All That Ultraviolence Bothers The People Who Make Video Games, Too

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Did all the neck-stabbing, animal-killing, city-destroying carnage at E3 stand out to you this year? Whether you were there in person or not, it was hard not to notice the uptick in egregious on-screen violence at the 2012 edition of the expo and that rising trend dominated much of the talk coming out in the aftermath of the show.


Hell, even the high-powered folks behind some of the show's biggest games and platforms found themselves surprised at the amount gore and pain doled out at E3. In a recent interview with Games Industry International, Warren Spector says that the following:

The ultraviolence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. 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.

Spector's currently working on Epic Mickey 2 but once upon a time he himself helped make Deus Ex, a first-person game with its own share of violent gameplay. But the approach that he and his Ion Storm colleagues took was a bit different, he says:

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.

Aside from Spector, Microsoft exec and longtime games industry insider Phil Harrison said that he was also taken aback by all the ultraviolence in an Edge interview:

"I was surprised, I must admit, at some of the games. I think it's an inevitable progression of visual reality and visceral immersion that games can get quite ultra-realistic.


Harrison's less worried, though, because he feels other offerings can counteract violent games as far as the big picture is concerned:

"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."


At a sensory overload extravaganza like E3, loud, noisy and shocking tends to win the day. The goal of the gameplay demo, trailers and booth babes is to turn attendees' heads and steal their attention from competing games and publishers. But what both Spector and Harrison's comments have in common is a sense that the relationship between what gets prominently shown at E3 and what the video game medium is capable of is proportionately off.



I think the violence in games has reached an over-saturation point, where just about every game with "blockbuster" status written all over it requires it. That said, I did think some games handled it better than others.

The Last of Us was very visceral, but also had this uncomfortable feeling that went along with it. I thought that was appropriate to both the setting and the violence we were seeing, it's a fight to stay alive and it was portrayed accurately. I think that's how violence in video games should come across when used. It's very authentic and feels a lot better than just going for what amounts to the shock shot.

I also thought watch_dogs was alright, it was still kind of pedestrian but there were moments where you really understood what this violence meant. That's what I think is important, you are not just killing nameless people. It has context and meaning.

Hopefully we start trending in that direction, while also cutting down overall on the violence. That would be ideal.