Spec Ops writer: "Violent games are creatively too easy"

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#1 Posted by 1PMrFister (3134 posts) -

Source

Spec Ops: The Line writer Walt Williams believes violent games are, creatively speaking, too easy. Speaking today during a Game Developers Conference panel, Williams lamented the ubiquitous use of killing in many first-person shooters, saying such actions have become not only mundane, but also run-of-the-mill, and at times even used as filler

"We're in an industry full of very intelligent, knowledgeable, and progressive people. It's getting harder and harder for us to play these games and to look at them critically and say, 'This is OK.' This makes sense, especially as we get older," Williams said. "I would like to see less violent games out there. Not because they're bad or wrong, but because I think creatively they're too easy."

Williams' talk was focused on contextualizing violence through narrative, using Spec Ops: The Line as an example. He said it was remarkable that Spec Ops: The Line ever came to market, given the experimental nature of the title.

"Honestly, the game was very much an experiment. One that, to this point, I'm kind of really surprised that it ever made it to the shelves," Williams said.

Williams said he is unsure where writing for shooters should go in the future, but suggested that creating more hopeful characters would be a good start.

"Where do you go after doing a game like this? How can you make another shooterthat leaves your characters arguably alive? I think we need to get to a point where we can move back to maybe trying to write charactersthat are a bit more hopeful. I think that might be a good first step," he said.

Williams might be stating the obvious here, but I think the point he brings up is still valid. Games with heavy violence or instant gratification are, were, and always will be the go-to games for a good majority of gamers, but it would still be nice to see more games handle violence in a more mature manner. This industry has plenty of room for both mindless instant-gratification games and more thought-provoking projects.

But what say you, PGD? Do you agree with him? Disagree? Don't care? Most importantly, [spoiler] do you feel like a hero yet? [/spoiler]

#2 Posted by c_rakestraw (14615 posts) -

He's right.

Violence is in the majority of games. Obviously doesn't take much though to work it in. May still be effective, but as a creative medium, it really stagnates its potential. Kinda crazy how games have come so far and they still lazily use violence as means of interactivity. You'd think there'd be more options available.

#3 Posted by Black_Knight_00 (18404 posts) -
He's right, but he's missing the point of killing in videogames: it's cathartic, it responds to the primal need for dominance of the human male. The moment you start to make us think about whether or not it's morally debatable, it loses part of its catharsis factor. Give us a game with complex moral dilemmas, yes, but give us plenty of very bad people to kill in the process. The best of both worlds.
#4 Posted by PannicAtack (21021 posts) -
Spec Ops was great. I'm totally on-board for more games that don't revel in wanton brutality. That's why I'm looking forward to Thief and A Bird Story.
#5 Posted by MrGeezer (56219 posts) -

Source

Spec Ops: The Line writer Walt Williams believes violent games are, creatively speaking, too easy. Speaking today during a Game Developers Conference panel, Williams lamented the ubiquitous use of killing in many first-person shooters, saying such actions have become not only mundane, but also run-of-the-mill, and at times even used as filler

"We're in an industry full of very intelligent, knowledgeable, and progressive people. It's getting harder and harder for us to play these games and to look at them critically and say, 'This is OK.' This makes sense, especially as we get older," Williams said. "I would like to see less violent games out there. Not because they're bad or wrong, but because I think creatively they're too easy."

Williams' talk was focused on contextualizing violence through narrative, using Spec Ops: The Line as an example. He said it was remarkable that Spec Ops: The Line ever came to market, given the experimental nature of the title.

"Honestly, the game was very much an experiment. One that, to this point, I'm kind of really surprised that it ever made it to the shelves," Williams said.

Williams said he is unsure where writing for shooters should go in the future, but suggested that creating more hopeful characters would be a good start.

