The Consequences of Unchecked Violence

Tom Mc Shea examines the growing concerns surrounding violent games and how the proposed legislation is not entirely off the mark.

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Violence is a pervasive presence in our culture. Although there's no proven correlation between the fictionalized portrayal of horrific scenes and real-world atrocities, there is no denying the prevalence of brutal acts in our media. As lawmakers attempt to find a way to curb the gun-related crimes that populate headlines, they've focused on a wide assortment of potential causes, including video games. Bill H.R. 287--known as the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act--is currently being debated in Congress. If it passes, retailers who sell AO- or M-rated games to minors would be punished by a costly fine. Is this measure the result of a reactionary governing body, or does the blame lie with the industry?

There is no denying the prevalence of brutal acts in our media.

Violence has been a part of gaming from the outset. The most basic form of interaction is, and always has been, physical contact. Impartial observers would be hard pressed to take issue with blasting alien ships in Space Invaders or chomping on wide-eyed ghosts in Pac-Man, but beneath the rudimentary visuals in these games lies the foundation upon which the industry has built itself. As graphical detail has continued to improve, and blood has become a commonplace sight, concerns about the damage of such entertainment have begun to rise. Doom and Mortal Kombat are among the games that have forever changed how people view the medium. Their immodest approach to violence drew the ire of those fearful of digital gore, resulting in the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Heated vitriol has been directed at the gaming industry for the perception that it warps the minds of impressionable children. California State Senator Leland Lee recently lambasted those who enjoy video games with a dismissive and damaging generalization. "Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry's lust for money." Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy has a similar stance on the effects of gaming violence. When discussing the motivating factor of the Sandy Hook shooter, he said, "I think there's a question as to whether he would have driven in his mother’s car in the first place if he didn’t have access to a weapon that he saw in video games that gave him a false sense of courage about what he could do that day."

We've turned a blind eye to any culpability we may have.

For those invested in this industry, it's easy to shrug off this rhetoric as ignorant. Millions of people have spent countless hours playing games that depict violence, and yet only a miniscule fraction have dared to commit those same gruesome acts in real life. However, in our rush to condemn those who have taken an aggressive stance against our favorite pastime, we've turned a blind eye toward any culpability we may have. As video games have become more realistic, the violence has taken a turn toward the gratuitous. How can we wash our hands of any wrongdoing when the games we so often enjoy continue unabated down a dark and disturbing road?

Violence for the sake of violence is a troubling trend that has skewed the perception of gaming in popular culture. Many of the most wildly publicized games glamorize savage brutality, and though there's visceral pleasure to be derived from such experiences, it's no wonder that those who view games from the outside have trouble stomaching these ventures. Look at how God of War uses violence. Kratos is possessed by the specter of vengeance, willing to mutilate anyone who stands between him and his quest for redemption. Elaborate execution sequences display the death of your foes in stunning glory. Seeing Kratos rip the head from Helios' shoulders gives us insight into his character and the rage that consumes him. But how many times does that point have to be made? The brutality of God of War is one note, excessive, and only highlights how thoughtless the use of violence can be.

The same could be said for Gears of War. Marcus Fenix curb stomps downed attackers with the same unquenchable rage as Kratos. He's an angry man fighting desperately for the fate of the human race in a losing battle against the Locust. Raw emotion flows forth from Fenix as he tears his enemies to shreds. There's a sense of empowerment that this savagery communicates, amplifying the intensity players feel. But at what point does this display of violence become senseless? Every successive Gears of War has heralded new forms of executions, but there's no thematic need for such bloody conquests. Instead of exploring new aspects of Fenix's psyche, the games merely aggrandize the already shocking violence from the first game.

These games epitomize what's wrong with video game violence. There is no doubt that they are well made and that their unabashed display of carnage provides incentive to slay your many adversaries. But instead of using their bloodshed to make a point, they say nothing deeper than "killing is fun." Can you blame politicians for seeing what these games contain and trying to construct a legal barrier to shield minors from such content? Can you blame them for condemning an entire industry when many of the most popular games contain such remorseless combat?

