This Memorial Day weekend was the perfect time to reflect upon the increasingly gratuitous levels of violence in video games. Although violence is a fairly cliché subject when discussing issues in the media, in certain ways as technology has improved, the ability to realistically depict gore in games has become a necessity.
The reasons for this are many: shock value increases marketability, realistic graphics require visceral depictions for verisimilitude, and the simple fact that the most popular genres concern people killing each other with guns. In particular, first-person shooters, many of which tend to follow the Call of Duty model of shock-and-awe, relish in the game of one-upmanship.This depiction of violence could almost be classified as irresponsible, given the relative lack of control on sales of games to children and teenagers.
It is fair to say that violence has an overall negative impact on culture and yet it is very much ingrained in the human condition. The issue is not with the interactivity of video games (an argument legislators like to reference), but rather the cavalier way that it is inserted into almost every mainstream videogame. There is no real need for such disturbing, unstylized violence in mass media.
Although legislation often focuses on the specific level of interactivity inherent to controller input, watching a horror film requires just as much culpability and participation. Spectating is a choice, and violent images of any kind can increase the level of aggressive thoughts in people, as found in a number of studies.
With that said, violence is a fundamental component of life. Action necessitates reaction, and nature tends to arm animals with a mix of lethal abilities and short tempers that often leads to bloodshed. What has become quite clear with the latest round of AAA titles is that cases of extreme violence are not only common, but expected. Some titles do offer parental controls that minimize gore or the option to skip the most extreme content.
I’m not here to argue that there shouldn’t be violent videogames, but rather that game developers should take responsibility for what they put out into mass culture, and craft narratives that earn the violence. Games are often guilty of displaying violence without consequence. Truthfully, gratuitous violence doesn’t belong in any level of media.
Videogame graphics have truly reached stunning levels of realism, and games such as the Dead Space series and Left4Dead take glee in casually rendering decapitations, disembowelment, and other dreadful things. Games like Bioshock, Skyrim, and Condemned invite gamers to cave skulls in with brutal abandon. Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, and Max Payne 3 all feature incredible eruptions of blood that are provoked by the merest hint of a shot to the head. Fallout 3 celebrated ultra-violence, with a unique kill-cam that, paired with a Bloody Carnage perk, lead to possibly the most violent scenarios ever depicted in gaming.
There was a time when overtly violent videogames were widely decried and that has not changed. What did change is the first-generation of gamers grew up and grew complacent. At the expense of preaching, it would be beneficial if videogame makers took a more thoughtful, considered approach to violence if they truly want to be taken seriously. This is still a young industry but one that has far overtaken the film industry, and one that is potentially having a devastating cumulative effect on the psyche of anyone who experiences them.