So what's the final goal for realistic depictions of violence in videogames?

I posted this on ResetEra, but I understand Waypoint may be more appropriate for this sort of topic given the thought that goes into some of the discussions on here.

In one of the more recent interviews (…ng-team-behind?utm_term=.bd0zEk2E9#.slDNvM2vG) Naughty Dog mentioned using reference footage to emulate actual gun violence.

Yeah, there’s that moment when the woman dips her head below the car and you see her in frame for a second and then you shoot her and her face changes immediately. It goes slack, and the first time I saw that I was like, Whoa, that’s a very effective, very small thing. It’s just BOOM.

ND: A lot of that— our co–art director John Sweeney, when we did a similar scene like that, we had a lot of gore and stuff shoot out of the back of the head, and the thing he kept fighting was, That’s not realistic. Actually it’s very subtle and the blood doesn’t start pouring until you hit the ground. And there’s all these things that make it real and make it more disturbing, and that’s really what we want to capture.

At his point I am questioning what the final objective of emulating realistic violence in a videogame format. Is the eventual goal to look like blurry camera footage of death found on darker corners of the internet? I just find it concerning. Back in the day we all joked about “murder simulators”, but now with reference footage and technology we can actually simulate the reactions of someone getting murdered. But why? Is it worth putting something out like this into the videogame culture that is still largely marketed to kids and teens?

I absolutely understand that there are many games out their that are for adults, but one way or another kids end up playing them. I think though the difference is now we are well beyond violence of older games like GTA3, DOOM, and Mortal Kombat, games that were held back by the tech to depict violence in a realistic manner. Now with the wonders of technology, animation, photogrammetry, and reference footage, you could in a sense realistically depict a murder, and now a major game developer is dipping their toes into this with the backing of a AAA budget.

I’m not sure what this all means, I feel like the research of how videogame violence can affect people is quickly getting outdated by the tech. From what I could find the latest research used GTAV as its “violent videogame” to measure levels of aggression changes, but from what I played of GTAV it contextualizes the violence in a satirical parallel universe where violence is not treated with the same level of seriousness as it would in the real world. Mortal Kombat similarly bases its violence of schlocky 70s horror splatterhouse in which there is a certain level of cartoonishness to it all. These studies also seemed to focus on metrics of aggression rather than other metrics such as desensitization and each mention lack of research into long term impacts.

Now Last of Us 2 will be one of the few games to play it straight, focusing on the disgust that violence brings. Which on one hand as an adult I can appreciate as it is an interesting experiment at play, but on the other hand do not think that level of thought would be held by a teen or kid playing it. At some point the violence is going to become white noise over 20hrs, and I am not sure what it means to turn realistic depiction of violence informed by real world reference footage into gameplay mechanics. It feels like Naughty Dog is playing with fire here and we are taking another step forward as far as violent games are concerned.

Curious if I am alone in this thinking. Are others out there thinking this is a step forward that may go beyond traditional debates and answers over videogame violence?

Movies. You’re talking about movies. Huge budget, R rating in the US but probably 15 rating in Europe half the time (because the 18 rating is a bit more “actual nasty or potentially disturbing” rather than just “has blood or swears or nudity to some extent”). Depictions of real world violence with realistic presentations are absolutely stock for movies and always have been (war movies, depictions of any frontier, many horror films or thrillers, etc) thanks to the tireless work of practical fx artists, stunt teams, etc.

While the “traditional debate” frames working towards the same things practical fx artists and then digital fx artists have been working towards in Hollywood forever as “like a snuff movie” (at least that seems to be the implication) then I doubt we can actually have an adult debate about this topic because that framing it too toxic and skewed to ever work as a jumping off point.

Imagine if every single episode of CSI was protested, huge groups aiming to prevent the filming of it. Why would that even occur to people to be against? Have we got some people interested in the dangerous effects of media that portrays fake science that creeps into the normalisation of dodgy science in real court rooms? Oh no, they’re just really against “in a sense realistically depict[ing] a murder”. We would probably view such a protest as outright comical. Because of course cop shows depict murders, dead bodies, the lot. That’s genre staples for a basic evening TV drama show. Some of the most popular entertainment according to the viewing figures. But we don’t view it as inherently an affront to morality. It’s just part of the toolkit of people who are creating dramatic stories. Out of realistic depictions of murders. It’s normal for one of the most watched shows in modern history.

Until we’re ready to desensationalise the debate, I genuinely don’t think there’s much that can be said about the wider question. We can, at most, talk about games in isolation - offer a critique that dives deep on how the directors used things like the depiction of violence towards any broader messages in their dramatic presentations that emerge from playing the specific game. Doing so before we’ve been able to digest the actual contents of the game (reacting to trailers) is always going to be a very tough act to do well.


There’s an episode in the Waypoint Radio feed where Patrick actually talked to a researcher (Patrick Markey at Villanova iirc) about game violence and what findings from that research actually indicate. More or less in line with Shivoa’s answer, momentary boosts in aggression that result from games are more or less identical to the similar boosts that come from watching action movies or the like, and they fade rapidly. (There was a lot more too, but that seemed directly relevant).


