Stian: This is probably a tagline we have seen plenty of times in news and other forms of media. While there is a lot of different controversies in general, such as sex, drugs, equality-issues and so on, violence in games is one the biggest controversies there has been for years. Especially due to how school shootings have been connected to videogames by newscasts such as the infamous FOX. But do videogames makes us violent or can violent videogames (and videogames in general) be used for something productive?
I want to start off a bit defensive: it is easy to play the blame-game and simply target a single medium such as videogames, similarly to how TV was cause for a lot of troubles in the old days. To blame everything on one simple object is a bit rough in my eyes, but I won’t deny that videogames do have an effect on us, both positive and negative. I do believe the effect we get from playing is more physical, due to:
1- Playing videogames or even being inside the whole day, is not good for anyone, due to how we need elements of nature (such as vitamin D by sunlight).
2- watching a screen for too long will effect our eyes and exhaust ourselves much easier. Combining this with unfair difficulty in games, I think is an example of how frustration can be easily made. Being killed in something that feels unfair (such as martyrdom), is easily capable of driving anyone insane. I make a point of this, because when I tried to search up on studies proving if games makes us violent, it was always 18+ games they tackled, especially the post Call of Duty 4-titles. Never trying to see if there were other elements as far as I could see, which I felt made the studies limited. I think I have taken more than enough time on my first question for now, so why don’t you continue on Casper?
C: This is a heavy topic and I can definitely find myself in your argument about frustration. I used to play a lot of Halo 3 and many controllers met their end against walls due to stuff I deemed unfair, such as people manipulating matchmaking so they could play ranked free-for-all games as a team.
However, I feel that games are also a cure for frustration and violent ones can be particularly useful for just that. We all have bad days at work or school sometimes and come home with moods soured, but popping some skulls in Borderlands or blowing up some tanks in War Thunder puts that behind me. There is also a very real difference between getting agitated at unfair game design or cheating opponents and causing real, permanent harm to people in the world outside of the game.
For the sake of debate, however, I will say I find violent games nowadays pretty distasteful. I played some Grand Theft Auto games and got pretty far in them, but I remember this one mission in San Andreas where I had to drive a guy’s car into the water with his girlfriend in it. How is that fun? That is just psychotic and I would certainly feel uncomfortable talking with somebody who liked that part. I only played a bit of GTA: V because I found it boring, but I did read up on the controversies and it’s clear the tradition has continued. I like “fun” violence if that makes any sense; games like Dynasty Warriors feature more murder than any other franchise combined, but there is no weight to any of it, you just knock people around like it’s an anime.
S: I can definitely calm down using games to unwind and also agree that there is a clear boundary between media-entertainment and reality. Some games are also more focused on giving a theme so we indirectly learn or experience something more personal, like Undertale or Hotline Miami. Heck, some games are even educational.
You bring up an interesting point there: GTA is the poster-boy for such terrible scenes, and we might as well add Postal 2 and Hatred as well. Dynasty Warriors is an example of how it is used for more of a fun experience, and even the insanely violent Madworld has a plot that revolves around a clear hero on a mission and ends up in a gladiatoral game show. If I may, I wanna just use Hatred, since it is… well, it is distasteful from beginning to end with gruesome murdering and terrible executions. I remember how much flak Hatred got, it’s easily more disliked than any other game I know. But if I can give it one credit, it made me ask “How far does freedom of speech go?”
I won’t deviate too much, but it made me realize this is also about how we ourselves approach things. I bet many players of GTA and COD are simply kids that, while they should have gotten better games, I don’t think many take these games seriously at all and are just screwing around. They are just simply games, kinda like how Newgrounds was for us when we were kids. To give a personal example: I remember how a friend of mine got so into Resident Evil 6 and screamed at every corner, but I personally found it uninteresting and cheesy, and while I personally was heart shattered and cried when I played through Lisa the Joyful, some of my lesser friends gave me a weird look due to its presentation.
I think, however, when it comes to games that show something controversial (or maybe even games in general): it is important to talk about it, go in-depth and maybe see more than what we did before. I am sorry if it almost seems like I am referring to ourselves, but it is true. This way, we can talk much more about videogames as something other than entertainment. For example: is GTA a good parody on America? Is Postal 2’s violence really anything of need, or is it pure enjoyment such as in Brain Dead?
C: There will always be people who seek to push the boundaries of good taste and in a way I feel conflicted about that. Games like Hatred don’t so much exist to appeal to people as they exist to spite the standards of the world we live in. Sometimes we need games that are as violent and immoral as our proponents make them out to be, because without those games pushing the edge, we’d never be sure where it’s at. By experimenting with good taste we can, in turn, create amazing games like Lisa that tackle controversial subjects in a way that engages us, that inspires us to think and brings up difficult emotions.
I feel that we are talking about three different types of game here. The ones who are intentionally distasteful to ruffle feathers, those who tell genuinely heartfelt stories involving controversial topics, and the forbidden apples. Games like GTA and COD fall into the latter for me. As a younger Casper I always wanted to play GTA and the fact I wasn’t allowed to made me want it even more. When you get down to it the games aren’t that appealing or, you know, good, but they are so often talked about that curious little gamers can’t help but want to try it.
As critics, I feel it’s indeed our jobs to separate the gems from the offensive, to find the No More Heroes’ and Saints Rows among the BMX XXX and mods that simulate school shootings. As for mainstream media… they will never understand and really, we don’t owe those guys an explanation for anything we play.
S: I definitely agree with you there: it is important to experiment with good taste so we can actually talk or present controversial subjects in the ways you described them. I love how you divided the games we focus on into three categories here. And yes, I remember many of my friends were excited about GTA titles because of how controversial they were (at least when they tackled 3D with the third game and onward).
To be honest: I never thought of this as a part of being a reviewer. It is not just about seeing if we can recommend a game to a specific or general audience, it is also, of course, to look for quality and going in depth on controversies is also a part of it! I suppose we don’t owe them anything, but I think as a part of the media ourselves, it is important to elaborate our point of view as we do now and hopefully: make others see that there is so much more to games than only entertainment or making people violent. I mean talking about something is one of the best ways of learning and wanting to understand. Luckily: the geek-culture in general has been more accepted, so I want to think of it as something that will be better with the years to come as long as we go out in the open with such discussions.
I think we have added the most essential to this discussion, but would you like to add one last entry to this?
C: A lot has changed over the years since the days of politicians rallying to bash videogames and I like that you point out how our medium has become more accepted. I feel that nowadays a violent or sexual video game is treated the same as a movie with similar content, which is amazing when you consider that just a few years ago the Supreme Court of America had to decide whether to outlaw violent games completely.
Since then games have enjoyed protection under free speech and things are looking up for us in that regard. Hopefully, one day we will grow completely comfortable with the narrative potential that violence has to offer, and we view games, movies, music, theater, and all other forms of art as equal.