Digitized violence is not something that should be shunned

However, digitized violence is not something that should be shunned. Thoughtful games use blood to further their narrative, and to censor these offerings would destroy the impact of their message. Spec Ops: The Line draws on the transgressions of a wayward soldier to explore the haunting realities of war. By performing gory executions on fallen enemies, and seeing the damaging results of your actions, the power fantasy that fuels most military shooters is flipped on its head. The extreme violence cements how wrong the path you've chosen is, and developers must be free to create such striking forms of creative expression.

In Papo & Yo, the threat of violence dictates your actions. The monster who serves as your friend for much of the adventure has a terrifying temper that cannot be quelled. Once angry, he charges at you with uncontrolled might, tossing your feeble body into the air. You cannot retaliate to his aggression, so you run as quickly as you can through the city, wary of the threat that rumbles behind you. Just like in Spec Ops, the violence in Papo & Yo is used to further the narrative. Fear is a motivating force for the protagonist, and you need to feel his helplessness. Games such as these show why any attempt to control content should be fought against. We need developers to feel as though they can make anything they want. The problem is, developers often use their freedoms in reckless ways.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a California law very similar to H.R. 287 was unconstitutional, and there's a good chance the latest attempt to regulate games will be met with the same verdict. But just because it's legal to produce borderline offensive games doesn't mean that the industry should churn out so many that glamorize violence.

Video game developers and the buying public have to take responsibility for how others view our medium. We can no longer point the finger of blame at other areas of society without examining our own impact as well. It's time that we break free of our infatuation with gratuitous violence and instead highlight just how incredible games have the potential to be. Games can be much more than bloody fantasies; they can explore meaningful and mature topics that help us better understand ourselves and the world around us. Because of that, we need to stand strong against anything that could in any way censor us, but instead of reacting with knee-jerk backlash when politicians swoop in, we should focus on self-reflection. Violence has been a crutch of game design for far too long. We need to embrace the endless possibilities of video games and prevent any limitations on our creative expression.

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Discussion

1222 comments
ShadowsDemon
ShadowsDemon

I'll agree that more games are getting more and more violent, but I wouldn't say that's the problem. It's all in the context.

The Last of Us, Bioshock, Bioshock: Infinite, Spec Ops: The Line, Limbo, Heavy Rain, are amoung the very few titles that use violence aesthetically, for narrative and for the sake of political and/or moral statements and commentaries. This is the way violence should be used and handled. 


Although I do very much disagree, I can see where some people are coming from when they criticize games for violence. I agree, there's nothing better than a headshot. But lots of games are very hamfisted when it comes to violence. Gears of War, God of War, Call of Duty, and even Battlefield use violence clumsily and in typical ham fisted ways.


I don't say cut back on violence. I say use it smartly. There's a difference between A Clockwork Orange and Kill Bill, just like there's a difference between Gears of War and Spec Ops: The Line.

grinningsphinx
grinningsphinx

Tom McShea is just a dbag.../thread.  


Shocking Violence?????   What rock has this guy been living under in his moms basement?

BaronBifford
BaronBifford

Games are in fact getting less gory over the years.  I remember in the 90s it was quite common to see bodies being blown to bloody chunks.  Nowadays it's much more sanitized.  You often don't even see any blood (compare Half-Life 1 to Half-Life 2).  The games also often punish players for harming innocents.  In many games, you lose points for killing civilians, and when children appear they are often made invulnerable to injury.  I'd also like to point out that violent crime is overall going down (statistically).  Sandy Hook was a nasty incident, but not representative of the state of the country.

BigB-65
BigB-65

I am 33 and I have played games, many of them violent, for 25 years. I have never been in a police station nor had any problems with the law. I have a family and many friends and a very active social life, completely devoid of any sort of violence, despite enjoying many feats of extreme virtual violence. I consider myself a normal person and I think the description I gave fits to almost every other gamer in the world (not the age part of course). Now, I just have one question: Why Should I be accused, pointed at, humiliated, deprived of my lawful freedoms and in one word, PAY, for the mistakes of some psychopathic murderer?

It’s not the games and not even the guns. Some people are just NUTS! Some crazy guy, occasionally playing video games killed other people with a gun. How can it be possibly the gun’s or the videogame’s fault?
If a guy fills beer bottles with petrol and through them at a school bus like improvised cocktail Molotovs after watching scenes of violent street protesters in a foreign country, who will you blame? CNN? What you will ban this time? Beer? Petrol?

