Violence in Video games

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A somewhat eerie coincidence occurred within the video game industry earlier this week.  Within a day, the latest versions of both of the most controversial video game franchises were released around the same time. On April 13th, Mortal Kombat X was released, and the next day the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V was also released. As I’m sure most of you know, Mortal Kombat pretty much single-handedly caused the formation of the ESRB rating system due to its intense (at the time) violence and gore. The Grand Theft Auto series has been plagued with controversy in nearly every one of its iterations, ranging from violent crimes being blamed on it to the “Hot Coffee” incident. The Grand Theft Auto series also includes the first AAA title to receive the dreaded “Adults Only” ESRB rating, effectively pulling the game from shelves for a while. While both MK and GTA have dealt with their fair share of controversy, each of their individual titles seem to work harder and harder to push the bar. Mortal Kombat’s infamous fatalities have consistently gotten bloodier and bloodier, while Grand Theft Auto continues to push sore issues such as prostitution, terrorism, torture, and political scandals. Both of these titles really show just how far we’ve come as far as video game violence is concerned.

I’ll be honest here. I’ve always thought that I was completely sick and tired of the conversation about violence in video games. As someone who truly loves his video games, I quickly grew tired of the constant bashing that the media and the government officials on TV gave to games.  Now, while I am still annoyed at the bleating of “blargh! These video games are too gosh darn violent,” I feel that the medium of games has begun to reach a point of maturity in which we can seriously have a discussion about why video games are so violent and whether the seeming overabundance of violence in our games is an issue.

The maturity I’m talking about is in the fact that while, yes, violence-driven games are the large majority, the industry is actually beginning to see a rise of nonviolent games.

Now, I love my violence just as much as the next guy. I bought the PC version of GTA V upon release and have already spent nearly 30 hours on it, and trust me, I am no saint in that game. The actual “problem” in the gaming industry is that the overabundance of violence-driven games has the potential to stagnate video games as a medium. Imagine if every movie ever made were Die Hard movies. Sure, for a while they’re fun, but eventually we’re going to get sick of watching people get shot, stabbed, and blown up. Thankfully, as I’ve just mentioned, the gaming industry is reaching that line in which more and more games are focusing on other modes of narrative.

Puzzle games with psychological narratives like the Portal series, exploration games that focus on discovery such as Gone Home or Amnesia, and even constructive simulation games like the Sims, Cities: Skylines, or the ever-relaxing Animal Crossing create a nice break away from otherwise constant barrage of fighters, shooters, and hack-and-slashers.

Again, violent games have their place, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t satisfying, but I also look forward to the time we move away from separating genres by our method of killing to using the sort of genres that books and movies already enjoy.

What do you think about violence in games? Is it fine how it is, or do you look for more games in which violence is not the primary means of progression? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be mowing down pedestrians on the sidewalk.

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