Warren Spector: ‘I Was Pretty Appalled With What I Saw At E3’

Warren Spector: ‘I Was Pretty Appalled With What I Saw At E3’

The fallout from E3, and the issue of ultra-violence in video games has been a huge discussion point for gamers in recent weeks. This discussion can be attributed, at least in part to Warren Spector’s comments, and his statement “ultra-violence has to stop”. Last night, at a Game Masters event, Spector expanded a little on his thoughts on E3, and clarified a few things.

“I will stand by every word I said,” he began, “but I do have to clarify. I basically said that the ultra-violence has to stop… I was pretty appalled with what I saw at E3.

“I wish people would stop making stupid games. I wish everybody made games like I do, but it’s not realistic and it’s not my place. I’m really not trying to tell people what to like. That’s the first point.

“The second thing is, I wasn’t so upset… I could give a damn about video game violence, I don’t believe games cause anything. I started out as a film critic, I was serious, I was working on my doctorate, I was gonna be a professor… and I was a humanist, I was always arguing with the social scientists who were saying TV was going to destroy everything, oh no wait, it’s rock and roll! Oh wait, now it’s movies. No, it’s novels — because kids should be out living life not reading about it. No wait it was Shakespeare because, because he thinks he can break out of blank verse, he’s creating low brow entertainment for criminals hanging out at the globe theatre! Whatever medium the adults don’t get, kids like.”

According to Warren Spector, the problem is not necessarily the violence itself, but the way in which it was presented.

“There were two things that bugged me,” said Spector. “Bad taste. We crossed a line. When you’re fetishizing violence… slow motion blood sprays is not mature content. The lollipop sucking, sexualised teenage girl with a chainsaw is not mature content. A woman who’s character is defined by rape, is not mature content. There’s more mature content in Disney Epic Mickey than in any of those games.

“I wish people wouldn’t make games like that, I genuinely do, but when I hear whooping and hollering about that, and the gaming press and gamers getting all excited about that I want to go slither into a corner and die.”

The main worry, believes Spector, is not that well-made, innovative games don’t exist. The problem is we’re shining the spotlight on one specific sub-set of games. The ones featuring fetishised violence.

“E3 is our one opportunity to talk to the world,” he said. “That’s where games — which I think are the most beautiful medium and the medium that is going to dominate this century — get to talk to the world. There are beautiful non-violent games, there are beautiful violent games, there are stupid violent games — the variety of content in video games now is our greatest strength. If you have an idea there’s a way to reach an audience with that idea.

“The bottom line is there is such a variety of games being made right now and we showed the world none of it. E3 was about ultra violence that is fetishised. And Nintendo.

“I thought that did gamers a disservice. It did the medium a disservice and I am furious about that.”


    • I was at the talk last night, and if you think the only point is ‘warren Spector doesn’t like ultra-violence’, you’re a fool. The point is that there’s a hell of a lot more to games than fetishistic violence, objectifying / fetishising teenage girls, and schlocky genre games. However, E3 – which is the predominant venue for showing games to the world – failed to show that.

      Except for Nintendo 🙂

  • Personally. I dig the violence so long as it fits the game.

    Slow mo blood spatters in civ? No thanks. Generic zombie killing game, if it doesn’t have some pretty decent violent effects when i dismember an arm id be annoyed.
    All this anti violent game stuff is starting to sound like the ACL…

    E3 is about marketting. Violence/sex sells.

    • I think he’s feeling that these games are trying to show that ‘violence is the gameplay’.
      Companies aren’t making violence that fits the game, they’re making games that fit the violence.

      Using your zombie example, if you market the game with its main feature being ‘realistic zombie dismemberment’, that doesn’t excite me. It makes it sound like it’s just going to be a repetitive game of killing zombies.
      Take it away from violence, and lets look at Sonic. They’ve been making it about ‘SPEED!’, and so the game’s focus is about trying to go fast, not about navigating a level.

      So I agree with Warren’s sentiment about E3. Stop showing us ultraviolence, because that shouldn’t be what sells the game. Show us the gameplay or mechanics that will make it an interesting game, and THEN put the violence in there if it adds to the theme.

    • “E3 is about marketting. Violence/sex sells.”

      That’s the whole thing he is complaining about. People have lauded PAX for removing booth babes (see: Sex) so what’s the problem with Spector saying something akin to “Hey, lets stop making super gore-y games to show off and we should start showing off things that are innovative”

      That said, given the stand-out from this years E3 was WatchDogs maybe we don’t have quite so much to worry about.

