Violence in Games: Industry Buzz

Sony and Microsoft execs, as well as developers Warren Spector, Cliff Bleszinski, and others, sound off on the state of violence in our favorite pastime.

At the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, scenes of violence were spotted left and right. A new gameplay demo for God of War: Ascension showed Kratos rip the brain out of a giant elephant-man. And in a demo for The Last of Us, protagonist Joel used a shotgun to blow the head clear off a foe.

This Last of Us enemy is soon to lose his head.

Ubisoft touted Splinter Cell: Blacklist's "killing in motion," with Sam Fisher kneeing a man in the face, pumping a round into his chest, and then sending off a second shot squarely in his face. In a demo for Tomb Raider, Lara Croft shoots an enemy in the head with a bow and arrow, stabs a second man in the throat with an arrow, and finishes her killing spree by setting a group of people on fire.

Violence in games is nothing new. In fact, it has been around since the beginning, and along with it comes controversy. GameSpot senior editor Brendan Sinclair made his feelings known regarding the rampant violence at this year's E3, saying, "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."

But what about those who make the games? How do they feel?

GameSpot rounded up some of the industry chatter from developers and executives regarding violence in games. Highlighted below are thoughts from executives like Sony's software product development head Scott Rohde and Microsoft's entertainment vice president Phil Harrison, as well as statements from Deus Ex designer Warren Spector, Gears of War developer Cliff Bleszinski, and more.

Sony software product development executive Scott Rohde:

For Rohde, violence in games is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is not violence for the sake of violence. The executive explained to GameSpot that with the advancement of technology, more realistic depictions of violence in games will become present, and this is true for the film industry and television, he says.

"There's a reason we have a ratings system for these games. And I think that you see this trend in Hollywood as well," he said. "You just see that as technology continues to grow, not just in our industry, but in the film industry as well, or even on television, I think you're gonna see a more realistic depiction of what's going on. And it's a way for people to escape. I don't think it turns people violent. But it's an interesting outlet for people to experience this, and let's face it: violent acts are what build the most tension; whether it's film or whether it's television or video games, and that was incredibly evident, specifically when we showed The Last of Us."

"I mean, God of War kind of gets up to this level [motions his hand above his head] and just stays there. But with The Last Of Us, you don't know what's coming around the corner. I literally get goose bumps just thinking about it [motions to actual goose bumps on his left arm] because that's exactly what Naughty Dog set out to build: a title where you are terrified to walk around every single corner because there was going to be some sort of encounter. And you had to figure out how to deal with it. So that's the view I take on [violence]. It's an important part of building tension and creating a new style of entertainment for people. It's not violence for the sake of violence; there's a big difference. It's not Saw. Really, the violence is creatively used to tell a story and to build tension. And that's extremely important."

Is this bloody enough?

Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski:

The outspoken Gears of War designer took to Twitter to relay his thoughts about violence at E3 2012. He said he was baffled by the response some had to the numerous scenes of violence at the show.

"What's with the backlash over the fact that some of the games at E3 were 'ultra-violent?'" he said. "There's room for all styles of games out there. Most games that rely on the violence as a selling point and nothing else tend to rightfully fail."

Epic Mickey, Deus Ex designer and Junction Point founder Warren Spector:

Speaking to Games Industry International, Spector said he believes such violence in games could have negative implications. He went on to note that he left Eidos Montreal (where he was instrumental in the production of the original Deus Ex) in 2004 because of the violence he witnessed from the publisher's lineup, specifically games like Hitman, 25 to Life, and Crash & Burn.

"We have to stop loving it," he said. "I just don't believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it's in bad taste. Ultimately, I think it will cause us trouble."

"We've gone too far. The slow-motion blood spurts, the impalement by deadly assassins, the knives, shoulders, elbows to the throat. You know, Deus Ex had its moments of violence, but they were designed--whether they succeeded or not I can't say --but they were designed to make you uncomfortable, and I don't see that happening now. I think we're just appealing to an adolescent mindset and calling it mature. It's time to stop. I'm just glad I work for a company like Disney, where not only is that not something that's encouraged, you can't even do it, and I'm fine with it."

Former Grasshopper Manufacture director Massimo Guarini:

"#E3‬ 2012: The problem isn't just the violence," he said. "It's the lack of everything else."

Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison:

In an interview with Edge, Harrison said he was "surprised" at the new levels of violence put on display at E3 2012. The executive agreed with Rohde, saying the advancements made to technology have allowed developers to create more realistic depictions of violence.

