Warren Spector: ‘The Ultra Violence Has To Stop. We Have To Stop Loving It’

Warren Spector: ‘The Ultra Violence Has To Stop. We Have To Stop Loving It’

In a fascinating interview over at GamesIndustry International, Warren Spector talks about his new game Epic Mickey 2, but also discussed his top level impressions of E3 2012. According to him, “the ultraviolence has to stop”.

“I just don’t believe in the effects argument at all,” said Spector, “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.”

Apparently it was a previous E3 in 2004 that convinced Spector to leave Eidos, after working at an Eidos booth featuring multiple violent games. He believes it may have gotten worse since then.

“I left Eidos in 2004,” said Spector, “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’s a really fascinating interview, with one of the most interesting people in the video games industry. Definitely a must read.

Warren Spector: “The ultraviolence has to stop” [GamesIndustry International]


  • I agree. Those trailers were pretty bloody grim.

    “I think we’re just appealing to an adolescent mindset and calling it mature.”

    This. This is exactly the problem.

  • There’s certainly a line that needs to be drawn.. and it’s pretty clear that in many cases that line has been smudged or outright erased in the progress of making more money from entertainment, not just in terms of games but all entertainment media. What was once R-rated, is not M-rated.. and so on.

    It’s one thing to show the brutal reality of war, such as in Saving Private Ryan, it’s an entirely different matter to create war-like environments for the sake of “the enjoyment of killing virtual soldiers”.

    • Yeah – this is what disturbs me about war games. MW2 was so fun, and yet they’re telling people how realistic it all is. Scares the shit out of me that a 18 year old could believe that and join the army – hell, I seriously considered joining because of Starship Troopers because it all looked exciting. I shit you not.

      • any 18 year old dumb enough to think MW2 is realistic probably would think mario is realistic enough that he should jump on turtles. take it from a teenager we arent dumbasses we can tell the line between a game and realife and this doesnt want to make us brutally murder each other like in a game.

        • It is true, teenagers are not as dumb as many of us older people think and are not going to brutally go on random killing sprees based on what they see in Battlefield/MW games but it now seems a lot of teenagers are becoming “numb” to real world violence.

  • I think blockbuster gaming needs to really start shifting into completely non-violent gameplay. Every major game, even Epic Mickey is based around some sort of combat.

    Until then, our industry will continue to be separated into the “casual Cut the Rope app games” and the “blockbuster violent games”

    • As much as that may be desirable for some, I honestly don’t think that we should swing the complete other direction and remove violent gameplay.

      As adults, which I assume which most of us or or are our way to being, we should know and remember that this is ‘fictional’, while understanding that there are still ramifications and consequences if we forget. That’s something which the gamer has to understand.

      Gaming companies should definitely try to open up more avenues and put more ‘glory’ so to speak at complete non-lethal approaches to games, (like Deus Ex and such), and putting more consequences to your actions. For instance, In one metal gear solid, the amount of people you kill, comes back to haunt you later on, I think sometimes exhibiting how you killed them. I found that brilliant. (A friend finished it only killing the bosses, that level was hilariously empty). FPS’s still exhibit war as ‘glorious’ and more importantly ‘casual’ when it’s far more grim and consequential as that.

    • I’m quietly pleased that they’re bringing Epic Mickey to the HD consoles this time around – and slightly pissed that last time they were cynical enough to make it Wii only.

  • One could counter that the sort of violence found in those family friendly games he works on are even more dehumanizing, and worse because of that, than these “ultra violent” games. You could say that it’s incredibly adolescent to turn violence into something as simple as beating on a character who sustains no visible injuries and then disappears into a puff of smoke once their HP hits 0 and then claim that’s the “mature” way of looking at violence.

    Of course I’m not saying I do think that but it’s food for thought. I will say though that I absolutely despise the whole idea of adolescents = liking big explosions and gore whilst mature = not liking that stuff.

    • I don’t think the ‘family’ games he works on these days are trying to humanize the things that ‘die.’ In fact quite the opposite. Epic Mickey is saying ‘here’s this inherently bad thing, it’s not human to begin with, and furthermore you don’t need to kill, you can cleanse the irrational ‘bad’ instead’ Other certain games are saying ‘here’s these humans, but look they have different viewpoints to our protagonist and therefore *dehumanize* kill them in as many gruesome ways you can imagine, as much as you can.’
      tl;dr: Apples and oranges in that case.
      I agree with latter sentiment, but I don’t think that’s what he’s saying, I’d say mature is understanding that those big explosions and gore come about for a reason and have unpleasant consequences for all involved in most cases. Sure, Call of Duty 18: Post Traumatic Stress wouldn’t be any fun, but perhaps that point, it might not be such a good thing that these games disengage murder and death from their immediate and long term outcomes. Surely there’s other ways for people to get their jollies from video games other than picking up a virtual gun and shooting virtual people. Video game violence doesn’t cause real life problems, but everything we absorb does have an effect on us.

