Have you become more sensitive about violence in videogames? (spoiler: I have)


#1

Hey, I’ve just finished Read Dead Redemption and some stuff in that game really bothered me, mostly the entire México part. I barely continued the game after doing the first two De Santa’s missions, they make you go and do some horrible stuff in there. But that made me think about how I’ve become sensitive about violence in games (well, in general, really.).

Another example is the new DOOM, I like the looks and vibe of that game, but I don’t feel the adrenaline of the action, maybe I just moved out of that sorta thing or maybe I kinda died inside.

But, what about you? Do you feel more sensitive about the use of violence in games and how do you feel about it?


#2

Kind of, but in my case it’s more impatience, boredom, and frustration versus being outright bothered. 1st person shooters tend to get old for me super fast. In RPGs like Fallout or Skyrim, I’ll avoid combat encounters not because of skill but because I’m burned out on “the killing.”

The only time I was really really bothered was the torture scene in GTA V, and the car ride following that. I hated having to use every torture implement to proceed, and I hated having to watch the character suffer so much pain. And then Trevor brushed it all away as something he did to save the guy’s life and…well…I soured on the rest of the game.

Sometimes in horde modes in games I’ll get really bored of having to kill waves of enemies after the first or second round, which makes for a frustrating rest of the game.


#3

Red Dead I get. I’ve become more sensitive to the ethics of said violence in games, but DOOM is ALL about killing. Those demons are 100% bad, I don’t care at all about killing them. When it’s people though, sure. I noticed I never went on killing sprees in open world games for the sake of fun like I did when I was a teenager when I played GTA 5 and Watch Dogs 2. In fact, in WD2 I tried to kill nobody during the game.


#4

I hestitate to say sensitive, but definitely more aware of it. It has become a factor in choosing how I spend my gaming time. Anecdotal at best, but it’s led me to a LOT of games I never would have enjoyed, because I thought I only liked shooters, or discounted non-violent games as boring. (Usually based on a lack of multiplayer.)


#5

Definitely, though it’s hard to pin down exactly what I am and am not able to stomach. Something like DOOM doesn’t bug me at all because I find it easy to compartmentalize a sci-fi story full of monsters- I also find it easier when the violence is as over-the-top as it is there; Like, a shotgun blowing an imp’s head off and spraying blood everywhere is easier for me to watch than, say, a person being stabbed. (Important: That’s not me passing judgement on you for finding DOOM uncomfortable- just trying to reason why I’m ok with it.)

I think what I have become more sensitive to is- like you mention- torture; and more graphically realistic violence. Also if the violence feels sexualized at all, even a whiff, that sends me away pretty quickly.

(CW: Early-game spoiler for Outlast 2, also a description of a pretty graphic scene)[spoiler]I got about an hour or two into the game this week and reached a point where an inconsequential female character is tortured by being stretched on a rack (all as part of interrogating her husband, by the way -_-). The scene itself is pretty tough- there’s another character standing in front of your hiding spot so you hear the torture more than you see it. Then when the scene ends you’re able to come out and see the woman is left on the rack. I won’t get get into the nitty-gritty but it’s a rough sight, and then for no reason at all, one of her breasts is out. I’m not going to explicitly accuse the devs of "sexualizing"
an already awful scene, but it was hard to avoid a really gross feeling about the whole thing.

If this were 10 years ago and I was 17, I’d probably have been all “Aw man so edgy! Awesome!” But today my reaction was just “Yeah, ok, I’m probably done with this game.”[/spoiler]


#6

I don’t think I’ve become more sensitive to violence itself, but I’ve definitely become a lot more uncomfortable with the political context of a lot of violence that games have you commit, whether that comes in the form of modern military troop worship, or fantasy settings that uncritically task you with murdering countless members of “savage” races, or any game that features the mentally ill as violent enemies to be cut down.


#7

In a way, sure. I loved DOOM, but it’s so far removed from real violence perpetrated against real people. I’ve become much more wary of unearned violence. Unearned for the people writing it, I mean. The biggest recent example for me would be Watch Dogs 2, and I’m sure anyone who’s played it knows what I’m talking about. Walker and Kunzelman wrote a piece on it back in December.

Mafia III hits a similar note of brutalizing its characters within the first two hours of gameplay, but it’s earned. It makes sense. And the game doesn’t forget about it ten minutes later, which matters, unsurprisingly.