"Where do you go after doing a game like this? How can you make another shooterthat leaves your characters arguably alive? I think we need to get to a point where we can move back to maybe trying to write charactersthat are a bit more hopeful. I think that might be a good first step," he said.1PMrFister

Williams might be stating the obvious here, but I think the point he brings up is still valid. Games with heavy violence or instant gratification are, were, and always will be the go-to games for a good majority of gamers, but it would still be nice to see more games handle violence in a more mature manner. This industry has plenty of room for both mindless instant-gratification games and more thought-provoking projects.

But what say you, PGD? Do you agree with him? Disagree? Don't care? Most importantly, [spoiler] do you feel like a hero yet? [/spoiler]

Oh, I agree with him entirely. Again, that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with violent games. I like them, they are fun. But still, I can pop in highly praised games such as the Fallouts or Final Fantasies or Metal Gear Solids or Bioshocks, and most of my time is spent gunning down nameless faceless bad guys who don't matter one bit and are really only there to give me something to shoot or stab or kill with fire. Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But why is that so prevalent? Because it's f***ing easy. Probably the single easiest way to generate involvement is to create a menacing army of bad guys and then satisfy the player once enough of the bad guys have become dead. And it's not just games either, go back and watch Die Hard and Aliens and try to keep track of the dead bodies. Just to point out, I never played Spec Ops: The Line. Regardless, I absolutely agree with what he is SAYING. We can extend this beyond even "realistic" shooters. Hell, even Mario stomped on goombas and shot fireballs. Even Dig Dug pumped compressed air into his enemies until they f***ing exploded into what should have been a huge gory mess. Making compelling games that doesn't involve killing the $*** out of something IS really hard. It's also really hard to make games that involve killing the $*** out of something, and making the killing actually relevant and more than just "filler".
#6 Posted by MrGeezer (56219 posts) -
He's right, but he's missing the point of killing in videogames: it's cathartic, it responds to the primal need for dominance of the human male. The moment you start to make us think about whether or not it's morally debatable, it loses part of its catharsis factor. Give us a game with complex moral dilemmas, yes, but give us plenty of very bad people to kill in the process. The best of both worlds.Black_Knight_00
The thing is, that really limits the potential of games. Morally debatable? I don't think it's even about that. I can watch Die Hard and not be bothered with the morals of all that killing. Why? Because it served the story, it worked. Same with Aliens. Super Mario Bros didn't seem morally debatable to me either. Yet...I bought Bioshock 2 last night. I've only played an hour and a half of it, but I've already shot the hell out of at least a hundred men and women who were only there to keep me entertained. I thought the Avengers was a really fun movie, but the body count in that was ridiculous. It degraded into a video game style killfest where it's like, "there's an Alien, kill him!" And again, there's nothing wrong with that. I love that stuff, it's great, it's fun, yadda yadda yadda. The thing is this...any time you go watch a violent movie at the cinema, there's also probably a movie playing in which no one dies, no one gets critically injured and has to fight off waves of enemies. Oh sure, there's CONFLICT. But "conflict" doesn't inherently take the form of "these are the bad guys, you win win you kill enough of them." And I'm sure someone will say, "that's different. Movies are passive and games are active. How else are we supposed to keep gamers engaged for hours on end without giving them something to stomp or shoot or stab?" But that just reinforces my point. In movies or books, it's comparatively easy to get away with hours and hours of dialogue and/or narration without anyone getting killed or hurt. In games, that usually doesn't happen. An "active" experience tends to require tangible foes, and that usually requires someone to get hurt (or worse). I'm not saying that one can't break that mold. I'm not saying that one can't make the deaths and injuries matter in more than a superficial way. But doing that is very f***ing hard, which is exactly what he was saying.
#7 Posted by Black_Knight_00 (18404 posts) -
[QUOTE="Black_Knight_00"]He's right, but he's missing the point of killing in videogames: it's cathartic, it responds to the primal need for dominance of the human male. The moment you start to make us think about whether or not it's morally debatable, it loses part of its catharsis factor. Give us a game with complex moral dilemmas, yes, but give us plenty of very bad people to kill in the process. The best of both worlds.MrGeezer
The thing is, that really limits the potential of games. Morally debatable? I don't think it's even about that. I can watch Die Hard and not be bothered with the morals of all that killing. Why? Because it served the story, it worked. Same with Aliens. Super Mario Bros didn't seem morally debatable to me either. Yet...I bought Bioshock 2 last night. I've only played an hour and a half of it, but I've already shot the hell out of at least a hundred men and women who were only there to keep me entertained. I thought the Avengers was a really fun movie, but the body count in that was ridiculous. It degraded into a video game style killfest where it's like, "there's an Alien, kill him!" And again, there's nothing wrong with that. I love that stuff, it's great, it's fun, yadda yadda yadda. The thing is this...any time you go watch a violent movie at the cinema, there's also probably a movie playing in which no one dies, no one gets critically injured and has to fight off waves of enemies. Oh sure, there's CONFLICT. But "conflict" doesn't inherently take the form of "these are the bad guys, you win win you kill enough of them." And I'm sure someone will say, "that's different. Movies are passive and games are active. How else are we supposed to keep gamers engaged for hours on end without giving them something to stomp or shoot or stab?" But that just reinforces my point. In movies or books, it's comparatively easy to get away with hours and hours of dialogue and/or narration without anyone getting killed or hurt. In games, that usually doesn't happen. An "active" experience tends to require tangible foes, and that usually requires someone to get hurt (or worse). I'm not saying that one can't break that mold. I'm not saying that one can't make the deaths and injuries matter in more than a superficial way. But doing that is very f***ing hard, which is exactly what he was saying.

