Have Video Games Become Too Violent?

Have Video Games Become Too Violent?

Video games have been connected with a string of bad press over the years due to violent content and the supposed effects this could have on the people playing such games. Games have been banned, police statements have been made and bloody torsos have been sold as ‘collector’s edition’. There is no doubt that violence is fairly prevalent in video games and the video game culture. The real question is have these games become too violent?

At the risk of sounding like an old codger (I’m 25) I’m going to recall part of my childhood experience with video games for you now. You see, when I was a youngster video games were primarily a pre-adolescent activity. I grew up with an original Game Boy playing the likes of Donkey Kong and Super Mario Land, a hobby passed onto me by my dad who was of the generation of kids that hung around the arcades every evening playing Pong and Space Invaders. The video game industry has long since passed the days of Space Invaders at the arcades and now caters for the more mature gamer amongst others.

That’s not to say that the Pac-Man games of our parents generation don’t exist today, they have just become a lot more intelligent. Kids are now entertained by augmented reality and motion control and gadgets like the iPad and smart phones have largely replicated the style of gameplay the arcades used to provide. This in turn means that in most cases, adults who still wish to play video games need a ramped up experience in order to keep them entertained. If you were to take a look at the data for all time video game sales for the PS3 (provided here) you can see that games with high levels of violence feature heavily. God of War III, GTA IV, Killzone 2, Red Dead Redemption, Resident Evil 5 and numerous Call of Duty games all feature and are all 18 rated games.

So it’s clear that the video game industry caters largely for the older gamer, but in my opinion adding an age restriction to a game does very little in terms of discouraging younger gamers from playing. I don’t want to turn this into a debate about age restrictions and if parents should or shouldn’t be buying games for their children, so instead look at it this way. Games are often compared to films in terms of cinematic experience and story telling ability. Great games are noted as being enjoyed for generations, just as great films are. So would films on general release to the public, be allowed to show the same level of violence that we find in games today? I’m talking about the detailed knife takedowns in Battlefield 3, the torture scenes featured in more than one Call of Duty game and the brutal decapitations in Dead Space 3.

Tomb Raider has never been violence free, but the latest release has shown a serious increase in graphic death scenes.
Tomb Raider has never been violence free, but the latest release has shown an increase in graphic death scenes.

A good example of a game that has matured with the times is Tomb Raider. Now Tomb Raider has always featured a certain level of violence, but it’s thanks to the recent reboot, rated 18 that the level of graphic violence has been pushed to the next stage. I’ve read a few arguments from loyal fans questioning why that level of violence was ever deemed necessary in the first place. Other younger gamers are disappointed that they are no longer able to buy a game that, at least in my eyes, was seen as a fairly family friendly game. Other titles such as Skyrim, a game that has won numerous awards, offer perks that will increase the level of violence as you improve your character.

Not every game is heading in the direction of increased violence however. Games like Borderlands 2 and Gears of War: Judgement have menu options that cut the level of violence and profanity making them more available to younger players. An idea for developers to consider would be that more games could have options like this, but making them permanent implications. This way two versions of the same game could be released with different ratings allowing access for gamers of varying ages. I’m not saying content should be cut, just simple menu options like those mentioned above.

Skyrim's skill tree offers a perk that will increase the chance of decapitating your enemy upon their death.
Skyrim’s skill tree offers a perk that will increase the chance of decapitating your enemy upon death.

There are various reasons as to why popular games are becoming more violent. Part of the rise could be down to the popularity of first person shooters such as the Call of Duty series. These shooters (of which more than just CoD are included) generally don’t hold back on the violent scenes and are aimed at all out action and adrenaline. An example of this in Call of Duty would be a torture scene during the first Black Ops game now famously known as the glass punch. Other games may in turn try to emulate the popular gameplay structure of these games, eventually turning such scenes into the norm.

Another reason could be that the video game industry simple wasn’t able to fully realise its artistic visions in the past. The whole industry has advanced so incredibly in the past 10-15 years that super detailed games with huge environments are expected for most AAA releases now. Violence has always been commonplace in video games, but if games like Carmageddon (which was widely criticised upon release) were being made with today’s graphics would there be as much of an uproar?

While I myself am not adverse to a little bit of video game violence as long as it’s in context, It’s clear to see that as a whole the levels of blood and gore contained in popular games and the culture surrounding them has increased and some people might not like it. With next-gen consoles just around the corner the potential for this to increase even further is definitely there, but as it stands I don’t personally see it being too bad, aside from a rare few occasions (such as Hitman Absolution’s Facebook app).

Do you think video game violence has become too extreme, or is it all just fun and games? If you have any views on video game violence feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to reply to you.

6 thoughts on “Have Video Games Become Too Violent?

  1. Fascinating read, nicely done.

    I agree with the sentiment that (certain) games are better for the cinematic level of authentic violence – someone getting shot would bleed etc. There’s also the empathy factor, the new Tomb Raider being an example.

    But there are a fair few games out there that push the boundary purely for controversial means – the airport level of Modern Warfare 2 for one – that are less justified. That one in particular pissed me off no end – it was nonsense and completely unneeded propaganda spinning.

    1. Aside from Blops 2 which I’ve not played, all the recent games have their questionable moments. Sad thing is that these do help promote the game (even if it’s in a bad light), I mean look at how many times I’ve mentioned CoD in here!

  2. Only had time for a quick flick through but yeah, some of the violence is getting over the top, espcially with some of the kills in games like Sniper Elite, Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite.

    1. Sniper Elite is one of the only games I’ve actually shied away from playing/buying because of that killing mechanic. First time I saw that slow motion kill I thought it was pretty cool, but after two or three times seeing a bullet ripping apart someone’s insides and breaking their bones…. not for me.

  3. I was wondering if you could help me out in answering some questions about violent video games causing violence.

    1. Do you have evidence that violent video games cause aggression/violence, or is there just a correlation between the two?
    2. What if aggression/violence encourages the playing of violent video games, not the other way around?
    3. What exactly have you found about the correlation between violent video games and aggression/violence?
    4. How exactly did you define violence/aggression?
    5. What do you suppose is the solution if violent video games do cause aggression/violence? Simple public awareness? Censorship?
    6. Do you think parenting style is a huge cause in this?
    These are just a few questions I had in mind, if you could get back to me that would be great. Thanks! :)

    1. Hi Lilly, thanks very much for the comment. I will try to answer as best I can and if you have any further questions I would be happy to try and answer them.
      1. Of course tests have been done but as far as I’m aware nothing has been proven, although people have made the claim that video games can be a trigger (as can many other things) for a violent personality that was already present in a person.
      2. If people find video games to be a way to vent their aggression instead of at other people then great, it should be made into a therapy or something.
      3. Only people (with little knowledge of the video game industry and culture) claiming that video games have caused violence. Just as they do with films and rap music and so on. As I say, to my knowledge nothing has ever been proven.
      4. In video games I would define violence as blood and gore and aggression as overly exertive physical contact, which can of course be common place in many sporting games.
      5. If video games were proven to cause violence then serious measures would need to be taken in making people aware of this. As far as censorship I did mention in the article about having menu options to cut blood/gore and profanity. That’s as far as I would push it though as im sure PEGI or whoever do a good enough job of cutting content as it is.
      6. I would say so. Kids who grow up with a violent background are more likely to be violent themselves. They learn their habits from their parents in most cases.

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