Nothing's Shocking

When so many games of E3 2012 are selling themselves based on exceptional levels of violence, it's the more restrained titles that stand out.

Let me preface this by saying that I've loved plenty of violent video games. I played the original arcade Mortal Kombat so much I still remember the commands for every fatality. I cackled with glee when Kratos slammed Perseus' head in a concrete door in God of War II. I actually played through Splatterhouse on the TurboGrafx-16 numerous times though it was a shabby excuse for a mediocre game.

Not pictured: The arrowhead currently lodged in this dude's throat.

But what I saw Monday at the E3-opening press conferences was just chaotic indulgence in violence with no context and no appeal. Between the Sony, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft briefings, I sat through a virtually nonstop array of knives to the throat, arrows to the neck, and people on fire. I didn't realize that there were limits to my tolerance for people on fire (I've been known to watch the climactic scene from Westworld on a loop), but after a seemingly ceaseless parade of ultraviolence, I found myself utterly numb, and more than a little put off.

Ubisoft gleefully touted Splinter Cell: Blacklist's "killing in motion," with Sam Fisher kneeing a man in the face, shooting him in the chest as he staggered, and then firing a second shot directly into his face. Square Enix showed off gameplay of Tomb Raider, in which Lara Croft shoots an unsuspecting guard through the head with a bow and arrow, stabs another guy in the throat with an arrow, and sets a group of people on fire. And when she's not slaughtering her foes, she's the victim of no end of blunt trauma herself. Resident Evil 6 and Call of Duty II: Black Ops were up next, offering a surprisingly similar mix of crashing aircraft and stuff blowing up. While neither had quite the same brutality as the previous demos, they more than made up for it in chaos, with collapsing buildings and explosions that can somehow be outrun.

As I sat watching Kratos deal with an elephant man by plunging his blades into the were-Babar's forehead until it split open, revealing the beast's brain, I couldn't help but yawn.

And that was just Microsoft's conference. Ubisoft and Electronic Arts made their own attempts to distinguish games like Dead Space 3 and Far Cry 3 with violence, profanity, and chaos, but it was Sony's conference cappers that provided a fitting end to the day. The PlayStation maker offered a brief (but at the same time interminably long) respite with its Wonderbooks J.K. Rowling announcement, but finished the show with a one-two punch of God of War: Ascension and Last of Us.

As I sat watching Kratos deal with an elephant man by plunging his blades into the were-Babar's forehead until it split open, revealing the beast's brain, I couldn't help but yawn. This is exactly the sort of brutality that the series was built on, but what used to seem shocking and bold came off as routine yesterday. Kratos' ferocious sadism was unique in gaming in 2005; today it's downright repetitive.

Just look at the Last of Us demo that followed. In that clip, our hero breaks a scavenger's neck after a lengthy struggle, caves another foe's face in on the edge of a desk, and shotguns a man's face to oblivion as he tries to beg for his life. There were plenty of cheers from the audience, but I'd had my fill for the day.

The escalating violence bothers me because it speaks to the increasing homogenization of the industry.

The escalating violence on display bothers me most not because I'm suddenly adopting puritanical views or imploring someone to think of the children; it bothers me because it speaks to the increasing homogenization of the industry. For years, the most successful publishers in the industry have been focusing on making fewer games, and pouring more resources into each one. We've been a hit-driven industry for years, but the bar a game needs to clear in order to be a hit seems to be escalating rapidly. (Just look at Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which sold 1.2 million but was deemed a failure that would have needed to sell 3 million to break even.)

When the stakes are that high, publishers do everything they can to make their games stand out, and the easiest, least creative way to do that is to take what already worked and kick it up a few notches. And for the core gaming segment, that means embracing and outdoing the chaotic set pieces and grisly brutality of something like Call of Duty: Black Ops. You can see it in the way Max Payne 3 lovingly depicts the effects of bullets when applied to the human face, or the way the Mortal Kombat revamp managed to top the series' own threshold for violence with X-ray demolitions of the human body.