This whole affair is just stupid. People just need a scapegoat to ease their mind and conscience and ignore all the problems. And video games as always get the short straw. It’s sickening, really!

deadalley
deadalley

it's always easier to point finger at something that's obvious to anyone. we have violent acts, therefore they must be blamed on violent videogames. no-one wants to point fingers at how parents deliberately let their children do whatever they want, whenever they want. violence is not centrally induced by videogames, but rather by the way parents let their children take control over every single situation,thus giving this exaggerated sense of power to kids that find in videogames the graphic display of their emotions and desires. though i agree that the industry has been exploring violence over content, that doesn't mean that they're fully responsible for the increasing (?) violence among youngsters. like said before, take how many people play videogames and don't go out there shooting everybody. and take how many people do go out there shooting everybody without having ever played a videogame straight through. violence is present at open TV programming, at the cinema, at videogames and at everywhere else one might look. it's the parents' job to teach kids wrong from right, and that's where they're failing. trying to push on acts to reduce the release of violent games isn't going to do a thing to this generation if parents aren't willing to take their own blame and start giving their children the education they desperately need.

Counit88
Counit88

Hmm... I see violent gaming as away to relieve stress and vent anger. Most of my games are Rated 18 like Bayonetta, Gear of War 3, GTAs  and Lollipop Chainsaw and i dont go out killing people. I was bullied at school a lot but i haven't seen the reason to even think about hurting them because they aren't never been worth shit :D. Games are just games people. People just need to look the age restrictions and think if that is suiteable for them or they children. If not then it's yourt fault... entirely

IrishConnor94
IrishConnor94

People just need to figure out that if the game has a big "Rated M for Mature 17+" in the corner, it is about as safe for your ten year old to play as a movie that says "Rated R" is for them to watch. If people can figure out that not all movies are made with their kids in mind, then I can't get  why they can't apply the exact same logic to games.

weatherman2006
weatherman2006

What about movies or TV or Video websites, there are no short of violence on those media either, why didn't anybody say anythings about that. "walking dead" is one obvious example, though I enjoyed it a lot. Having more strict control on the guns is what the politician should have their attention at.

jodiii
jodiii

What I find weird is that even if for the sake of argument we were to assume that all of the latest mass shoting are caused by video games (wicht I do not beleive) so what?

How many gamers there is in the world? probably well over 200 million, should all of them be denied their fun just because it would have caused 5 person or something to lose it and cause shootings? that does not seem very fair, more logical would be to try to game some method to identity unstable people earlier or something.

If we go down the line of outlawing or something everything that could cause some harm we would lose all of our freedoms

Ark1of712
Ark1of712

This could have been a great article. Too bad it was written by Tom Mc Shea.

Bad_Gamers83
Bad_Gamers83

I agree that we, as consumers, have responsibilities as well and have said as much.  I don't totally disagree with your view on violence: only on the whim that more and more contexts can be added purely for gratuity sake (and I have written such).  Violence and sex sell, but to what extent do we as consumers say enough is enough?  I think the Walking Dead is a great example of violence done right, where these people are relying on violent acts to survive, which also plays on the fear aspect and drives home the point.  Ni no Kuni handles violence in a different way and also treats it as a way to survive in this alternate world.  I think as the technology advances, more and more games should point out the consequences of such actions.  I don't mind the gratuitous violence in its current stage, but I'm afraid of where it can and may lead to.

MVan86
MVan86

The argument that any industry (TV, Video Game, Comics, etc) needs to look at itself because it might somehow be responsible, even partially, for these senseless and evil acts is to me ridiculous. 

Because it's a call we've had time after time with seemingly every new medium that's come along that depicts violence; Radio, Film, TV, Video Games - heck I'm sure Comics and Books come in there as well. 

The problem with that idea is that humans, at any stage in their life, require no inspiration in thinking about violent acts: babies/young children happily throw things at and or hit other people, animals or objects long before they watch a violent TV show. Not to mention how many people view violence in creative media all the time but do not perpetrate acts of violence.


