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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.

Our Week In Games – Week 11

Our Week In Games – Week 11

Merry Sunday everybody, it’s Nick here. With Chris no doubt dining on Ferrero Rocher and Buck’s fizz over at Eurogamer,  I’ve been left with the privilege of introducing this week’s Our Week In Games.

This week has been an FTL heavy week, with both Ed and Mike dying amidst the stars. It’s  a remarkable game that’s been absorbing the time of pretty much everyone here at the Reticule. If you haven’t had a chance to experience it yet, its recent release on Steam has meant there’s never been an easier time to climb aboard.

In other news, Chris has this week been getting to grips with Borderland 2‘s Commando class, and I’ve finally achieved the impossible by landing on the Mun. More after the jump.

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Borderlands: The Verdict

Borderlands: The Verdict

There’s something rather special about a shotgun that fires rockets. Sure, a normal shotgun is all well and good for dealing with close range foes and packs a mighty punch that can knock lesser enemies off their feet, but it does not match the sheer awesomeness of a shotgun that fires rockets for one very good reason: it doesn’t shoot fucking rockets.

Borderlands 2009-10-28 15-01-16-23

Borderlands is a Role Playing Shooter that puts you into the role of one of four mercenaries with different skills arriving on the planet Pandora in order to search for a promised source of great riches called The Vault. Each of these mercenaries has a different set of skills roughly equating to four typical RPG character archetypes. Each one of these in theory requires the game to be played in four subtly different ways; There’s Lillth, who resembles the ‘Mage’ of the group with an ability to move quickly away from (or toward) danger with her Phasewalk ability encouraging a hit and run style of play. Roland the Soldier with his trusty Turret gun able to be deployed to dispatch enemies or provide shielding and healing as a support class, while Mordecai fufills the long range Hunter role being especially proficient with Sniper Rifles and being the owner of a trusty pet Eagle. Finally there’s Brick, the tough guy rounding out the foursome with his role as a Tank, able to absorb a lot of damage and his berserk skill making his fists as deadly as any weapon found in the game. The four characters can then be further customised in the RPG tradition of skill points, able to be spent on your character to go down certain paths and customize them to your needs like many MMORPGS. This provides some more welcome individuality to your character, and meaning you can really play to your strengths with your character. For example you could upgrade Roland’s turret in order for it’s friendly fire to actually heal your teammates.

So like an RPG, you accept quests from the locals to gain experience and level up your character while killing many bad guys along the way. However like an FPS you’re using shotguns, rifles, pistols and many more weapons to shoot your enemies. These enemies include Pandora’s native dog like creatures known as skags, angry bandits and a hybrid of spiders and ants known helpfully as Spiderants. These are then backed up by the rather tougher versions known as Badass enemies – more resilient emeies which can be tougher to take down and may more than once cause you to rethink your strategy of running and gunning. Luckily, despite these toughies, shooting Midgets in the face as they run towards you with axes in their hand never gets old. Bosses too make regular appearances throughout the campaign, although aside from getting a glitzy intro don’t often offer much in the way of variation. That comes from the weapons. Every container or gun in the game is randomly generated, throwing up awesome combinations such as the aforementioned rocket firing shotgun, or the spectacular lightning gun that makes skulls explode. Elemental effects and bendy bullets are possible and it really makes for some compelling gameplay. For those not used to the RPG staples of looking for guns with bigger numbers, Borderlands will certainly convert you as you face the dilemma of swapping out the gun that fires faster for the one that does more damage, or dissolves foes in a spurt of acid and critical hit notifcations.

He may experience a slight burning sensation...
He may experience a slight burning sensation...

Much was made about Borderlands new visual style when it was revealed late into production, many accusing Gearbox of trying to chase on the back of success of Valve’s TF2. Of course these accusations were unfounded. The look fits extremely well with the whole deep south feel and atmosphere to the game. The characters you meet are for the most part certainly kooky in their own backwater way, even if you yourself are never really explored much beyond being an interplanetary mercenary. But special mention has to go to the Claptrap robots, who will certainly provoke Marmite like reactions, especially after being exposed to them for a while. Pandora nails the feel of a harsh desert world, although after a while a slight complaint may be levelled at the fact some later areas feel rather similar with only really certain landmarks providing points of differentiation.

The other double edged sword with Borderlands comes in it’s other much touted feature of co-op play. The game can be enjoyed single player – or if you choose – you may fight alongside up to three other people. It’s rather interesting to note mind, that the game can be played with any combination of the four characters it also makes the game feel as if the characters don’t really have a need to compliment each other that well. While it makes sense on a practical level for this to be the case, it does feel like it’s a bit of a shame that the game doesn’t quite have that sort of reliability on your team mates that a game like Left 4 Dead has, and makes co-op feel more than an optional extra than a truly integral part of gameplay. Of course, your co-op experience is going to crucially depend on the people you play with, which also makes it a bit of a crying shame that, at the time of writing, the technical side of getting a co-op game running on PC can be a major headache. With people reporting having to mess with port forwarding, the inability to turn your microphone off without having to tweak system files and even things as simple using a mouse wheel in the mission descriptions it really makes one wonder what exactly Gearbox/2K were doing with the extra week delay reportedly for ‘optimising’ the PC version. It’s especially frustrating when the core game is essentially so much fun once you’re in there.

Vehicles are fun, but can be a little too effective.
Vehicles are fun, but can be a little too effective.

Like many games that try to be a Jack of All Trades, Borderlands also falls into the trap of being a master of none. The game simply does not have the storytelling punch to match the best RPGs, and nor is the FPS combat quite epic enough to stand among the best of that genre. It’s certainly better than most hybrids of other genres though, and it’s a very enjoyable game. Obviously the mileage you get from the game is largely dependant on how much you generally enjoy the style of game of killing a lot of things in order to gain a more powerful weapon. If not, one playthrough might be all you really get through. But despite it’s faults, Borderlands is a genuinely enjoyable game with a hint of spark that deserves to be recognised as one of the better games this year. There’s just a few minor flaws in the game’s schizophrenic nature that prevent it from becoming a classic.

A Pretty Bloody Good Game
On the borderline of greatness