Concern regarding violence in games is nothing new. Usually the conflict comes from outside of the industry in the form of congressmen, parents and lawyers claiming games have a severely detrimental effect on society. Yet every time their arguments have proven impotent and erroneous. Lately however the conflict is coming from within the industry as many of us ask the question, “Is violence really necessary?” It’s an impossible question to answer with a simple “Yes” or “No”. Just like any other topic worth discussing, trying to reduce it down to simple black and white variables is misguided and pointless. This is a piece discussing how violence is simply another tool in a game developer’s tool belt, and not worthy of being the current taboo hot button in games.
First off let’s separate the terms “Violence” and “Gore”. Violence can be portrayed in a plethora of ways while gore is simply the bloody and visceral mangling of a living being. While Gore is not always needed, Violence sometimes is. The need for violence is the same as the need any other game mechanic. It’s the same as including a soundtrack, dynamic lighting, ETC. Violence is simply a basic form of conflict and is perfectly suited for the medium. Why is it necessary? The answer is pretty obvious if you think about it. Imagine one of your favorite games. Let’s use Final Fantasy 7 for example. Now, if you took all the violence out of the game what would you have? There would be no battles, no weapons, no conflict. Also, one of the most iconic scenes in gaming history, the death of Aerith, would never have happened.
Now let’s take a moment to emphasize how Gore is sometimes needed to lend credence to a game. The amount of Gore helps convey severity. Let’s say that you’re playing a game and one of the characters is tortured to death. Would a small bit of blood on the corner of their mouth be effective? Or would a swollen, cut and bloody mess be more effective? The answer is fairly obvious. To convey the severity of the character’s suffering, to convey the importance of the situation, more detail and gore is necessary.
Before I mentioned how violence and gore are simply tools much like music, visuals and mechanics. Misuse of these tools can be detrimental to the game as well. Over the top use of gore can garner a poor response from players as well as too little gore leading to players feeling disconnected or not interested in the game. Misusing violence and gore is the same as replacing all the music in Mass Effect with the Benny Hill theme. It would effectively ruin the game.
It’s also important to discuss the affect see violence has on the human psyche. In a study a by McGill University it was determined that the sight of blood greatly increased the amount of pain and stress the human mind undergoes when seeing blood. Two people who received similar injuries reported wildly differing pain levels when one of the injuries introduced the sight of fake blood. The same effect can be seen in video games. To create tension and stress developers have access to this powerful tool and should use it.
The end result of any discussion regarding violence in game design really should boil down to one simple thing; it’s a tool that can be used to elicit emotion and tone. On the other side of the coin, it’s a tool that is sometimes better left in the tool chest. Either way, it’s not a question of whether violence in games is necessary, it’s a question of WHEN is it necessary.