    • I think that Epic Mickey generally makes you feel something for the choices you make though…even when you convert bad guys to “good” guys, those good guys go around picking on and beating up their former friends so it’s all very disturbing.

  • I love how often Deus Ex gets brought up in these arguments. And it should! It was a solid action game that had violence as an option, but also let you sneak about, or talk your way through problems. Different people would treat you differently based on how you play the game. Farmed out boss fights aside, same with Human Revolutions.

    Of course, HR was from Eidos, so…Huh. Make of that what you will.

  • 95% of games have violence or things you wouldn’t get away with in life. Eg Mario kills, Crash, Spyro all kill. Then you have your usual suspects. Even sports games where you cant kill you can do things you wouldn’t get away with and even some of them have extra violence added in.
    That is why games like Journey was a breath of fresh air, just a gentle stroll through the sand.

  • I don’t like really violent games.Over the top gore just turns me off. When I was at the EB Expo last year, I was waiting in line to play Batman AC for an hour, and beside the line they had The Darkness 2 demo going over and over and over. Needless to say, I don’t really like that game much :/
    I don’t think those kinds of games should be gotten rid of completely, and they probably never will, seeing as though they print money. I’d like to see them become more of a niche than the norm though. I’d love to see some more big name triple A titles like Epic Mickey, that don’t rely on violence to sell copies.

  • Couldn’t agree more. Violence used properly, conveyed with the full impact of the consequences it can have is great, the attitude and way it is handled these days worries me.

  • When it comes down to it.. if I think about it objectively.. the fun is not from seeing someone get killed but the challenge of doing it without getting yourself killed.. the satisfaction that all these factors combined because of your “skill” in the game to get you the “kill” but not the kill itself.. not the violence itself. At the end of the day it is the journey not the destination.. the puzzle not the solution.. that is the satisfying part. If all you did was run around splattering brains on walls with absolutely no consequence to yourself, it would get boring very quickly.. even a zombie game has consequences for not being skillful.

    • I have friends this is simply not true for, and it’s something I don’t understand, people literally can be amused by splattering brains over walls for years an years without it becoming boring,as someone who doesn’t get the appeal in gore for the sake of gore, I couldn’t tell you why.

      • This right here is the problem with even talking about this issue. Everyone is completely different. I personally enjoy story and an in depth character development over any other form of video game entertainment, seriously give me a game of Pong with a great story and I’ll be happy, but then my best friend, who I’ve known for my entire life, loves violence and this blood and guts nonsense “ultra violence” we see eye to eye on everyhing else, but in this one issue, we are completely opposite.
        This alone makes it impossible for us to determine which games are better or even what makes games appealing to either of us.

    • When studying a game, there are essentially 3 parts: the information the player is given, the mechanic, and the feedback.
      In all games, the ‘play’ comes from taking in the information given, and understanding the way the mechanics work enough to give a positive feedback.

      Violence as a mechanic is not so troubling, but violence and gore as a feedback has to stop. When your reward for playing well is to be given blood and guts as feedback, you are saying to the player that blood and guts is a good thing.

      If the reward for being an accurate sniper is getting to see the target’s skull explode while their brains splatter out in slow motion, then you are glorifying violence and death.

      And unfortunately, as AAA games become more and more cinematic, where every minor action is rewarded with a cutscene of some sort, all that’ happening is the feedback is increasing, and becoming less and less avoidable. It’s worse than glorifying these negative aspects, it’s normalising them.

    • Whilst this is where I’m coming from, things like the slow motion kills in Fallout 3 lead me to believe we must be in the minority.

  • Well, I happen to like it. To me it’s like ultra-violence in horror movies, when you’re confronted with something so far over the top and wrong what choice do you have but to laugh? The fatalities in Mortal Kombat are a good example.

    Different strokes for different folks, I guess, which is why it’s great people can buy Mickey Mouse games if they want, or Hitman games if they don’t.