In Watch Dogs 2, one instance of violence practically ruined the game for me, and very little of it happened on-screen. Now, blaming it on the act of violence itself is drastically over-simplifying why that shit was garbage, but I think it serves the point I’m trying to make.


#8

I’ve always been sensitive to violence in games I think. There definitely was a period where I’d play a lot more violent games just because that’s what everyone in my social circle was playing, but I’ve always been the type to try and go for non-lethal ways to do things in games if I can.

It’s not even really “shock” value or anything like that, I mean whatever there’s so much Violence around that there’s not much shock value to it. More that it’s just not really Fun for me.


#9

I’ve found that I have grown to find a different appreciation for violence in media, in that it has gone from being as much that prepubescant gutteral catharsis that you get from playing god of war as a 13 year old, to be more akin to sort of morbid fascination with the absurdity of most violence in media. If anything I think I’ve grown more desensitized to most attempts at using violence in games in that it honestly just bores me on a visceral level. I think you can only see demons get dismembered so many times before the feedback loop numbs your senses and it just becomes routine. At the same time I also think that games that try to leverage their violence in order to solicit an emotional response, have just become so predictable and wrote that none of it just feels genuine any more. In the end you find yourself in this absurd situation where you are constantly bombarded with these absolutely insane amounts of violence and it feels like watching a bunch of ants fight each other. It just seems so childish and inconsequential to me.


#10

My sense of when violence is justified in a make-believe world is definitely changed. Like @Hyetal said, being violent in Watch Dogs 2 really irked me. I basically had to head-canon those acts out of the game to continue. I find myself in a state of cognitive dissonance for a lot of games when it comes to violence. Uncharted always gets brought up in these examples, but that one for whatever reason has never bothered me. I suppose it matters how grounded the work is or to what degree I’m supposed to believe in characters as vulnerable flesh people. In Uncharted, I don’t have that feeling.

I’m not sure what triggers that and the accompanying comfort/discomfort either, because it’s not just whether the characters are realistic since UC4 characters are super well written. Maybe it’s the way the role of violence is positioned within the world. For instance, in the Witcher 3 I will kill people who I find rotten. In The Wolf Among Us I will tear someone’s head off. In those worlds I’m postured as someone who’s granted authority by the fiction to dole out violence as I see fit. I do feel like if violence was forced on me rather than it being a choice, I could feel pretty differently.

It’s also a little weird to realize I enjoy the fantasy of that role, the one who decides violence is justified. Traditionally I’ve been a pretty passive person, but I feel like the political climate of the last few years has changed my stance on the validity of violence. It’s something video games make all too easy to mow through without self-reflection, too.


#11

I do feel increasingly disturbed by the violence in games over time, but I also think that’s on purpose in a lot of cases (for better or worse). I feel like there’s been a trend over the last several years to make games with fun, violent combat, and a not so subtle message that you should feel guilty about enjoying all this violence, or at least pointing out that your protagonist is pretty messed up. (Examples include GTA 4, Red Dead Redemption, Far Cry 3, Bioshock Infinite, goodness knows how many Call of Duty games…)

I’m guessing this trend is a way to “have your cake and eat it too” – let players act out disturbing fantasies, but also try to tell a story with anything more nuanced to say than “being powerful sure is fun.” (Once upon a time I think it was also a way of staving off attempts to regulate/censor, but since all those bills got struck down in court, that seems like less of a concern now.)

I am getting kind of tired of being made to feel guilty or squeamish about stuff that was clearly designed to also be fun, though. Make me squeamish in a horror game, sure, but now I’ve played plenty of games where – gasp! – I was the real monster all along. I’m ready for other ways of contextualizing violence in first-person narratives.


#12

I’m not sure. I don’t think I’ve ever really had the adrenaline from a solo (action) game. It feels a lot like an action movie: I can enjoy the spectacle and the speed and the technical accomplishment and even get wrapped up in the story but I’m never going to feel me heart racing. Of course, you switch the genres to horror and I can find it really physically affecting. But I’d not be able to notice the absence of that in Doom (2016) because I never felt it in Doom (1993). Multiplayer can (but not always) get a lot closer to horror, especially in a LAN environment where we can talk together while we play a tense round of something.