Judging from the lineup of would-be blockbusters at this E3, we're winding up with an era of games that are wallowing in savagery. And that's not evil, wrong, immoral, or irreparably damaging to the children. It's just boring.

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217 comments
theKSMM
theKSMM

I have a sense that more realistic, grisly death sequences are the end result of all this graphical fidelity that we've been pushing for all these years.

Missusu
Missusu

Violence now it's boring because we can see it everywhere we look: movies, games, etc.

wesley705
wesley705

To be fair  the Last of Us looks amazing and the reason I say this isn't because of the violence because I wasn't paying attention to that. What really excited me about it was the world and the relationship between those characters. How they would talk when walking around the city to the point where she saved him by throwing a brick at an enemy and their conversation afterwards. 

 

I agree that most of the games are just trying to become more violent to try and stand out but there are some games which are violent as a necessity of the setting that take place in but also have other redeeming qualities. 

adrian_cortez94
adrian_cortez94

As long as the games got good story, those lackluster violence won't really matter.

MinerAvatar
MinerAvatar

I agree with @Polybren  on this issue in gaming (and Westworld!). It reminds me of when the music  industry started using Parental Advisory stickers. The artists used that almost like a badge of honor, next thing you know every CD seemed to want that sticker on it. After several years it became so normal to see the sticker that everyone just kind of ignored them. Same thing here, every game now wants to be bloodier then the other guys just to try and sell a few extra copies, it is becoming routine and boring now.

 

Don't get me wrong I still like a good decapitation as much as the next person but after seeing it 1000 times it does get stale. I would like to see games start to really push things and start using more nudity and even sex to give adults a whole new direction in gaming. That is one thing I just do not understand about our modern society, many parents seem OK with violence but not sex or nudity. They buy CoD, Battlefield, GoW, GTA, etc, etc, for little Timmy where he can cut your throat, hack you up with a chainsaw, blow your brains out and watch it stick to walls, and listen to constant swearing in game by characters and online by people, yet God forbid little Timmy see a naked woman or man. That could scar little Timmy and his tiny brain to see a naked woman in a games strip club like GTA right? Much better for him to just go in the club and cut off peoples heads rather then get a lap dance in game that has nudity to them.

 

Games are rated M for a reason, so if a parent can not read and figure out what they are buying for their child, I feel bad for that kid, not the stupid adult that bought the game for that kid then cries about the games contents and claims "but I didn't know." There is even an AO rating for games why not use it!

Texasguy
Texasguy

As much as I look forward to E3 sometimes I feel like it's not aimed at me. With a couple of exceptions (Assassin's Creed 3, Bioshock Infinite), my most anticipated games are stuff like Ni No Kuni, Sly Cooper 4, Pikmin 3, Transformers, SMB, Luigi's Mansion, Rayman Legends, Epic Mickey, and all three of the Lego games.

 

In other words colorful worlds, platforming, and stuff that's just fun. Violence, language, blood, and gore just doesn't appeal to me like publishers and developers apparently feel that it appeals to most gamers.

qualopec_1
qualopec_1

And every one is entitle to their opinion, we all don't have to agree on everything.

playahater1
playahater1

Brendan Sinclair is one of, if not THE, best gaming journalists out there.

Joellevene
Joellevene

By the way I've just realised due to what someone else said, just how stupid this article is. If they were talking about the violence being unnecessary then it's obviously a fair point as it is clear that there is a lot of it in video games. But just to say that it makes it boring, why write a whole article on your opinion on a genre if just to says its boring to you. If you think the violence makes it seem over the top, then fair enough because it can come across that way, but as some else said, if it's boring: don't waste your time writing this article and instead use I to find a genre you don't find boring!

