Warren Spector: The ultra violence has to stop

He’s got a good point but not sure it will make a difference…

I like games that have consequences for the violence, and I like that games give artists unprecedented freedom to explore violence… But it’s an industry too, and that industry keeps pushing ultra violence for its own, and the dollar’s sake.

I don’t want artists to be squelched but I also think they have freedom without responsibility as things stand now. No idea what the solution is.

Waiting for the first “old man producer out of touch with modern audience” comment.

Waiting with a baseball bat

I’ve given this a lot of thought actually, and I find as I grow older and am now a father (read: got boring) I am losing my taste for these ultraviolent power fantasies as well. I don’t begrudge their existence and I’m not calling for a moratorium, but it would be nice to see more non-violent games being created. My favorite game last year, Portal 2, still had plenty of conflict and tension with comparatively minimal violence. I’d love to see more creative stuff like this in the future.

Pffft, it’s just an old man producer out of touch with the modern audience. :D

Now seriously, what can game makers do, if ultra-violence is what the market wants? Until the public starts voting with their wallets against games that glorify violence, there will be people making them.

Hopefully they’ll be adult only games.

DarthMasta, the developers can get out in front of this. Instead of just constantly iterating on the treadmill of moneymaking sequels, they could give people what they don’t yet know they want. There are creative people out there and I know they have great ideas. I think the rise of indie shops can do nothing but help this. But I’d love to see more alternatives and I bet a lot of game developers would too.

I think that, based on what people’s impressions have been with the extended demo for The Last of Us, where the person playing through that (separate from the e3 press conf version) was that while the sony conf playthrough was deliberately designed to punctuate with shocking realism in every sense of the word, but that this kind of legitimate gravitas and consequence attached to violence that the OP is talking about is exactly what the game is aiming to be; almost an antithesis to the Uncharted games where you have a charming and smart-mouthed Indiana-Jones type of character that’s mowing down an entire army without a thought.

I am mostly just tired of violence. Sometimes I wonder how many virtual people I have killed. It seems like 99% of my free time is spent killing people or watching people get killed on TV. I get no thrill from it anymore. I am numb to it.

If you are going by the headline alone - here is the specific statement - on games at e3 this year:

This is the year where there were two things that stood out for me. One was: The ultraviolence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. I just don’t believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it’s in bad taste. Ultimately I think it will cause us trouble.

on what was being made at eidos when he left:

I left Eidos in 2004 because I looked around at E3 and saw the new Hitman game where you get to kill with a meat hook, and 25 to Life, the game about kids killing cops, and Crash & Burn the racing game where the idea is to create the fieriest, most amazing explosions, not to win the race… I looked around my own booth and realized I just had one of those ‘which thing is not like the other’ moments. I thought it was bad then, and now I think it’s just beyond bad.

We’ve gone too far. The slow-motion blood spurts, the impalement by deadly assassins, the knives, shoulders, elbows to the throat. You know, Deus Ex had its moments of violence, but they were designed - whether they succeeded or not I can’t say - but they were designed to make you uncomfortable, and I don’t see that happening now. I think we’re just appealing to an adolescent mindset and calling it mature. It’s time to stop. I’m just glad I work for a company like Disney, where not only is that not something that’s encouraged, you can’t even do it, and I’m fine with it.

It is easy to misread it as “stop making violent games”, which isn’t really what is being said here. And I totally agree that the concept of “mature” in games is now this adolescent concept of the term which means “would get a ‘mature audiences only’ violence/sexual situations 18+ rating” rather than, you know, being “mature”. Adults only! That’s totally the same thing as mature right?

I think there is an argument to be made that the public has voted with their wallets against ultra-violent games: the rise of mobile gaming and family-friendly games like Angry Birds (footnote 1), which I suspect has pulled in more revenue than any so-called “AAA” game you would care to name. People generally are playing way more mobile games than console games (reference: http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/iphone-vs-xbox-people-spend-more-time-playing-mobile-games-than-console-games/)

I think part of the problem here is that whenever this conversation comes up, the usual suspects want to reduce the discussion such that “The market” refers only to the 18-25 male demographic, at which point absolutely nobody should be surprised the outcome. If your starting point is “Hmmm, what game can we make that will appeal to testosterone-soaked teenagers, because we will assume from the get-go that fathers with young daughters just can’t be our market”(footnote 2) no wonder you end up with a chainmail-bra-wearing-former prostitute-turned-assassin in every goddamn game.