But, on the other half of the questions: I’m not sure. There’s certainly something about to depictions getting more realistic and less comedic (Soldier of Fortune was inherently comedic at the time, even as it went for dismemberment and gore) but also I’ll watch a movie where squibs fake a real person being shot in a graphic detail games still can’t match. So that can’t be it, because I still watch movies and TV that doesn’t avert the camera from gore.

I actually really appreciate the deployment of the torture scene in GTA V - it feels like one of the few instances in that story where the writers are not just going for the broadest, crudest laugh and actually want to use the tools they have to make a point. Yes, it’s ultimately part of a broader nihilistic take-down of everything (so of course government thuggery and the media’s glorification of that violence gets picked up but not as part of a coherent ethical stance but rather part of a scattershot attack on everything) but for that extended scene, I was nodding along (and disappointed by some of the critical commentary that effectively said “we just can’t know why this scene is here or what the developers meant” - they effectively spoke to camera for the entire of the drive to the airport monologue to make sure players understood the meaning of that section).

I’m certainly more aware of the problematic framing of violence is many games, but also I’m not an American so some of that didn’t take long to pick up. It doesn’t take a French game where you shoot a load of US citizens to make me realise that lots of games involve you as a US solder or contracted person filling that role who shoots a lot of civilians as part of the plot. The entire of mainstream movie and TV action is basically, “come watch this US show/movie about how the US are really the good guys when they kill lots of people [insert your own commentary on how far from organised propaganda this is]”.


#13

I think a lot of it comes down to how much of yourself you take into the game, which can also speak to how the developer has designed the game. Like, think of the Red Alert games. You could literally drop fucking nuke on the opposing troops and just throw foot soldiers into the meatgrinder. There is a ridiculous amount of death and violence in that game, but you are at no point insentivized to pay it any thought through the gameplay. Now consider a game like Valiant Hearts, a game that similarly deals with war and death. However, despite a much much smaller on-screan body count than Red Alert, and despite a much cartoonish visual aesthetic, the violence that you do encounter in Valiant Hearts is much more hard hitting and significant than any number of Nukes in Red Alert. The difference lies in the game design and how Valiant Hearts very much insentivizes the player to take ownership of the characters and be invested in them. I would argue that this sense of ownership takes place in any game and we as gamers value this sense of ownership differently from person to person. Growing more sensitive to violence might very well be a product taking a lot of ownership in the characters one usually plays as, and when confronted with a game that doesn’t necessarily expect or maybe even wants the player to take that kind of ownership of the character, it creates a dissonance between game and player.

Or maybe I’m just talking out of my ass.


#14

I think when it comes to video game violence and how it’s represented I’m never as focused on the act as much as the result. Ever since playing Goldeneye for the N64, the bulletholes that are put into enemies are what captured my attention. I mean, eventually the bodies will disappear but you can make their uniforms as red or as clean as you wanted before they would do that. I think games that show the impact like that have much greater effect than shooting something or stomping on something and then it disappearing. Even the recent Call of Duty games have bullets that appear to cause a diminishing red mist but not that much damage to be shown. (World at War excluded)

This type of discussion also gets into the characteristics of rag dolls vs character death animations and how in depth developers get with the character models that most of the time have no use to the player anymore. The Red Dead character models had a lot of thought gone into them due to the whole ‘shooting someone in the head or with a more powerful gun will have different impacts on how the bodies look after’ mechanic. Often times this type of work goes more into humanoid character or npc models rather than non-human ones. Although I must say I probably never avoided violence in a video game more than when I played Horizon, a game where a lot of attention went into the models of the creatures who can take damage (not as much as the humans but hey it was rated T so who cares).

I think looking at the difference between GTA 4 and GTA 5 in terms of details to the dead npc and player models says a lot about how different the developers intentions were with the two games. GTA 5’s violence felt much more binary when analyzing the aftermath of whatever the player does (cutscenes and all excluded). And if you look at any Rockstar game with violence in it you see this aspect differing apart from maybe the first couple 3d GTA games.

I wouldn’t say that focusing on the models of the dead takes away or detracts from my experience with a game but it usually makes me think about what I’m doing more without having to shoehorn in any dialogue about how the /character/ is feeling.