"I was surprised, I must admit, at some of the games," Harrison said. "I think it's an inevitable progression of visual reality and visceral immersion that games can get quite ultra-realistic. Thankfully, everybody adheres to a very good ratings system, and makes sure that consumers are well-informed before they buy their games. I think it's more coincidental than anything. I don't think it's a strategy that everybody has adopted simultaneously. So long as it's part of a balanced portfolio, it's okay."

"One encouraging thing from E3 this year was all the online comments questioning the senseless violence in some upcoming games." -- Former Halo 4 director Ryan Payton.

Former Halo 4 director Ryan Payton:

"One encouraging thing from E3 this year was all the online comments questioning the senseless violence in some upcoming games," he said.

Curve Studios design director Jonathan Biddle:

"I keep reading that this E3 was particularly focused on violence, but it didn't seem any different than previous years to me," he said.

Indie Games Festival chairman Brandon Boyer:

"Silver lining: all that shitshow bloodbath of a day aside, Sony trumpeted support of & actually said the words 'indie games,'" he said.

Grand Theft Auto III programmer Thaddaeus Frogley:

"Is it irony, the way the games press complains about violence and sexism at E3, but hardly covers any of the non-violent, non-sexist demos?" he said.

You've heard what the executives and developers had to say regarding violence in games. What do you think? Have games gone too far? Not far enough?

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Eddie Makuch

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.
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307 comments
Ducez_III
Ducez_III

I don't think there's such a thing as 'too far'. Video games are an expressive medium just like books, music, pictures, movies, whatever. They should be able to go as far as they want and developers should have the freedom to explore whatever they want. Sex, drugs, domestic violence, rape, incest, it should all be on the table. 

 

And if people don't like the games than they shouldn't buy/play them, because no one's forcing them to do so. Just like with any other medium. If you don't like the romance novel about incest than don't read it, if you don't like the movie where some person gets raped in graphic detail than don't watch it. Same goes for video games.

poster012
poster012

Violence is fine in video games. I just don't think that sex belongs there. Not that it offends me, I just think it's stupid. Games are all about  living out stuff that we can't (or in most cases don't want to) in our actual lives, like shooting people or performing extreme feats of danger. Sex is something that most of us have in real life, and I don't see the need for it in video games. A romance can be fine if it's incorporated into a good narrative, but games like Mass Effect and the Witcher just seem to shoehorn it in for extra appeal. It takes down the value of games and gives non-gamers a topic to criticize the industry. I'm an avid believer in the diversity in games, so I can't say that no game ever should have sex in it. But in my experience, I haven't really enjoyed a game with sex in it, or at least that aspect of it.

zaoy
zaoy

Action, violence, and sex is fine in video games. Just give the video game a rating M 17+ like how films get a R rating for that stuff.

Deinbeck
Deinbeck

sex IN video games?  what we need is sex WITH video games.

Deinbeck
Deinbeck

We need a dev to get quoted saying "moar blud plz" 

raziel2kain
raziel2kain

you just talk about the graphic, what about the sound technology? they're using that too for the violence.

if you mute your TV set, the graphic is not that much disturbing !!! have you ever tried this?

raziel2kain
raziel2kain

mortal kombat fatalities was once the highest level of violence in video games. nowadays you can see it everywhere. in many franchises, almost each sequel is more violent than the previous one. what the hell is this trend taking us? graphic improvement should be for beauty and even artistic features, but they are using it for violence. what about the next gen? even more realistic violence than last of us, god of war and splinter cell? where the hell M rated games are going?

shureshot24
shureshot24

I lol at this whole thing. People have been complaining about violence in video games since Deathrace 2000. Even then they were saying these games are too realisticly violent. Im sure people then were saying games are not about being creative anymore its just about grotesque violence. Its all in the context of the times and the current state of the technology. The truth is violence is awsome, its why when I was a kid I got my parents to buy me Mortal Kombat, not because i heard it was a great fighter, but because of Finish Him!!!! BLOOD!!!  Has E3 has become more violent.... probably but for everyone young and old most people can enjoy a bit of the old Ultra-Violence. Games dont have to be violent to be amazing (and for the most part violence does not add anything to the game) but the truth is that violence sells and that's what E3 is.. a big showcase of stuff they are trying to sell you...

mchrus33
mchrus33

Violence is boring because holding hands and singing Kumbaya would be soooo much more fun.

railroad40
railroad40

I don't give a damn. It's just the advancement of technology taking it's toll. ("super slow motion kill ftw!) Though without a doubt, some of the (if not the) most popular games are violent: CoD, Halo, BF, WoW, Diablo III, and the list goes on. (I didn't say best games, I said most popular) I will say this on my behalf though, the more violent the game does NOT mean I'll be anymore attracted to it. 