Footnote 1: if you try to argue that Angry Birds is ultra-violent, I will ultra-violently punch you in the nose for being a dope.
Footnote 2: If you have a daughter, and you worked on the design of, say, Bayonetta, would you want her to know what you do for a living? Because I sure wouldn’t.

As long as there’s profit someone will make the game, same as gore movies. The most that can happen is that people start seeing those games as tacky, or beneath real developers, something like that, leading talented developers to opt not to make them.

Never played it, but Kamikaze Birds killing Pigs sounds real violent to me. :D

And it doesn’t matter that casual, family friendly games make much more money than a “Killing people in exquisite detail” simulator does.
Just because the Avengers makes a billion dollars doesn’t mean Hostel can’t turn an handy profit. Same thing here.

Biggest difference is, if the movie business was like the gaming business, Hostel would be “real movie”, while Avengers would be “casual, family friendly, not really a movie”.

I disagree with you, DarthMasta. There’s room for all types of games and nonviolent games are extremely underrepresented. It would be as if all Hollywood ever made were slasher flicks. Sure, they’d be making money but they’d be missing out on so much more. It takes someone with vision to make these things happen. I seriously doubt people are going to spontaneously stop buying Call of Duty but I bet there’s a fair amount of players that would dig something different.

It’s not like it’s a new thing. Using the term “mature” to mean “specifically targeted at horny, bloodthirsty teenaged boys” has been pretty much standard practice since at least the late 80s.

(Spector payed his own small role in this. Ultima 7 Part 2 had “Voluntarily rated MP-13 (For Mature Players)” on it, and not just because Spector and Garriott wished to be good citizens. The body parts, pentagrams, etc. featured prominently in the prerelease hype for the game.)

Video games and violence are deeply entwined. It’s pretty hard to think of a game that is not about doing violence, making this pixel meet that pixel to cause these pixel to turn red and yellow and then go black again.

It’s partly a technical thing. Try to think of a game that is not either a puzzle or a fight. Often a combination (you must fight this boss in exactly this way to win).

Why? a fight is a logically simple situation. there’s a definite situation (a battlefield; chess board) with actors whose options are limited (soldiers can run and shoot, the pawns go forward). Without these limits programming AI would be impossible.

The other reason is culture. We want games we can easily understand. We expect them to be a fight or a puzzle or a combination of those. We want interactions we can understand and relate to. We want power fantasies. Escapism to a world where we can be fightin’ men with a good cause and a warm gun and thats happiness.

But is it really that simple? are all games puzzles or wars? What about the toy boxes such as sim city? or the tests of dexterity such as dance dance revolution? What other games can we think of?

It’s something that has bothered me for years, and as a society, you reap what you sow.

I’m also bothered by the notion that the almighty dollar is in charge of everything, regardless of how far that goes. I’m sick to death of ‘oh well it sells’.

Mass media in general hasn’t been around very long in the grand scheme of things, and we are all part of an ongoing experiment. This constant bombardment of violence via various mediums is really the best use we can get out of mass communication?

Watching people having sex??, XXX, highly regulated, heavy penalties for violation. Watching someone get their head chopped off, in slow motion?..no problem. That to me is truly frightening.

I want more Lucasarts adventures.

I want to be a pirate!

On people “voting with their wallets:”

“But Mr. Jobs, people have voted with their wallets, they want smartphones with physical keyboards! They simply won’t buy one without it.”

Perhaps people aren’t being given good alternatives to vote for, when it comes to non-violent games? If it’s either Cut the Rope or Call of Duty, is it a surprise that a lot of people choose the game with much higher production values?

It is weird that big budget gaming holds ultraviolence (what are called “mature games”) as the AAA gold standard, while family friendly or non-violent games are dismissed to the “casual gaming” ghetto. Every E3 presentation this year, with the exception of the dance games and Rayman, was chock full of neck-stabbings, boobs, and shooting faces.

Do you think there is a line between a game in 1992, with D&D satanism panic very close in the rear view mirror, carrying a sticker saying “you should be at least one year into being a teenager, because we drew some blood and pentagrams in our game”, and the now of 2011 of “pegi-xxx, we put gang rape/regular attempted rape/slow motion forensically detailed throat stabbing in our game”? Because if not, I’m not sure if we are going to have much common ground in our understanding of what Warren is saying.

False equivalency… it’s not just for P&R!