The real problem is and always will be intent and access to the required means. And that is what the discussion about violence MUST focus on.

osirisx3
osirisx3

video games turn your kids into communists. 

Metronoid
Metronoid

If you want to see the most goriest game ever, just play Harvester PC. Got the second place in the top 100 goriest games . com.

boboh
boboh

i totally agree with Tom.  If you understand it correctly.  Nothing is wrong with violence in gaming especially when it enhances the story or experience.  Senseless violence however can be interpreted differently; it has no tie-in to anything.  Of course gamers aren't anymore violence than anyone else but developers should be more creative with the use of that violence.  This really opened my eyes to a different perspective from the outside.  Thank you.

picho86
picho86

I just keep being amazed by your BS. I'm literally at a loss for words (but I'll try anyway).

Do you believe that there has been more or less violence then the beginning of violent games? Do you have any evidence that suggests that gamers are any more violent than anyone else? Or maybe you don't like violence in games so you condemn everyone else who do? Do you have any scientific evidence to prove anything you just said?


ElFlechero
ElFlechero

Well said Tom, thank you for not just jumping to the "be a better parent" crap that so many gamers parrot on these forums. Gamers can't just get defensive, we have to think hard about the issue and contribute in meaningful ways. Personally I don't see any reason why there shouldn't be a fine for people who sell games to kids who aren't supposed to be buying them. When my son is 13, right now there's no reason  he couldn't  go to the store and buy God of War or other games that would be inappropriate for a kid to play.  

Visitor_basic
Visitor_basic

Some of the violence is not needed to be sure. It adds nothing to the story line or game line. But watching a Sectoid twitch in XCOM is not to me violence when it dies, it a fact of farm life like when killing anything used for food. Also female drivers on cell-phones when driving may be way more violent or grandmas when not watching what their teen-age kids may be doing while babysitting. In fact, it is not my day to babysit and still some people just think that men ought to be sterilized. Well, Daffy Duck!

The entire attitude is one of contempt and shortcomings in certain people's attitude and more than once these type of people have used these excuses to further their own bully natures. Emotional garbage is suppose to have Intellect behind it in the first place, not in the no-way near place of this world portrays - and that is one of emotional immaturity and minding one's own mind in the first place.

super_voltron
super_voltron

Some kids can handel it some can't, I knew a kid once who's mother found that he couldn't so she made sure he would not even play teen rated games.  He turned out fine and has never commited a violent act.  I played the classic violent games (mk and the such) and i turned out fine.  No one wants to admit they are bad parents , but their kids that turn out bad if they don't.

blackwingzero
blackwingzero

Great article Tom. Definatly well thought out.

tgwolf
tgwolf

NONE OF YOU HYPOCRITES who essay to attack video games HAVE A WORD TO SAY in any credible way so long as you IGNORE PORNOGRAPHY and similar elements! You are NOTHING BUT A CHARLATAN and a HYPOCRITE of the worst kind if you attack a lesser evil of this sort, AS BAD AS M-GAMES ARE, when you do NOTHING to stop lewd media of all kinds! I am SO VERY TIRED OF THIS DUPLICITY, and your THIN OVERTURES of caring about minds and children ARE EMBARRASSINGLY-DUBIOUS when NONE OF YOU TAKE ON what amounts to a FAR MORE destructive and insidious element! You may as well try to stop a flood or tsunami with your finger than to try and save children from video games when lewd media is EVERYWHERE, from ads to TV and everywhere else. GROW UP! We are not stupid and NEITHER ARE YOU!

thriftymutt
thriftymutt

I say it was a good article.  Violence is bad whether or not it has to do w/ real life violence.  Of course if kids can't get movies that are rated R then why video games that are rated NC-17 or mature.

Roidz87
Roidz87

The bill isn't aimed at abolishing violence in video games, but rather at monitoring who they are distributed to, i.e. minors. Tom's rant about senseless violence in video games is just ludicrous. There is nothing wrong with adult-themed violence. More importantly, the whole thing comes down to decision making. If someone wants to make a violent game, let them, you don't have to buy it. If you don't like it, then don't buy it. In fact, if you hate violence in video games so much, then maybe you should stop playing them because you'd be hard pressed to find many games without blood or gore in them. They do exist, but your library would be infinitesimal. 