 

I'm sure there are good games that are non-violent. Many parents try and 'shelter' their kids. I'm not the one to say that is or is not right. There's a line drawn in everything whether it's hard to see or not. But I myself when I was growing up played the hell out of C&C. And I loved the little 'augghhhh!!' death cries.

 

Quite frankly, I can't wait to see what 'Victory Bioware' does with Command and Conquer Generals 2 using the Frostbite 2 engine. And thankfully, it won't be out 'till next year. So the devs have a long time to plan out the game and it's various aspects. If the game is 'super-violent' does that mean that I'll like it that much more? No. I want a good game, with GOOD replay value excluding online play (yes I still play 'Skirmish' Mode), good graphics, good sound effects, and the likes. Now if they can incorporate violence-gore into this to create a more immersing and interesting game. Then great. Does the game need to be covered in pointless blood and gore for it to sell? No it doesn't.

Tephlonx
Tephlonx

i've seen some of the gameplay in The Last of Us. i know that the way it's made, it discourages you from the violent route. emotionally, and game-wise. so... i have to say, if games start goign to that route... i will be very happy.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

I agree and disagree, some games the ultra violence is very fitting, like the last of us, its a grisly world and even though the gore looks gross its also realistic and fits the setting. Sniper V2 though could of done without the xray bullet cam showing brains exploding bones breaking and testicles popping. Morrowind and Oblivion were both very well recieved games and neither really had any blood, but for skyrim all of a sudden they had to add blood, executions and decapitations, why? The Witcher 2 is an amazing game with a really amazing and engaging story, but what is the point of being able to buy a wench at the brothel for gold? so far the only thing I noticed happens is you get a cutscene showing some full naked boobies, no stat buffs, no special items or anything just a cutscene with some boobies, it was really unnecessary and seems like it was added just to appeal to adolescent men looking for some porn in their game.

DrasRexen
DrasRexen

These developers are getting soft.

plate023
plate023

I don't really understand the problem here, there are plenty of non-violent games to choose from.  Good devs use violence to create the experience they want to.  I guess I can understand people feeling like there's too much because lots of top tier games (the heavily advertised ones) tend to be violent, but if people start saying that they want to remove the violence from games like god of war or assassins creed then that would just be dumb.

mlcarter815
mlcarter815

I don't have a problem with violence. Non-violent games are great, but a violent or non-violent game shouldn't be made for only that reason. 

Gilligan1961
Gilligan1961

Maybe they should have a new rating and call it 'IM" for "immature".  I agree with Specter's comments...there is very little that is realistic about the 'ultra-violence" in many games.  It just appeals adolescent crowd.  Yes, violence is an integral part of the gaming, but it's getting sickening and as Sinclair says, ulitimately it's just boring. 

trollkind
trollkind

I also remember the discussion about Manhunt a few years back, where even the developers themselves felt uncomfortable creating and releasing it. A lot of that seems to have arrived in mainstream gaming now. Step by step, overly stylized so it isn't that harsh.

DarthRevan
DarthRevan

I agree that violence in games is getting out of hands - you can't find many games nowadays that are not violent.

trollkind
trollkind

"I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality." "I think we're just appealing to an adolescent mindset and calling it mature."

I may not be fan of his recent works but I'm with Mr. Spector here. I probably would enjoy all that crap as a 12 year old but all that execution porn isn't appealing to me at 32. I have no problem to get proper feedback as to where I hit someone with my virtual bullets by way of animation, physics and fx but all the zooming, X-Ray vision and super slo mo, that's not making any sense and it certainly isn't "more realistic". Nobody sane wants to really feel how it is to stab someone in the throat. It's about feedback, information, being sure a virtual enemy has been dealt with so you can move on, not "press X to watch a 10sec execution scene for the 20th time". That doesn't serve any purpose other than glorifying the moment.

PrescottCav14
PrescottCav14

Personally, I think games that give you options that allow/reward nonviolence set a good example in video games. The situations game characters find themselves in, much like movie characters, are often violent. But providing alternatives to these situations shows violence isn't the only solution, while also adding interesting stealth or other gameplay mechanics.

X-RS
X-RS

I've sadi it before

If you're gonna go ultra hardcore realistic on violence give me some realistic goons with more intelligence. Last of Us demo shows how 'bad' goons are in games.