Thing is: in movies you are a spectator, meaning you witness the hero dominating his enemies and all you can do is cheer him on, whereas in games you feel like you're the one overpowering powerful foes. The brain releases all sorts of pleasant endorphins when we feel like we are in a dominant role, which is why violence is more common in games than it is in movies. Thing is: when facing moral dilemmas about the killing, the effect diminishes, at least for some individuals. Which is not to say that kind of narrative is to be avoided, on the contrary: I love Spec Ops the Line and what it does to your brain, but I think that in order for this kind of narrative to retain its value it should remain the exception: mindless violence against evil served its cathartic purpose for many years and it shouldn't go anywhere.
#8 Posted by MasterTankallex (94 posts) -
I absolutely love Spec Ops: The Line. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next great story he puts out there.
#9 Posted by MrGeezer (56219 posts) -
[QUOTE="Black_Knight_00"] Thing is: in movies you are a spectator, meaning you witness the hero dominating his enemies and all you can do is cheer him on, whereas in games you feel like you're the one overpowering powerful foes. The brain releases all sorts of pleasant endorphins when we feel like we are in a dominant role, which is why violence is more common in games than it is in movies. Thing is: when facing moral dilemmas about the killing, the effect diminishes, at least for some individuals. Which is not to say that kind of narrative is to be avoided, on the contrary: I love Spec Ops the Line and what it does to your brain, but I think that in order for this kind of narrative to retain its value it should remain the exception: mindless violence against evil served its cathartic purpose for many years and it shouldn't go anywhere.

I didn't say it should go anywhere, but don't you feel REALLY disappointed that in this day and age there are still so few alternatives to it? Yes, I feel like I'm the one overpowering foes when I'm in videogames, but isn't it telling in itself that so many videogames are about the player overpowering his obstacles through the use of violence? Again, I never said there was anything wrong with those types of games. But I like a little bit of diversity and options. And although there are exceptions, for the most part the video game industry seems like it's been incapable of broadening itself beyond that. Regardless of if I'm watching or playing as the "hero", why does there need to be a hero? Why do I have to watch (or play as) the hero dominating ANYTHING, and why does that thing so often take the form of "things to kill"?
#10 Posted by Black_Knight_00 (18404 posts) -
[QUOTE="MrGeezer"][QUOTE="Black_Knight_00"] Thing is: in movies you are a spectator, meaning you witness the hero dominating his enemies and all you can do is cheer him on, whereas in games you feel like you're the one overpowering powerful foes. The brain releases all sorts of pleasant endorphins when we feel like we are in a dominant role, which is why violence is more common in games than it is in movies. Thing is: when facing moral dilemmas about the killing, the effect diminishes, at least for some individuals. Which is not to say that kind of narrative is to be avoided, on the contrary: I love Spec Ops the Line and what it does to your brain, but I think that in order for this kind of narrative to retain its value it should remain the exception: mindless violence against evil served its cathartic purpose for many years and it shouldn't go anywhere.

