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?

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Discussion

310 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.

jomipira
jomipira

@poster012 If that was true you should never drive a car in a videogame, have a conversation, walk down the street. If that was true then no soccer player would ever play Fifa, and no military would ever play COD. It seems sexual themes do make you unconfortable...

trollkind
trollkind

 @brylynt The news don't present violence in slow motion with wooshing sounds and sparkling FX and in a close up though but as the misery and tragedy it is. Movies are and I'm so bored with Hollwood these days. Of course there'll be some games that emulate it but you could make a supercut of this year's E3 execution scenes and they would blur into one bloody mess. 2 Years ago all the big game developers seemed to have the same vision now everybody presents their work and it's super awkward as they all showed up with the same thing in slight variations.

ggregd
ggregd

 @Zaika

 Yes, blame those parents who fail to be omniscient and omnipresent in their children's lives.  Or blame the idiot down the street who lets their kid, your kid's friend, do anything they want.  Anyone but the game-makers who want to market more and more extreme violence as their customers get more and more jaded and desensitized to their latest excretions.

 

I'm not in favor of regulation or censorship in any form, but your attitude is a cop-out.  Parents have the primary responsibility and the primary decision is theirs, but if they're the only ones who are willing to enforce their decisions, they're next to worthless.  What are they supposed to do, lock their kids away and home school them?  I can probably guess what you would say about people who choose to do that...

 

Violence has a place in gaming, but it's disproportionately represented in what the developers are currently offering.

50218211
50218211

 @PSR8000 My nephew has behavioural issues, SERIOUS ones which cause him to repeat violent behaviour he sees in games and on TV.  He is now in permanent residential care with a very high end school for special needs kids with emotional and mental difficulties, and even they are almost unable to cope with his problems.  The fact he has recently cracked a security glass window in his room which is supposed to be unbreakable slightly worries me.

 

Now he's almost 13 and has outgrown all the typical kids entertainment which is either low or non-violent its a nightmare to get any films/games for him which are "entertaining" for someone his age and don't have swearing, nudity or violence.  Almost our entire entertainment culture is violent. 

 

Eventually we are gonna have to bite the bullet and let him watch the stuff he wants to see and is old enough for, but the problems which will follow aren't something I want to be around to witness.

 

The major problem is that we can take him to a shop to look for a new film/game but we have to reject 99.9% of the stuff he wants purely because its not suitable, so he ends up frustrated and angry because he's bored out of his skull watching stuff thats just not entertaining for him, as hes had to watch it all 100's of times before, and most of the other kids he knows are allowed to view/play almost whatever they want.

 

Its a slightly extreme example, but its still a valid situation for many parents out there, and slightly sad that our culture is so obsessed with sex and violence for almost all its entertainment.

david1230
david1230

 @PSR8000 not true look at the xbox, all you see are kid friendly games on that system aside the two other games for hardcore which is all xbox has left, Gears and Halo.

jomipira
jomipira

@ggregd Parenting isn't to control your kid. The stop him from everything you are opposed. It's about talking to him, teaching him, making him understand. It's about explaining your views on the world, maybe to know he was playing GTA4 and afterwards sitting down with him. Your kid will be exposed to things you don't want. In games and real life. He will be exposed to sex, and drugs, and alcohol, and cigarettes. It will happen. And he needs to be prepared to deal with it.

50218211
50218211

 @ggregd We hear from game retail staff all the time that parents are buying violent games for their kids.  My friends and family are always hearing from their kids "X friend who is 12 has GTA4/Pulp Fiction and is allowed to play/watch it until midnight, so why cant I?"

 

Parents are NOT responsible enough about games and violence, and whilst I'm not at all convinced that violent games breed violent kids (I started gaming age 6 in 1983 and am not at all violent) there is no way I would want my own kids playing that sort of content whilst they are under my care and supervision. 

 

I accept the fact kids will eventually get to see that stuff early anyway - I used to watch stuff like robocop, Nightmare on Elm Street, Predator, Terminator and Lethal Weapon when I was about 15 round my friends house and there was no way MY parents could stop that happening, but it was my friends parents who were at fault.

 

So again, it still comes back to bad parenting.

mlcarter815
mlcarter815

 @50218211 We have a capitalist system. Game and movie makers only make what the market demands. You can't expect them to cater to an extreme corner case. 

jomipira
jomipira

@50218211 @PSR8000 That's not slightly extreme. That's truly extreme. It's like arguing about beverages and using an AA meeting to exemplify.

c0kemusheen
c0kemusheen

 @david1230 Gears, Halo, Splinter Cell Conviction, Minecraft, The Witcher 2. I don't call those "kid friendly" games..

PSR8000
PSR8000

 @david1230 Yea sorry you're right.  I think what I was meant to say was, because violent games are available.  Kids are always going to want the more violent game, which now days, are more readily available to the consumer

trollkind
trollkind

 @mlcarter815 I was the only tech savvy of the family and it was the only PC and I was the only user. Had an Atari ST long before that so it was a natural progression. There was a phone line in my room since it was in a seperate part of our house, then I just used a time based, no account deal that showed up as calls on the bill. :p

As a kid you become an expert on doing your own stuff on your own time. I got used to watching TV at night without sound.

mlcarter815
mlcarter815

 @trollkind Why give a kid a computer hooked to the internet in the privacy of their own room? When I was growing up, we just had a family computer in the living room where everyone could see what you were doing. 

trollkind
trollkind

 @jomipira  @ggregd Especially with the internet, you can't control the content anway. At 12 when I got my first internet connection in my room I was instantly searching for the sickest things I could find, just to see what's out there. Nothing I saw seemed to really bother me though and I'm not interested in internet filth at all now, at 12 you seem to actually be very desensiblized, only when you're actually become an adult you slowly get perspective and context. Thankfully I had very open parents and we had a lot of vacations with a lot of time to talk with them about life. I think it's most important that you tell them that the world isn't made out of the sickest things you can find but they are just that, erxtremes and therefore they seem the most interesting and most talked about. Also, porn is not sex, I watched my first hardcore porn at 11 on a VHS from a friends parent's (not them doing it) and I had no concept of what was really going on. Now that porn is traded around on mobile phones in school yards like they are Pokemon cards, it's important to talk about that before the kids try to emulate what they perceive as normal, or the way "to do it".

I recently talked with a 12 year old about cocaine with his parents and he was surprisingly cool about it, knowing what it was and that he had no interest in it. Kids and teens sure need to find their own ways but I could live with a few less regrets about my past.

PSR8000
PSR8000

 @mlcarter815  The thing is.  There's so much violence in games now, it's normal.  Which  is quite scary,  as kids growing up today, are going to see this as the norm, and the whole shock factor that once was when I was growing up, e.g Mortal Kombat etc is pretty much no more.  Who knows what effect this will have on the next generation of society..  

mlcarter815
mlcarter815

 @PSR8000 Of course kids will always want to see the more violent game. Teen boys love excitement and violence is exciting.