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

Its interesting how everyone in the comments goes immediately to the kids / parenting angle.  Even the people interviewed for this article did it.  But nobody brought that up.  We're just reflexively defensive about it now.  Developers, publishers, and gamers alike are now gun-shy (pun intended) about the violence --> kids connection.  I don't think its about kids at all.  I agree with Spector, its just bad taste.  I don't really get into the super gore thing.  I used to like shooters like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark on N64, but they've gotten too realistic and nasty for my tastes.  Well, that and the whole online multiplayer obsession.  There are whole genres of games I can't play anymore and even some individual titles that are appealing for gameplay and story reasons but I can't stomach due to the intensity.  (I'm looking at you, fallout)

 

Its true that violence and sex are inherently, biologically arousing.  So we shouldn't expect them to go away anytime soon.  And like other things that are stimulating (alcohol, caffeine, illicit drugs) people develop a tolerance.  So society keeps amping up the level to keep giving us that high.  It does worry me a bit.  I can only hope @ptown58 is right and this is society's way of compensating for the reduction in real violence in our lives.  Maybe some day we can meet all our biological violent urges killing pixels.

Ibra8
Ibra8

They should reduce violence and increase hot lesbians in games.

The1stFishBone
The1stFishBone

The biggest problem is in some of these games it's no longer possible to feel like a hero. You're just a serial killer and that's a big turn off.

ptown58
ptown58

""There's room for all styles of games out there" ..... thank you C.B.

ptown58
ptown58

Elite Sniper v2 seems like an anatomy lesson mixed with physics and in slow mo.

ptown58
ptown58

Sorry spelt "peal" wrong , I meant "peel" but the phrase is "pry it from my cold dead ...hand"

ptown58
ptown58

Please do not worry about the level of violence I prefer in a game , just make the games that people and myself  want to purchase and play, whatever that might be.

 

Violent video games could be a great transition to letting go of real violence, the human species has an extremely violent history and we are slowly un-hooking the chains of tradition and traditional assumptions.

 

But you know the old "till you peal it from my cold dead ...ego" .... ha ha ha  (science really is your friend)

blackfire
blackfire

I play games of all types I'm tired of tight asses complaining ohhh the violence what about the children the games that displayed the violence at e3 were mature rated and I dont have a problem with it it's about choice if you don't like or want violent games then don't buy them and take the stick out of your collective asses don't let your personal opinions about such games deprive me from enjoying them and I say again if you don't like them don't buy them

Zaika
Zaika

Yup, blame the violent game instead of irresponsible parenting........

toyo75
toyo75

No matter how much violence a child sees in video games or any form of media, that child will still grow into a well-rounded adult as long as he received proper care and guidance from his parents and family.

GIJames248
GIJames248

I miss when really good shooters were not afraid to be rated 'T'. Think original Call of Duty; great game, didn't need to be rated above Teen and wasn't going to waste anytime trying to be anything other than good.

PSR8000
PSR8000

When I was growing up, the likes of Mortal Kombat were exciting because they contained blood.  Now days, it's almost hard not to find games that aren't violent in someway shape or form.  It's must be hard for parents as there isn't a lot to choose from for their kids that isn't violent.

DarknautXXX
DarknautXXX

My main problem with graphic violence in games is that its deemed "hardcore", whereas everything that doesn't squirt blood and saw/rip/blow enemies to pieces is meant only for kids and/or casual gamers. Which is why us Nintendophiles get the rap for being wussies. Does Link need to rip out Ghoma's eye like Kratos to be hardcore? Or can it just be enough that you may spend an hour or so inching through a dungeon full of intelligent environmental puzzles that may take you 5 to 15 minutes to solve and utilizing some thought to defeat enemies that would murder you for button mashing? Should you be focusing on how the opposing Pokemon is not literally burnt black and twisted from your awsome Flamethrower or how that Flamethrower gave them the Burned condition, which does slightly more damage per turn than poison and halves thier attack? And these are only tiny morsles of the Pokemon and Zelda games. I'm not sure exactly what it means to be hardcore, but I'm sure part of it is providing a deep, engaging experience, whether because of gameplay, story, or atmosphere. And ANY type of game can provide that, gorefest or not.

david1230
david1230

always blame others for your inability to parent your children.

david1230
david1230

how about parent your child instead of looking for someone to blame, blame yourself for being a horrible parent.

david1230
david1230

Lets put skirts on all our boys and girls, since they are little pussies like we are claiming they are with all these bullshit stories.