The pursuit to depict realistic violence in video games comes from the same motive of making games far more immersive, realistic, and more cinematic (in the sense of emulating techniques of film), and other buzzwords, and the tone Naughty Dog is going for with The Last of Us series certainly hammers that gritty AO film pursuit home, in contrast to the swashbuckling adventure of Uncharted.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, and I personally enjoy when something has a sombre and / or self-serious tone.

It is interesting the detail they’re going for with the violence though, I don’t think the average person would consciously notice if it was slightly more cartoony than not, as stylisation can be effective too.
I just hope if they’re using a lot of real references they keep their employee’s well being in mind.

I feel like game depictions of violence are inherently different from film/TV because they’re interactive and often present experiences where the only way to meaningfully interact with the game world is through ultra-detailed violence. That adds up over time to create an overall different message about violence than movies or TV shows with superficially similar levels of or depictions of violence. Especially with VR, that’s a fully immersive, realistic-scale thing which I feel like has to be a different experience psychologically. I’m normally not bothered much by violence in games, movies, or TV when it’s in line with the work as a whole and what it’s trying to do -I love horror- but the increasing realism in graphics and the immersion of VR has me real creeped out by the idea of certain games being made in that format and the apparent lack of an ethical approach to designing them. I don’t own a VR set and have only used one a couple times (didn’t play any violent games during those times cause the idea grossed me out too much) so maybe those fears are unfounded, I dunno. I think game developers and publishers in general need to be way more self-critical about their use of violence but realistically I know none of them ever will in any meaningful way outside of indie production levels.


I live in a world with so much death already. By adding more humanity to the characters who are shot in game, the consequences surrounding loss of life are put into the spotlight. I think this is a reason people will get the game in the first place, but for me, I’m going to stay away.


Didn’t we already reach the zenith of this with Soldier of Fortune?


I feel like this is a legitimate question if we’re going to continue having violent games (which is not something I personally mind but YMMV)—as games become more and more “realistic,” which is usually just a buzzword for higher fidelity graphics and effects work, do y’all prefer that violence remain cartoonish and in effect glamorized? (Sorry for the upcoming novel, but there’s a lot here.)

Or should they move in a direction where depictions of violence might become more realistic and in effect grounded? The examples being given—DOOM, GTA, Mortal Kombat—no matter the graphical fidelity those series/games were to have, they would not and will never be depicting “realistic” violence in the way these devs are describing, because what these devs are describing isn’t gory, or shocking in a scintillating sense like those games are stylistically going for. It’s like comparing Django Unchained to 12 Years a Slave. Depictions of violence can have vastly different objectives, and I don’t think there’s necessarily a unified “final objective” any more than there is for depictions in other media. Furthermore, it feels like this perspective assumes people will inherently know what “real” gun violence looks like vs. “fake” gun violence, but in a world where our perceptions of what violence looks like are so informed by film and TV and media, is that actually the case? Or would more realistic violence like the kind being depicted in TLOU2—realistically-informed violence—not actually be recognized as such? In all honesty, I’d probably think it looks odd because I’m used to Tarantino and Scorcese.

Basically, I don’t think that moving away from cartoony “gore and stuff shoot[ing] out of the back of the head” stuff (to use the interview quote) necessarily has an objective of further glamorization (which is what it feels like is being suggested). Realistic violence can be used to actually make games aboout trauma and war in a way that cartoonish violence will never allow (see the modern two Wolfenstein games). And as for kids potentially playing them… I think that just always has to be a parent’s responsibility, in the same way that we’ve accepted movies and TV and comics and all other forms of media to be? Because the assumption otherwise is that people react to games differently than they do other media, and that’s just not supported by prevailing research. Further—

In that podcast I mentioned in my last comment, Markey said that their research had found that violence in video games did desensitize people to violence… in video games. I don’t remembering there being anything to tie that with graphical fidelity; I think it’s more that, no matter how realistic, people can still recognize the different between a virtual and a real space. If we reach a point where that’s no longer the case, then maybe this changes.


although i think it’s going to be fascinating (and potentially horrifying) to see what the long-term psychological / sociological effects of prolonged exposure to realistic violence will be, i still think there are fundamentally two much more interesting questions to ask:

  1. what are we using violence in media to say, on a case-by-case basis?
  2. are employees and art directors in games & tv - who are often staring at reference images & videos for months at a time - being taken care of appropriately by companies which push them into that?

There is probably no objective. It’s so tied to the pursuit of “realism” which itself is one of the main drivers of hardware development. New consoles need big, flashy games to showcase their capabilities and the most obvious way to show that is through extremely high fidelity to reality. And since big budget games are almost uniformly violent, that push for greater realism will at least partly be in the direction of rendering violence in even more gruesome detail.

It seems more like a side effect of the industry’s hardware life cycles than anything. I can’t really identify a coherent through-line - artistically speaking - connecting recent ultra-violent games otherwise.

To me whatever happens in a game stays there, let the be violence or not. It looks cool and all but there are always some people who take the realistic factor a little bit too seriously.

I know this doesn’t really answer the question, and is only an opinion (and not even an unpopular one), but:

Realism always pales in comparison to well-done stylized artwork. The blind, resource-intensive, diminishing-returns-laden rush for more realistic violence is both an inefficient and ineffective method of making your product or creative work stand out. But it’s ingrained in the culture of AAA developers. Henson’s Law and all that.

But that only addresses once facet of how violence should be portrayed. There’s plenty of examples where even stylized, cartoonish violence is problematic.

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