Roidz87
Roidz87

This is definitely a well-thought out, enlightening article. That being said, I really see nothing wrong with monitoring young ones ability to play games that depict gratuitous violence. Are we condoning that video game stores sell M rated games to minors? I already thought that most states checked identification when purchasing a game; therefore, making it all but impossible to buy a game if you are under 18 and considered a minor. I guess when looking at the proposal objectively, I have to ask the question, what is really wrong with this idea? Do you think a 6 year old should play Gears of War or God of War or even Left 4 Dead? I guess to put things into perspective, it would be the same as a child going into a book store and trying to buy a playboy or a hustler. Do we allow that? No. Then why do we allow them to buy M rated games that contain Grand Theft Auto in the title and portray gangsters and hookers on the box art? Yet, it's entirely okay to let a child watch Spartacus or Game of Thrones and then blame video games for all of the social atrocities that are taking place? Come on! To me, there is no difference between putting those types of media into a child's hands. This argument is a no-brainer if it is specifically being directed towards children and not adults. Now, as far as blaming games for being the root of all evil and being branded the scapegoat for recent violent acts, well that's just nonsense. People need to be more accountable for their own decisions because, after all, someone had to buy these games for their children and there is no excuse to not knowing what is in them. You certainly wouldn't go buy your 6 year old a pack of cigarettes and a colt 45, so why would you buy them Grand Theft Auto? Be accountable and stop making poor, uninformed decisions. 

BlazeKingz
BlazeKingz

It has been proven that videogames have no connection to real life violence. The problem is that videogames are too easy to blame. You'd think why would the news blame videogames if they are really innocent? simply cause the news channels are owned by movie corperations and guess who was blamed before video games.....yup movies. So they need to direct the blame towards someone else. And that media has enough power to pressure the president in to spending millions on doing the research on violence in games....

osirisx3
osirisx3

you would be hard pressed to find a game without violence but that does not make you shoot up schools. OMG a shooter played videos games!!! wow so have 4 billion other people at once time or another. I am sure that same kid watched movies,tv and music maybe even the paper better ban or censor those too! 

megaspiderweb09
megaspiderweb09

The Last of Us makes a disgusting point about violence

tim1935
tim1935

If you truly hate violence, video game/TV/movie violence is just as disgusting and appalling as the real thing.

pygmyluvmachine
pygmyluvmachine

Tom, thanks for the great article. It's clearly thoughtful and heartfelt, and that's exactly what the video game community needs, especially right now.

letmebefreeee
letmebefreeee

It doesn't really matter it's just video games.... I am an avid gamer and play all kinds of games (including violent/gory) but if they disappeared today (not saying that's the answer)but if they did it wouldn't matter... they are just video games... real life is still out there for us all.  Fight for what you believe in but seriously is this what we believe in....

aestevenson
aestevenson

Having seen both real violence and video game violence, I can safely say that the only similarity between the two is the words used to describe it.  "Blood" and "gore" in a video game are further from the real thing than spaghetti and door knobs.  All the decapitations in every Kratos and Fenix game in world won't make me less sensitized to the suffering of other real human beings.

I understand why the simple minded might think otherwise though.

My big pet peeve here is how the video game issue is made in parallel to the gun issue.  Video games are being put forward as a ROOT CAUSE of violence in people.  This is not proven to be at all true.

No one is saying that guns are the root cause of violence in people, only that it enhances the ability of those who have it in them to do harm to others.  This is a fact.

Stop talking about these two issues in the same breath.

mattyb1976
mattyb1976

This is a very well written analysis of gaming's place in this discussion. Gaming does have a role in this, as do movies, as does the gun lobby, as do many other pieces. Establishing how much of a role is impossible because it's all subjective and there will never be a consensus. What is important is that we as gamers, and the industry, take a stance and accept our responsibility for it. The worst part about this whole thing is everyone's refusal to take any responsibility.

guitardude1243
guitardude1243

No. Those damaged psychologically will always find some means to perpetrate their violence. The key is early recognition and treatment.