Joellevene
Joellevene

For me this is a very interesting argument, and I agree to an extent. However, these are the games I am planning to get from e3 1. Hitman 2. The last of us 3. dishonoured  4.  Sleeping dogs  5. Tomb raider  6. Watch dogs And maybe sly cooper As you'll notice most of them are in fact violent video games. However, the games that I want to download from the Xbox live market place, are almost all platform games (I love platform games and I love rayman, crash bandicoot and little big planet) why do I like these violent games as well though, well because I don't play them because I just want violence, because of I wanted that I would simply go on grand theft auto and simply mess about and cause as much violence as possible. But I don't want to do that and never wish to in video games. I play various games from various genres, simply because of how I see video games. Video games to me allow me to simply leave the real world behind me for a couple of hours at a time, and go on various adventures and journeys. I personally thrive on creativity, and a virtual reality is a great example of creativity. And so when playing a video game I only ever look for new ways to show creativity through video games. If they happen to be violent in the process, then I'm fine with that because it's all part of going on a other journey or adventure and a thrill ride. Hitman to me isnt just violence for the wak eof it, as it's stealth, you can be brutal and not make a noise so it's toned down in a sense. after playing Batman Arkham asylum and Arkham city (possibly my favourite two games with non brutal stealth Becaus batman doesn't kill) I have really been into new ways of showing and playing stealh missions. Hitman just happens to be more brutal than batman. The last of us is all about survival, so I'm hopeful that they will only put you in sitioations where you have to do what you have to do just to survive, and not just for the sake of it. They may even give you the chance to choose a less brutal path. Then dishonoured and it's another assassin game. This I play not only for the stealth but also the powers and abilities.the developers have even said that you will have to sometimes be head on and brutal, but part of the stealth is being subtle obviously, so you have to be a lot less direct they also said that they wanted to try and make the game free enough so that it pleases all sorts of players, including the ones who don't want to be brutal, like me. Both Hitman and this are really creative gams in terms of creative ways to stealthily get a job done. I love how you have to think about your strategy and that's why I play it. I don't play it to kill and would be a lot more happy If you were just stunning the enemies rather than killing them. Also the last if us I will play to see all the creative survival strategies, not just to be brutal. I was actually a bit shocked when the main cheer was when Joel smashed the guys head of the table, Becaus that dies g e the impression that the gamers are only satisfied when they see an play the brutal parts. Then sleeping dogs. This I want to play because of the free flowing combat, like what get in the batman games. Because like with batman, your agility makes you feel powerful in the game, not necessarily brutal. Other than that the cars and bikes are a big hook for me because if the combination between fighting, shooting and driving. I love games with variety. Just to throw it in there, I'm not particularly keen on call of duty because it's not that creative, it's all just the same thing and to me it's not forgot much variety. It's violent too but if It was creative I might play it for that reason, not for it's violence. Then Tomb raider. This game to me again has brilliant variety In Gameplay. Shooting, puzzle solving, survival combat, and other things like climbing. Again it's that real feel of adventure that you do feel when playing these games, like with uncharted you do feel like your playing through an incredible journey, and especially with the movie like cut scene/in game action cuts. Finally is watch dogs and I'm excited for this because of its unique concept of controlling the world around you and manipulating things strategically so you get the best results. And people were a bit disappointed that it has guns in it, but if the strategical control of the world and technology around you overshadows the violence, then It will be the perfect game and effect balance between brains and brawn. Lastly as I said I might get sly cooper because I lie that style of game Because platform game worlds are a,ways so colourful and creative and so can be brilliant for someone like me who gets a buzz from creative games! So that's why I don't mind that these games are violent, because I think that other elements to me overshadow them because of the way I play games, and the reason I play them In the fist place.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

Good article Breandan (like always.)

 

I don't want saying a word, or else other users will bury me alive.