    • From what I understand this is actually at least partially a backlash at the E3 conferences, not necessarily the games. Obviously I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard a lot of people that were – not just Spector – saying they were surprised and a bit disgusted that every bit of violence shown in the MS and Sony conference trailers was met with over the top cheering and everything. And I think a lot of that is because half the audience at both conferences was made up of people that were paid to go in there and cheer at the conference.

  • This would probably explain why Epic Mickey sold appallingly. The best advice I was ever given by my previous boss was “If you want to remember, or put something at the forefront; make it crude, vulgar or dirty”. That’s what these companies are doing.

    If anything, we need to grow up as gaming enthusiasts. The starting point is to stop calling ourselves “gamers”. This is obviously something that will take a lot of time and effort to change, but I don’t think it’s impossible. To say it is impossible, is to doom us to that stereotype of what a “gamer” is.

  • Just like every other medium of entertainment, not every title is going for the deep-mature intellectual level of themes. Like other mediums, with video games, there is artistic expression, and a wide array of works stretching the spectrum of humanities imagination, this includes things like lollipop sucking zombie killing high school girls and Quentin Tarantino films. All this guy is essentially saying is we should only have or approve of works that some pretentious “intellectual” type can give their approval too. Violence is a driving force behind human emotions and most great narratives, games and other works that go to the crazy level of violence and silliness have their place in our society too, it’s not bad taste, it’s just not you’re taste, doesn’t mean it’s some kind of inferior product.

    In short, not everyone is YOU and YOU don’t get to decide what is best for other people.

    • “In short, not everyone is YOU and YOU don’t get to decide what is best for other people.” This is true. Did you get the idea to say it from the first four lines of what Spector said? That’s exactly what he said.

      And no, violence isn’t “the main driving force” in great narratives – conflict is. And if you can’t tell the difference between those two I suggest you just start over.

    • You’ve missed the point entirely.

      Not every title is going to strive for ‘deep-mature intellectual’ content, but Spector’s argument is that the vast majority of games do the exact opposite. We’re generally talked down to by game developers, where even graphical fidelity is given over to arterial sprays more than lighting or texture work.

      The reason the violence in Tarantino films is so effective is because the characters involved in the violence have weight. It means something when The Bride plucks out an eyeball or Hans Landa has a swastika carved into his forehead because the impact of the violence is felt by the characters, not just the audience. Compare that with Kratos pulling out the eye of a Cyclops or ripping off gods’ heads – it’s just violence for the sake of violence.

      Of course video game violence can be relevant and weighty, but more often than not it’s used as a demeaning short-hand. No-one remembers Mortal Kombat for its fighting mechanics, or Gears of War for its Michael Bay-esque emotional spectacle. Games developers are saying to players ‘all you really want out of this pastime is to ogle women and disembowel things’. There’s no reason at all that video games can’t be more than that, and that’s what Spector is arguing for.

      He says it himself, he just wants games to stop acting like they, the developers and the audience, are stupid. Violence and intelligence are not mutually exclusive, and asking for both is not ‘pretentious’ or ‘intellectual’ at all. Rockstar manage to include a fair share of ultra-violence and sexual titillation in GTA4 and RDR, while still managing to make something more than a mechanistic, pornographic trigger. Far too often we the audience let developers get away with violence as an end of gaming, rather than as a means to achieve what gaming should really be about – having fun, telling stories and keeping us engaged.

    • I agree with your sentiment 100%, though I think the issue he has is more “we’ve got a whole rainbow on show, so why is all the attention focused on the colour red?” rather than “red doesn’t belong in a rainbow”
      weird analogy FTW

  • I tend to agree with his sentiments.

    Don’t get me know, I enjoy games with violence in them as much as the next average gamer. But sometimes when I take a step back and think about what i’m actually doing or viewing on screen, and how I’m supposed to just accept that as par for the course, it bugs me. Is it all actually necessary?

    For example, Fruit Ninja. That’s an awesome game, very entertaining, and very functional. The concept of slashing things with a sword is not new – they just rebranded it and stuck some good mechanics on it. And they’ve been very successful – all without any overt violence. Yes you could argue the concept at it’s core is violent, but they could have gone a zombie head route, or anything else.

    My point is, if we’re going to be mature and consider games for what they really are (rule systems), why are they so often dressed in excessive, glorified violence? Yes if the theme of the story is survival or oppression then violence very well may be a legitimate part of that story, but for most games, it isn’t necessary at all. not to the level it’s used. And the obsession that the gaming community has with that kind of glorified violence is quite juvenile, IMO.

  • I couldn’t agree more with the article.
    In a world where for me the more popular games I see and hear about are along the lines of Skyrim, Diablo 3, Minecraft and Skylanders.
    Sure they have violence, but not in the way or to the level that the E3 games did..