    • I suppose, but it seems that every AAA title is heading this way. What if all movie producers started making nothing but ultra-violent horror movies for the next five to ten years? How do you think people would react, and why should video games be any different when confronted with the same situation? The issue is not with its presence, but its prevalence.

    • Or, more to the point, it’s the easiest way to get a reaction from the player.

      The more complex, (or less primal) the emotion, the more difficult it is to inspire said emotion in a player. And what are the 3 most primal emotions? Fear, Excitement and Anger.

  • He raises some very valid points. Ive always admired Hideo Kojima, the metal gear games are not shy with ultra violence but what impresses me most is that the 3 highest accolodes in MGS4 require you to have no kills at all! Hideo even encourages you to play the game non lethaly, i think that alone is a very positive message. Because they give you a choice not to kill and still acomplish your goals, the same goes for deus ex.

  • Agreed. I think it’s totally reasonable to have a couple of ultra-violent games – the occasional Dead Space or Hitman. But lately it seems like it’s all of them. Every single blockbuster. The bar for gore and violence constantly getting raised, and sometimes it feels like that’s what all games are about.

    It’s not all games, obviously. It’s easy to name a heap of exceptions. But the balance is really skewed. And I can kind of see where video games get their bad rap from now. The super-violent games ought to be the exception, not the rule. Imagine if this were the movie industry. It would be the equivalent of six SAW movies getting made for every Pixar one. It starts to move from ‘likes horror movies’ to ‘seriously, does everything have to be covered in blood? Are you secretly a psychopath?’ territory.

  • People like what they like.
    I’d certainly welcome more, less-violent games.
    But a good game is a good game, whether it’s a gorefest or not.
    And I just want more good games.

    Don’t like, don’t look.

    It’s a motto folk should start adhering too, whether they’re tired of video game violence or on another note tired of “sexism” in video games.

    It’s also a motto I’m going to have to start adhering to in regards to these articles because frankly I’m sick to death of people complaining about this sort of thing. Baww, too violent. Baww, breasts!
    Just ignore the crap you don’t like, play the crap you do and leave it at that.

  • A game shouldn’t be made to be violent. A game should be made, and if the tone/story/feel of the game ends up being violent, then it’s violent.

    Max Payne for example, there was no way that game wasn’t going to be violent because of the tone/story/setting.

    My 2 energon.

  • I dont see the issue here. If I want a gruesome fps, there is a game for that. If I want a platformer or puzzle game then I have plenty of options there too.

  • Violence in games is a reflection of society not the other way around. If you think games, books, news reporting or movies etc are going to stop that reflection of society then you have a rude awakening ahead of you.

    While his ideals are utopian it’s just not based in human nature. What he champions is more a societal shift away from easy news, easy games, easy movies etc.

    There is room for all sorts of genres and mediums, why complain about it? Leave parents to parenting and mature adults to choose for themselves.

  • Sorry Warren, you’re awesome but

    “The slow-motion blood spurts, the impalement by deadly assassins, the knives, shoulders, elbows to the throat.”

    Shoulders? Elbows to the throat with no blood? KNIVES!? AAAAAAAAAAA

    I’d understand if he’s fed up with the level of violence in Fallout 3 and L4D2 etc. but it sounds a lot like he just wants to make games kid-friendly or something.

    • Which he should to some extent, I mean have you seen the terrible selection of games worthwhile for kids these days?

  • I really don’t care whether a game is ultra violent or not, if it’s a good game then I’ll play it. If people get offended by violent games then don’t play them, simple really.

  • Here’s an interesting thought:

    I’ve played many hyper-violent video games and love horror games at that. But I shy away from most horror and blood & guts focused movies/anime as it tends to leave me with horrible feelings, sickening to the point of me wanting to stop. One would assume that if one felt this way about violence it would be the other way round. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to why this is? I’ll reply with my own theories later.

  • I think people will need a lot more drugs for happy fluffy video gaming, Child of Eden comes close but you are still shooting things, I shot the barnacles off a transparent whale… it didn’t seem to mind.

  • Disney is more family friendly so of course they aren’t going to make games where you kill soldiers or zombies or space aliens. It’s just not part of their make-up. Hell, they’re trying to sell crap to kids who are too stupid to realise its crap and they’re being manipulated into pestering their parents to buy it.

    Violence is fine, it’s just when violence is over used or when it is put in place as a substitute for plot/mechanics/gameplay etc.

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