 

=/

 

 

ZOD777
ZOD777

Well, perhaps one needs to play a different genre of games rather than call the violence boring.  Would you rather see rainbows and lollipops exploding out of bodies than blood and guts?  I actually am more bothered with all of the swearing than the blood.  I mean, seriously.  Watching some of the E3 live demos on G4 were bleep fests where at times the bleeps would drown out the presenters/hosts.  Not that swearing is offensive to me, but I have teenage nephews that come over and like to watch some of my games, but the swearing puts off their parents.  The violence tends to make games seem more realistic, but you don't need a swear word in every sentence to make the game more realistic.

loljeroen
loljeroen

"The escalating violence bothers me because it speaks to the increasing homogenization of the industry." spot on analysis.

 

Luizao2779
Luizao2779

GoW looked meh to me, Last of Us however...

leikeylosh
leikeylosh

You defend Mass Effect 3's ending, Brendan. I don't trust one word you write.

Thuban_23
Thuban_23

Okay buddy if you want to go play Mario games nobody is stopping you. "The Last of Us" looks ****ing awesome. Not because of the violence, but because of it's realism.

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

I can't remember the name of the game, but there was one where you're in a war, but you're toting a camera, not a gun.  I was so excited for it.  It looked like something new, but it seems to have fallen by the wayside for the rest of what is now normal.

innocent69
innocent69

was not impressed with the God of War Demo ? This article is FAIL.

 

Dr_Corndog
Dr_Corndog

One of the nice things about Nintendo games, no? That they rely on gameplay instead of gimmicks like over-the-top violence.

Godchain
Godchain

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Down with homogenization!

xMoonDevilx
xMoonDevilx

And it only took you until 2012 to write such a 'DUH' article about it...and then not mentioning any that are the socalled big titles not featuring them...and don't include Watch Dogs as even the coolness factor of it doesn't escape the violence all throughout. Sorry you have 'risen above it and ascended' so the thrill factor is nonexistent for you as it is for the rest of us...guess we'll just continue having lots of fun with them, and you can play the kiddie games.

MichaelG88
MichaelG88

May be i m old, before 2012 is more relaxing game, now is full of killing stuff.

dalua360
dalua360

@Polybren ( Brendan Sinclair)

I read this article because of this: "it's the more restrained titles that stand out", and you forgot to talk about that! WTF?

jbahari
jbahari

I agree,

 

I think we as a society are to a certain point desensitized to violence. It seems almost commonplace, in these days and times there is actually a legitimate sports league where you can watch two world class fighters beat each other bloody in an octagon on national tv and the news plays a video of a poor guy getting his face eaten off. (I can go on)

 

I think in years past these gruesome acts (at least for a demo exhibiting gameplay at a worldwide expo) would have been cleverly cut right at the moment of "coup de grace" leaving room for you to imagine (not to mention some class). But these days the death blows are so overt and over the top leaving little to the imagination. 

 

The chaos -does- seem to run together in a bland medley of blood, explosion and bullets when you think about it. Which made games like Pikimin 3 and Scribblenauts a welcome contrast.

hippiesanta
hippiesanta

Brendan Sinclair... are you sleeping on your job?

MetalGuyver
MetalGuyver

Alright, you spent so much of the article talking about the games with violence as part of their gameplay, you don't mention ANY games that stood out because of the low violence. If you are going to have a title like that, AT LEAST give an example.

I know the exact demographic that they are catering to. Truth be told, most gamers are 18-35, which have more resources to purchase their games then the 'Mommy, buy me this!' kids. While the violence may be turned up, I along with some people, try to look beyond the flash and focus on the substance and gameplay. If a game doesn't have that, it isn't worth buying. The violence, was to get your attention.

danzimfan
danzimfan

 @Joellevene  I mostly agree with you with your main arguement.  I like to play games mainly because of the story they tell.  I can't help but be facinated by what people come up with.  In the right context, violence can easily help characterize and tell a good story, be it serious or comedic, as long as it is done well.

jinseinoseikou
jinseinoseikou

 @Ladiesman17 Seeing I'm not afraid of user's backlash, this editor has had a lot of questionable editorials as of late, with a lot of bias. Can of worms be opened, it doesn't bother me. But I suppose bias is his point, showing his own opinions about a changing industry. But that's also why I've been commenting more than ever before. Bias often meets bias.

jinseinoseikou
jinseinoseikou

 @ZOD777 Violence in video games is about as over the top as you can get, at least on the line of hollywood as it is with some big hits, but sometimes even more. Unless your playing a platformer like Mario or a game geared towards kids, violence, including bad language and death, is so common it's insane.

