not have any correlation because honestly it probably has at least a little. It not the gaming industrys fault though. Parents NEED to watch what their children are buying and what they are buying for them. Watch what your kids are playing and teach them right from wrong and make sure they do know that it is just a fantasy.

As human  beings we are curious about violence, its not that alot of us crave it, but its something interesting to look at and to experience through video games at times at least given the proper context.

I do also agree though that there is no reason why any normal person needs an assault weapon, its ridiculous and unsafe to have especially with children around. You can lock anything up, but a kid is probably going to find a way to get into your gun safe one way or another

ElFlechero
ElFlechero

I really, really respect this guy for giving a balanced look at his own passion and lively-hood, instead of just getting defensive. I agree with him. I love games, but they could be so much more. Shooting a gun is one of the first things people figured out how to do with 3D graphics, but it shouldn't be the only thing. Some of my favorite games are shooters (I added an xbox to my PS3 for Halo and Halo only.) but killing people still shouldn't be the Only thing you do in most games. There's room for big, AAA games that deal with issues other than violent conflict.

fillup0
fillup0

There's the obvious irony that a writer of the one most notoriously gory games in the modern gaming scene, but I think he's talking about violence without good context, IE, all the random FPS games. If you want a game that brings this to light, look at Spec Ops: The Line.

Triton
Triton

Life is way too violent, just turn on the news its all you see. So whats the big deal with games?

grasshopper6
grasshopper6

If you can't distinguish reality with fiction than you need major help, but there's no way of finding them people till they do something stupidly big in reality 

blaze_boy30
blaze_boy30

Some games are violent. No ones denying that. But to imply there is some sort of link when NO LEGITIMATE LINK has been made is just stupid. I feel like this argument is going to be pushed until some stupid law finally gets passed.

Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

"A shooter story, just by virtue of the fact that you the character, you the player, spend 99 percent of the game looking down the barrel of a gun, there’s really only so much stuff you can do."

Tell that to Ken Levine and Irrational.


DeFiLeDTitan
DeFiLeDTitan

violent crime has lowered since 1992, consistently. So, what was that about video game violence? Maybe violent games curb the problem instead of influence it. Maybe instead of jumping on the book burning bandwagon, these people should do a little research. Not every crime needs a scapegoat. Sometimes people just suck

d3nR
d3nR

The politicians are just trying to blame video games for the massacres because it's better then admitting that allowing any man and his dog to own an assault rifle poses a risk to the general public.

ejay_kain
ejay_kain

which game had a gun with a chainsaw attached to it?

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

no one is blameless but i think in the case of directly influencing peoples behaviors, i think video game is a small part of that. i think the society in itself is breeding more violent people, and they have to blame something...so they blame gaming instead of parenting or lack thereof

00J
00J

Oh and if "they" lessen the obscene levels of violence in games, i think you will see an obscene lessening of the amount of money games can generate... lol

90% of the game market has the character requiring a "health bar"... 

ABakedAlien
ABakedAlien

Whats the difference between shooting someone in a game, in the face, with no gore verse  shooting someone in the face where the head explodes and blood goes everywhere? If it's true that video game violence can make some people violent in real life (which is bullshit in most cases) I highly doubt the degree of gore in the game has any effect on it. It would just be the act of shooting, regardless of blood and gore, and shooting people in video games isnt going anywhere so.....people should just stop talking about it.

00J
00J

Games are too violent. Heh yeah well that's life. Wonder if he's ever seen a Tiger take down a water buffalo... 

Or a Bear rip into a fish... 

If the world was full of cute and fuzzy bunnies and no one ever got sick or starved then well... 

Even the most remote tribe that has never seen a gun or a computer generated alien still makes a bow and arrow, ties a sharp stone around a strong stick, hell even the cave men made rudimentary weapons to protect themselves from predators to hunt and to defend themselves from other evil cavemen. 

There are sharks in the ocean that are nothing more than hunting MONSTERS evolved to be the best "killer" in the ocean, it can smell a drop of blood up to a mile away in the ocean!

It's in our DNA to be violent, this is the reason we are here today! Dominating the earth! not hiding underground afraid of our own shadow.

 The issue is that there really isn't much you can do to prevent someone with a mental illness from managing to go berserk


Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

This is like a top MMA fighter saying that sports are too violent.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Is this guy some kind of self-hating writer or something?  You wrote stories about nothing but dumb violence and dumb characters.  If you hate it so much, work on something else.

Deelo_t
Deelo_t

At least we all know what to do if there is an alien invasion. 

The gamers will survive!