SmartGhost
SmartGhost

If you dont know reality from a video game then you shouldn't step into are world

RAD_RADIO
RAD_RADIO

Tom... violence is not a crutch. I have literally played specific video games mainly BECAUSE of how violent they were. I know others that do as well, it's just a fun way to experience fiction without the consequence of real life.

Having stated that above, I get sick to my stomach and my knees buckle from nervousness (occasionally a nose bleed) at even the thought of real ill-violence perpetrated on another, even animals. I can't stomach hunting... I've tried it.
Stick to your guns Tom, violent video games have ABSOLUTELY ZERO effect on violence in the real world and you know it. Stop saying anything other than. Weak!

RAD_RADIO
RAD_RADIO

Oh shut up tom, you're slowly buckling against the pressure of the idiotic and ignorant arguments against the video game industry. Just like the Comic book industry did back when people thought those were warping children's minds. Stop writing these horribly useless articles.

3717Dash
3717Dash

@IrishConnor94 problem is... parents these days also DO let their 10 year old watch R rated movies. 

skelly1331
skelly1331

@picho86 The violence in games is a lot more realistic now than in the beginning of violent games. He didn't say gamers are more violent. He didn't say he doesn't like violence in games, he just thinks it should be used to enhance the narrative rather than just for the shock or just for the sake of gore. Why don't you try READING the article next time...

super_voltron
super_voltron

@tgwolf  of course it makes perfect sense to blame violent games.  The 45 year old mother or father still likes violent movies so they don't want to get rid of those and they will watch sexually promiscuous shows with pleanty of naughty talk in front of their 3 year old child "oh he's playing with his lego he won't notice" >_< . But those 45 year old parents don't like next gen gamming (sure they played classic pinball as a kid). When that generation dies off politicians will start to change their tune.

Then again most young gammers are old enough to vote. we could tell them what we think WITH OUR VOTES.

Morpheus9950
Morpheus9950

@tim1935 You're right tim. Seeing someone murdered in front of you is completely the same as seeing someone shot on TV. If you "truly" hate violence, of course.

HybridExtreme
HybridExtreme

@pygmyluvmachine Are you nuts? This is exactly the kind of bullshit we don't need right now. Its Tom's two faced approach to getting people to read his dumbass articles. This website markets violence to the general public, kids included, on a daily basis. So maybe Tom should look at companies like Gamespot and other game websites that push out violent images and videos etc. to gain the attention of visitors instead of finger pointing at game makers. Game makers follow the rules by putting appropriate warnings on their products. Is there a warning on the main page of Gamespot that visitors may see graphic images on this site? No. But Tom didn't mention that nor did he mention that those very same game makers he is referring to are some of the site's biggest advertisers.

TomMcShea
TomMcShea

@mattyb1976 Well put. I purposely avoided talking about other areas because I wanted to just focus in on the one thing I'm most passionate and knowledgeable about. But many segments of society have to figure out how to improve themselves. It's all about self reflection, and there's a scary lack of that at times.

karasu251
karasu251

@RAD_RADIO ...
You should try reading the article more thoroughly.

Most games revolve around violence, whether they are kiddie or adult games. You generally always have to fight, shoot, or kill something to advance a game, and most of the time it brings nothing new to the table.

His article is about how the gaming spectrum as a whole can do more than just use violence as a mechanic. His mentioned games are awesome, but they are over-the-top gory as a selling highlight. That's how MK sold in the 90's.

Dishonored is a shining example of how you can get creative. You can be violent and kill everything, or you can make things really difficult and beat the game without killing a single person, which ultimately changes how your character progresses.

macedo77
macedo77

@RAD_RADIO  Are you stupid? Its exatcly what Tom's saying. Industry creates violent games just because people wants it and not something more complex. Videogames can express a lot, not just mindless violence.

SmartGhost
SmartGhost

@RAD_RADIO  thank you for speaking your mind i to agree that violent video games have no effect on how i do my everyday life.

wauketakeke
wauketakeke

@macedo77 @RAD_RADIO  -Really you dont need to call someone stupid. It is a well thought out article and it makes good points. I play violent video games but there is room for discussion on how far these games need to go in senseless violence.

edjos
edjos

@macedo77 @RAD_RADIO read.it .again.