    I found the level of reported gore at E3 confusing.. Like a caricature of how fox news sees games..
    I put it down to figuring that E3 was as much about good games as the Oscars are about good movies….

  • I thinks some people are misreading this. He’s not saying violence in games is bad, he’s saying games are about much more than violence but E3 this year didn’t reflect that.

  • I think he clarified his position fairly well, and it’s an understandable one. It felt like I didn’t hear about anything that wasn’t super violent except for Nintendo’s offerings. But we know there is more diversity and more depth to games than that. Why does the spotlight only get shone on the super violent ones? They’re not even the games that use violence sparingly and effectively, they’re the overblown Grindhouse-esque super-gritty ones usually.

  • “I’m really not trying to tell people what to like. That’s the first point. ”

    “I wish people wouldn’t make games like that, I genuinely do”

    Bit hard to like immature violent games if they dont exist.

    Games like Suda51’s are awesomely stylised and violent, and adds to the insane stories he tells. Not exactly mature -quite the opposite, but it definatly makes me smile and is a ton of fun because its so absurd.
    I dont wish for all games to be like this at all, but I also dont wish that people stop making games I dont personally enjoy.

    • Suda51’s games would probably get a pass for being intelligent and artistic, the last two not withstanding.

      It’s important to note that Spector isn’t upset that “stupid, violent games” are made, but that they’re the unstoppably dominant force that is reigning, and just about prevailing over the nascent medium that is interactive gaming. This results in a distortionate effect on how gaming is perceived, what games are made, how games are made, why games are made, and how and why games are played and consumed.

      I never did play Epic Mickey (due to not being on PC), but games like Deus Ex are a much, much better showcase for gaming as an immersive, engaging medium than Hitman or Tomb Raider.

  • Great read, but one typo I noticed: “A woman who’s character is defined by rape, is not mature content.”

    Should be “whose”. Sorry to be a jerk, can’t help myself D:

  • I guess he really regrets making Crusader: No Remorse then. A game where you could burn, blast, scald and melt every enemy or civilian in the game.

    • @Grim

      I don’t know if he’s remorseful about making Crusader. Or any of the Ultima games from the main branch of the series. Or Deus Ex.

      I’d be surprised if that was the case. You’re missing the point. I’m not going to reply to every noob who can’t read and understand an article, but it’s getting pretty annoying reading comments that are basically kneejerk reactions to headlines.

      Grow a brain.

      Sincerely, the rest of the world that actually reads.

  • He makes a view valid points but says them like a precious sook.
    And i bought Epic Mickey wanting to love it but the gameplay (confusing level design) and character movements (bad jumping mechanics) made me turn it off after an hour or 2 of frustration and boredom.

  • I simply took him to be saying that he rejects the industry’s (or more likely average gamer’s) tendency to equivocate violence with maturity – don’t really see a problem with that. Although in the age of post modernism, he can be 100% wrong (for you) and 100% right (for him) at the same time so who cares right?

  • I think violence should just be something that happens in the game, I don’t think it should be a selling point of a game.

    I want great game play and a good story however if I shoot someone in the face I don’t want butterflies and rainbows to come out. Except in Serious Sam, that cracks me up.

    I’m pretty sure that is similar to what Warren is getting at.

    • “I want great game play and a good story however if I shoot someone in the face I don’t want butterflies and rainbows to come out. Except in Serious Sam”

      Possibly Diablo 3.

  • Great game maker, legendary sook.

    I look forward to the next dozen articles about this pretentious wanker moaning on and on.

    We get it, buddy. The world’s not good enough for you.

  • “I wish people would stop making stupid games. I wish everybody made games like I do”

    Uh…Deus Ex Human Revolution was pretty close to your original Warren. Granted, not from 2012, but still, the industry isn’t without hope.

  • Violence for the sake of having violence is not entertaining. It’s not mature either. It’s an eight year old drawing a giant robot shooting random nameless stick figures with copious amounts of blood being flicked about the page with a red crayon.

    Violence without context is gratuitousness, and creating context solely to justify the insertion of violence is no justification at all.
    Inserting violence into a game in place of innovation, and therefore not selling the innovation rather than the blood, it could be argued, is holding back the game development industry.

    Personally, the violence I saw in trailers at this years E3 was mostly immature & not needed.
    The only exception for me was The Last Of Us. It was easily the game that contained the most brutal acts of violence I’ve seen in a game in years. And the thing was, it didn’t have any explicit blood and gore. What it did have though, was impact. It gave me an almost physical reaction. I dont know about you, but I dont want to be desensitised to violence. Once the audience becomes complacent with the standard amount of gore displayed in media, to get the same level of shock or impact, the developers have to increase the explicitness of the media, and then the cycle repeats…
    In The Last Of Us, though, I think they achieved the same level of impact, not by showing in extreme detail the damage you were inflicting upon your enemies, but by showing, solely through dialogue and animations, how fragile a human being is, both psychologically and physically.