Leir_Bag
Leir_Bag

We like violence, and it being on games is natural. It's in every other form of media. Have you ever stoped to think on why you like watching boxing, or UFC, MMA? Some great movies have great amount of violence as well. Everything Tarantino made is violent. I watched "Drive" last week and it's very good. It's not from Tarantino but it could have been.

 

Humanity likes violence. We aways had ways of watching violence through out history. The Colisseum, for example. Public executions on various nations. To say that something that is in every other form of media is bad only on games is pure hypocrisy. Just don't make violence for the sake of violence, and there you go.

RedLegZeff
RedLegZeff

When the most successful franchises are the likes of cod, gears of war, pretty much any violent shooter, even stuff like assassins creed with its violence, you're gonna have devs making those games. It's hard to resist making something that has proven successful. Ultimately the market and the consumers are to blame for the state of violence in video games. Well that's also why we have an over abundance of shooters these days as well. Non violent stuff is either directed mainly at kids or is pushed by indie games which likes bucking the trends. Ah I do so love indie games.

erix43
erix43

Violence is what humanity is about. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for violence. Why ignore it in a fictional, liberal setting like a video game? Surely, we do not use violence on a daily basis, but boy do we act it out in video games or sports. I personally think it's healthy to let it out on pixels. Adults know the difference between reality and fiction. What's the big deal here? Now for kids, I agree with the ratings system. Keep them away, but let's be honest here. Kids will find a way to play a "cool game," whether it be a cousin or a neighbor down the street. They will be exposed and that's an issue. Right? 

 

DeltaMike90
DeltaMike90

Violence to be scary, ok. Violence for gratification, not so much. I avoid Dead Space because it's so excessively gruesome.

x1RONPATR10Tx
x1RONPATR10Tx

This is a super simple fix and a stupid thing to whine about. The fix you ask? Easy, gore options in your games, and parental controls in the systems to fix gore levels. Games used to have the option all the time, why does it seem like the most archaic and sadly lost options could contribute the most to modern gaming?

 

Enable filters of some variety and restrictions and you please parents, and gamers. Hell some adults may want to skip out on gore and a simply menu option disabling it gives them the same core experience while eliminating what they don't like.

jomipira
jomipira

I hate violent games... thank god Fallout New Vegas isn't... well... thank god Half Life 2 isn't... hum... er... well at least Dead Island, I mean Rage isn't... I must be thinking about Shadows of the Damned... or... I'll say Skyrim isn't quite... hum... well violence is... Little Big Planet 2 that's it!!! AH! I knew I didn't play violent games!

syseong
syseong

I HATE VIOLENCE GAMES.all the game elements is just kill... kills... killssss...

franizarduy
franizarduy

I have to say that i like violence in videogames, its the only way we get to be our alter egos (despite a costume party here and there), but that does not mean everything has to be violent, encouraging thinking seems to be difficult nowadays, braid 2 anyone?.

bobbydoors
bobbydoors

I don't know what to think actually. First time I started playing MaxPayne3 I was a bit disturbed, but then again was excited with the reality. Enough blood or not? Dunno. When I come to think about it, in 20 yrs when, I hope, we will have holodecks or something similar, I cannot say would I be able to fire a bullet in a persons brain, even virtual bullet into a virtual person... You know? If you visually cannot make the difference...

moonlightwolf01
moonlightwolf01

I agree with Bredan here its not morally distressing but plain boring. I think it may well be the focus on constant sequels that exacerbates this problem, I mean when innovation is practically forbidden the only way they can try and give the next game more impact is making everything bigger - bigger explosions, bigger blood spurts, more violent finishing moves. The violence in The Last Of Us feels justified and well balanced, you even have a kid as your partner who comments when you're going over the top, god of war on the other hand just felt tired, like the best they could do was make the gore look better Sony really has to ask itself does Kratos really have four games in him. Violence needs context or it does become either boring or fetishized. The more realistic the graphics get the more realistic the experience gets so perhaps they should try and convey the psychological impact as well as the violence because even in wars soldiers tend to avoid fatal encounters when possible because taking a life isn't all that fun. The option to down an enemy in a non fatal way would be a refreshing touch of realism rather than the execution moves prevalent today that let you kill off already incapacitated foes. It would take more skill to hit someone's hands or legs.

GamerLegend10
GamerLegend10

If anything decapitating someone in a game relaxes me when im pissed off and makes me a more peaceful person.

 

 

marius068
marius068

Stop pissing and moaning about a bit of violence towards a bunch of programs whats better me killing people in a game or playing monopoly while shooting anyone and everyone walking past my house. You want something to cry about go to a hospital full of cancer patients and leave our games alone