#15

I’m completely busted in this regard now because I can’t even play Kirby games anymore without getting genuinely upset about how in Kirby 64, Waddle Dee’s your boy, but Kirby thoughtlessly kills a zillion of them in other games for absolutely no reason.

I pursue non-lethal options in any game I play.


#16

I’ve become more bothered by certain types of videogame violence over time. Most of it doesn’t bother me. DOOM doesn’t bother me, fantasy stuff doesn’t bother me. It’s the depictions of real world stuff that have started to lose their appeal. Example: As a teenager I thought Max Payne was great. I loved shooting the shit out of those people. Today, a game like Max Payne 3 carries no appeal whatsoever, and a big part of that is the gun violence. I don’t want to go into slow motion and put fifteen bullet holes into someone, and then fifteen more when they’re dead. It’s not a gross out “i’m going to vomit” type reaction, it just feels kind of … off. Kind of wrong.

Same with with GTA. As a teenager, I could play GTA3 for hours on end not even playing any missions, just murdering people and running from the cops. The modern day version of that game holds no appeal for me.

I’m currently playing Battlefield 1. Some of the melee animations are particularly nasty; kicking a guy in the face and then crushing his head with your trench mace, stuff like that. For some reason though, it doesn’t really bother me. As odd as it sounds, world war 1 feels like fantasy to me. I feel differently about Battlefield 4. The real-world modern feel of that game’s violence is off-putting.

I think what it all comes down to for me (and many others) is growing up and realizing that we live in a time/world where real life gun violence fucks up so many people’s lives. To me games like GTA5 and Battlefield 4 aren’t fantasy, they’re just uncomfortable. I never thoughti’d reach this point, but here I am.


#17

I’ve always been super sensitive to it. As a young kid, I would just start crying if my older brother put Mortal Kombat in the SNES or started playing Diablo. I have a severe empathy for fictional characters, so any game with a lot of blood, gore, or violence is an immediate no-go. No horror games for me, off the bat. I was maybe the one person that turned the blood and gore toggles on UT2K4 off every time I started the game. I also had a really hard time with TF2 until I found a way to sort of mentally justify or compartmentalize the comic over-the-top nature of the game.


#18

It feels weird writing a “yes” here because like, I loved DOOM and one of my all-time favs is Nuclear Throne. Both of those games are extremely violent, in terms of both combat and aesthetics. But I’ve definitely gotten a lot more sensitive to the context of violence in games with age, and a lot less interested in violence as the default mode of a game. Folks above have talked a bit about real-world contexts so I’ll skip over those here.

But like, the Nuclear Throne tilesets make for visually interesting arenas and not much else. Violence is what that world is built for and it’s the mode of play that makes sense to design for and interact through. I get really annoyed, however, when devs create a legitimately interesting setting that hints at society and culture, and only uses it as a shooting gallery. It’s cliche to cite Bioshock here but tough shit, this is what they did. EDIT: actually no, you know what, my real offender in this category is latter-day BioWare RPGs

Or for another example, one of my lasting beefs with grand strategies like Crusader Kings 2 is that they technically allow you to play however you want… but the games’ designs frequently make conquest the only interesting path. Court intrigue and diplomacy can be very interesting but you need to conquer your way to a certain size to really enjoy them.


#19

I’ve become more sensitive to violence as being the staple, “big budget” video game narrative device, the sort of thing that Yoko Taro has been talking about for a while now and the sort of thing that $60 games are going to have to find a way around at some point.

Ethically? No, and probably never will. I don’t feel an ethical responsibility to rhetorical performances. When I see something like “Hatred” I’m more inclined to just think “yea this is dumb” and not play it, as opposed to being grossed out or offended.


#20

I feel this way too.

The Uncharted series has a ludicrous body count, but the violence feels notional. Yeah, those people are dead, but they were never really any more real than the aliens in Space Invaders. Blips on screen. And that’s by design.

Compare that to the first fight in the most recent Resident Evil.

Some of this is videogames failing to get their genres, I think. GTA so wants to be a Peckinpah or Tarantino movie but is too sprawling to get it right so it just feels like a thousand things happening and then horrific violence and cynicism. I think Red Dead worked this way too, Mexico felt like a fumble.

Conversely, I love the Condemned games, I love Martyrs and I wish more videogames were violent like those games/that movie are/is violent.