Lost-to-Apathy
Lost-to-Apathy

Humans are violent. You can strip all the violence away from every medium out there, but you'd still have violent human beings. It is in our nature to be violent, alongside most animals. This constant portrayal of violence is an extension of our nature. Even the people who claim to be against violence and what not have probably had thoughts about kicking the shit out someone because they were getting on their nerves. I suppose there is someone out there who has never ever had any violent thoughts, but they sure as hell are an anomaly.

bmart970
bmart970

Says the guy who helps make Gear of War... just sayin'

mat989
mat989

Games are violent, games are sexists, most games are FPS's, most games have lame single-player campaign.... it's strange that, whenever a game tries to break these common rules, it rarely sells well, except if it's from a first-party publisher... must be pretty easy to say that when Tom himself is making one first-party TPS (oh-so-different!) with lame story and that focus on brutalities and gore and guns and blood and guts... make him work for Rareware and I bet my pants he will starve to death if he isn't making FPS's/TPS's.

1337hackz
1337hackz

Not that's not true it has a known limit

00J
00J

@dmdavenport Lack of creativity in game writing, haha the template leaves little else...

I mean if you want to read a book you go sit down in a quiet place and read a book. 


Games by their nature are meant to be reactionary experiences, so shooting stuff that moves in your direction with the intent to remove YOU from the game is just the logical path of the game concept.

Your goal is to try to attain a high[er] score, complete some task, or right some wrong, these are really general and simplistic terms, but you get it...

Adding in to the mix some more fantastic way to go about these rules is just what makes it "more" interesting...

Back in the day people would play D&D with a piece of paper and a pencil with only words and their imagination to fill in the blanks...

Most of the time you are the good guy and your goal is to defend, or conquer some evil. 

Even if you play a bad character there is some justification in your character's role in the game. 

Now anyone could just as easily make a murder sim where you just run around amok and kill and maim and it would still just be for kicks, it's just a game.

How this ties into real life is still a mystery to me. 

Everyone [with no mental problems] knows you can't go around in the real world and do the things you see in video games without some repercussions... 

The people that don't should already be giving off warning signs...


Marscaleb
Marscaleb

@d3nR Check your facts.
1)Absolutely none of those catastrophic shootings even used an assault rifle.  
http://www.assaultweapon.info/
2)Not everyone is allowed to own a firearm, including the most of these people who were performing these mass shootings.
3)There were two other public shootings a week before and after Sandy Hook, but you never heard about these because the shooter didn't kill many of these people because there were other people there with concealed carry permits who fought back.  Arming responsible citizens saves lives.


Marscaleb
Marscaleb

@00J Regrettably, that's not true anymore.  They dropped the health bar in favor of having you regenerate from all wounds in a matter of seconds.

Lame.

SeAzhrei
SeAzhrei

@00J That could be reworked to any other metric though. Say; the meter could go down for every micro transaction that Epic/Capcom fail to recieve from you. Or it could be an indicator of how many std's Duke Nukem has at any given moment. lol

fillup0
fillup0

@00J The point is violence without good context, and plus we are better than animals. Yeah I don't think violence effects people who a playing games, but generally, I don't like to kill people in games because I prefer the stealthy or diplomatic route.

Tippindown
Tippindown

@Lost-to-Apathy This is the truth they act like there wasn't any wars, slavery, mass murderers, violent killings and rapist before video games.. People were getting shot long before video games were created. WTF happen to common sense..

00J
00J

@bmart970 Yeah i found that funny also. Notice though that this came out the day after the game probably the last one was released... 


Marscaleb
Marscaleb

@00J @dmdavenport

"Games by their nature are meant to be reactionary experiences, so shooting stuff that moves in your direction with the intent to remove YOU from the game is just the logical path of the game concept.

Your goal is to try to attain a high[er] score, complete some task, or right some wrong, these are really general and simplistic terms, but you get it..."

You don't play much variety in your games, do you?
What about adventure games like Monkey Island or Zork?  Or racing games and sports games?  Mario Party, or hell, even Portal and Quantum Conundrum, or look for the Indie XNA game Light's End on the 360.
There is a LOT that games can do that doesn't center around violence, and these are fun and engaging titles.

Even when they do center around violence, there is no need to go overboard' cartoon violence like in Mario or Banjo-Kazooie didn't make those game less fun.

There IS a lack of creativity in gaming.  All these AAA games are using the same formula because they are too scared to be creative, too scared to stand out.

I think he has a great point that developers are underestimating the intelligence of their audience.  Gamers can do a lot more, and would enjoy a lot more, but the big developers are refusing to deliver it.

dmdavenport
dmdavenport

@00J @dmdavenport I agree with you, and Bissell acknowledges the limitations, too. However, I think he's justified in saying that writing for a game by filling in blanks in an excel spreadsheet is a bore. Interestingly, GoW Judgement was approached differently, and was panned by GameSpot.

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@fillup0 @00J Pretty sure that "Aliens are trying to destroy our species" is more than enough legitimate context for a game to have you kill EVERY alien possible. If you don't think it is, I can't wait until aliens invade and a responsible armed American doesn't save you (not you personally but I mean hypothetically).

jorge69696
jorge69696

@Marscaleb Developers are not scared of anything. Publishers are.

Developers are not allowed to experiment with a multi million dollars game. They have to follow the formula that works because the publisher and investors don't want to take risks.

The reason for dumbed down games? a wider audience. If they can get your grandma to buy the game by making a long interactive cutscene, they will do it.