  And yeah, your right. Bad language in games is not necessary, but if you have nephews, even if there teenagers, it's not good to promote violence, and depending on the game, I'd question whether I should show certain games to them unless there full adults in terms of maturity, not necessarily age.

  Just as some movies are too violent for kids, games are trying to become as equals in terms of cinema. They're pretty darn close, if not there already. It's the medium maturing (not in terms of "growing up", but just changing into something different).

 

 

Polybren
Polybren

 @leikeylosh I never defended Mass Effect 3's ending. It sounds terrible and I can understand why so many were angered by it. What I criticized was the call for a change to be made to it, and BioWare's caving to those calls.

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

 @Dr_Corndog Nintendo relies on gimmicks and names we all know.  How many games with the name Mario are out now?  No company is off the hook here.

xMoonDevilx
xMoonDevilx

@MichaelG88 You aren't that old then...they've been both types for a long time now, the current year means nothing.

Polybren
Polybren

 @dalua360  Fair point. Pikmin 3, Lego City Undercover, Wonderbooks, Watch Dogs, and Halo 4 stood out for me. Even with the violence in the latter two, it seemed like it at least wasn't the focus of the game.

andrescapo_
andrescapo_

 @MetalGuyver I found Pikmin 3 to be the most entertaining one, and after that  Scriblenauts and Rayman Legends. Those games look really fun, and before you say i'm a kid, i'm 23 and I have enjoyed plenty of violent games (prototype, god of war, GTA among others).

Polybren
Polybren

 @MetalGuyver Pikmin 3 and Lego City Undercover looked pretty great, actually. And games like Watch Dogs managed to be incredibly cool independent of their violence.

adrian_cortez94
adrian_cortez94

 @Dirty_Window yeah... but not all of them. the last of us particularly, will focus more on the story rather than violence.

Joellevene
Joellevene

@danzimfan Yeah I would love to be a game designer to try and tell a playable story! But I agree I think as long as the violence is necessary to telling the story and developing the characters, then I think it's Perfectly acceptable.

Joellevene
Joellevene

@ZOD777 I just realised when I was writing it, I actually did put paragraphs in. because someone liked my comment and the email notification I got showed it in paragraphs. I then copied and pasted that into a new comment, and then sent it. But once again it converted the paragraphs into one block of text! :/

Joellevene
Joellevene

@ZOD777 Yeah I know I tried to copy it after I had posted so I could put in paragraphs but it wouldn't let me :/

ZOD777
ZOD777

 @jinseinoseikou I don't let the younger ones watch the more violent games.  Some of my family is very religious, and the swearing is an instant unplayable game for them, but somehow the violence is not (T rated games).  I just don't think all of the swearing is necessary, but at the same time, these games are no more vulgar than most high school aged kids anyway.  They probably hear all of these words 20 times a day or more at school, but parents like to turn a blind eye to that notion and blame video games and movies for any words that kids learn.

innocent69
innocent69

"There were plenty of cheers from the audience", refering to The Last of Us, but mostly likely happened during GoW also.

Dr_Corndog
Dr_Corndog

 @paulsifer42 I won't argue about the Mario and Pokemon spin-offs (like Mario Party). But when it comes to the main series, like Mario, or Zelda, or Metroid, or Pikmin, each game is a well-crafted, fun experience that shows more creativity than you might expect in a sequel.

Polybren
Polybren

 @innocent69 I actually really liked that last Rambo movie. Thought it was fascinating for the different ways it used violence. First Blood is still easily the best though.

innocent69
innocent69

P.S. B was not impressed with the last last Rambo movie either (Quoted for Truth).......which was a good movie :P