    Having said that though, I have no problem whatsoever with violence in games. Just so long as the violence is periphery to gameplay, and not the other way around.

    • What defines Epic Mickey as a “kids game” other than it not containing material not suitable for kids? Grow up 🙂

    • He’s actually advocating for more adult ideas in games. And he is absolutely correct when he mentions that violence just for violence’s sake is not adult, it’s immature.

      • Well in games like Fallout 3, it serves a purpose. Fallout has a very grim kind of comedy and the violence fits it perfectly. Watch “The Annoying Man” on Youtube if you don’t understand what I mean. In comparison, Fallout: New Vegas was a much more dark and mature game, and I don’t think the same level of violence worked that well in NV.

        I’m also not sure what games he was referring to at E3. All the big games, like Watch Dogs, ACIII, and whatnot had pretty tame levels of violence. Aside from Lollipop Chainsaw but then everyone can agree that that game is dumb as hell.

  • I agree with Spector definitely as far as this E3 was concerned, there was so much focus on shooters and action games, but hardly any coverage on a beautiful little indie game for the PSN called “The Unfinished Swan”. Man that game looks good, should have received much more interest.

  • I actually disagree with the analysis of most of the commenters in this article.

    It’s not violence as a mechanic that Warren is arguing against, its violence as feedback.
    If you were to play a game, solve a problem through violent means, and get rewarded with stars or points or a cutscene with you finding the princess in the tower, or a bit of text-delivered story, then that is fine.

    However, if your reward for successfully interacting with the game’s mechanics is a close up, slomo shot of a skull explosion, there is an issue there. Violence and gore becomes the reward, and it says that these are desirable things to chase. It’s absolutely tasteless.

    Its the difference between a film that uses violence as another way to deliver story and emotion (say, LOTR, Payback, etc), and one that just uses it for shock value and cheap thrills (Saw 99999).
    If you watched the academy awards, and saw nothing but torture porn films, you’d say there was something wrong with that industry.

  • I don’t know anyone who would argue against the point that lollipop chainsaw wasn’t mature content. In fact, isn’t he missing the point with that one? One should definitely view it as a game of immature content. Thank Christ for that. I don’t think I could handle every game being like Heavy Rain.

  • Someone up-thread mentioned Assassin’s Creed 3, and I think that perfectly encapsulates what Spector’s talking about. Uninspired, pulpy meta story aside, the Assassin’s Creed games draw you in with an engaging narrative, well drawn characters and fantastic gameplay mechanics (leaving aside Revelations). The face-stabbing, impaling and limb-breaking just feels totally superfluous to that. Slicing innumerable faceless Italians in half isn’t ‘mature’ violence, it’s just gratuitous. Doesn’t stop the games being great, but it’s not needed.

  • We should remember that Spector had a hand in Deus Ex and Thief which were clearly adult games so it’s not like he’s misinformed about the subject. I personally don’t think ultra violent games and the like are killing gaming because many of them are quite enjoyable. At the same time though, I can see where he’s coming from.

  • Warren is 100% right. Deus Ex and System Shock which are his best works didn’t need gore and violence. The gameplay was just a way to tell his stories and set the atmosphere.

    I’m really quite against super violence in games. Especially games that don’t need violence. Violence is only really necessary to set the game you want to. Gears of War 1 and 2’s violence was great because the game was portraying a gritty, gothic war while Gears of War 3 was very colourful and the story was hardly about a war which totally killed the experience for me and it didn’t need the violence it had. In fact, Gears 3 was hardly a Gears of War game for me. If I made it the way it was (which I wouldn’t of), I would’ve gotten rid of its personal story and open it way more up.

    Nowadays, finding a game with a mature story and no violence is nearly impossible. Deus Ex: HR was probably the only game that got everything right last year and maybe Batman.

  • I disagree with Warren. He tried to nip this criticism in the bud
    (oh sneaky fellow), but there is no difference between him being oh
    so shocked and appalled at the state of current video game culture
    as there was at Elizabethans being upset at the vulgarity of
    William Shakespeare. That’s right – no difference. Absolutely none.
    He obviously also knows this – so I find his argument not only
    false, but disingenous a well. I suppose these sort of “man shakes
    fist at the sky” moments seem less senile when you’re the one doing
    it, but objectively there’s no difference between complaining about
    Lollipop Chainsaw being vulgar as there was about my great grand
    parents decryng the swing in Elvis’s hips. Get over it. Or don’t –
    ultimately it doesn’t matter because we’re certainly not regressing
    backwards on this front.

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