I didn't say it should go anywhere, but don't you feel REALLY disappointed that in this day and age there are still so few alternatives to it? Yes, I feel like I'm the one overpowering foes when I'm in videogames, but isn't it telling in itself that so many videogames are about the player overpowering his obstacles through the use of violence? Again, I never said there was anything wrong with those types of games. But I like a little bit of diversity and options. And although there are exceptions, for the most part the video game industry seems like it's been incapable of broadening itself beyond that. Regardless of if I'm watching or playing as the "hero", why does there need to be a hero? Why do I have to watch (or play as) the hero dominating ANYTHING, and why does that thing so often take the form of "things to kill"?

As I said, it caters to an ancestral need that the overwhelming majority of human males share, actually males in any animal species enjoy playing games of dominance. It's in male nature to desire to violently dominate those who may undermine our position and feeling satisfation in doing so. It's good that we have a way to vent these instincts outside of real life and it's no surprise the industry responds to this primal need more than the more meaningful (but numerically marginal) intellectual and emotional needs. Unfortunate, I agree, but unavoidable.
#11 Posted by MrGeezer (56219 posts) -
[QUOTE="Black_Knight_00"] As I said, it caters to an ancestral need that the overwhelming majority of human males share, actually males in any animal species enjoy playing games of dominance. It's in male nature to desire to violently dominate those who may undermine our position and feeling satisfation in doing so. It's good that we have a way to vent these instincts outside of real life and it's no surprise the industry responds to this primal need more than the more meaningful (but numerically marginal) intellectual and emotional needs. Unfortunate, I agree, but unavoidable.

But violence is far from the only ancestral need. Exploration and discovery are an ancestral need, so are love and companionship. It's also fine for these things to be central elements of a video game, but I'd wager that most people wouldn't want them to be the backbone of just about EVERY video game. I don't think it's even unavoidable, it's just really freaking hard to get away from that. And I certainly don't expect high profile big budget games to do differently. Obviously those games have to sell a LOT, which means playing it safe in many regards.
#12 Posted by Black_Knight_00 (18404 posts) -
[QUOTE="MrGeezer"][QUOTE="Black_Knight_00"] As I said, it caters to an ancestral need that the overwhelming majority of human males share, actually males in any animal species enjoy playing games of dominance. It's in male nature to desire to violently dominate those who may undermine our position and feeling satisfation in doing so. It's good that we have a way to vent these instincts outside of real life and it's no surprise the industry responds to this primal need more than the more meaningful (but numerically marginal) intellectual and emotional needs. Unfortunate, I agree, but unavoidable.

But violence is far from the only ancestral need. Exploration and discovery are an ancestral need, so are love and companionship. It's also fine for these things to be central elements of a video game, but I'd wager that most people wouldn't want them to be the backbone of just about EVERY video game. I don't think it's even unavoidable, it's just really freaking hard to get away from that. And I certainly don't expect high profile big budget games to do differently. Obviously those games have to sell a LOT, which means playing it safe in many regards.

Yeah there are other needs, but (from a developer's point of view) why bother when you can sell violence and sex which are much easier to produce and market? I mean, look at all the gore+boobs games coming in from japan. Which is why I fundamentally agree with the Spec Ops writer: violence is barebone, uncreative material. Yet it serves its shallow instant gratification purpose, let's cut it some slack on the depth aspect.