The Big Question: Are Video Games Too Violent

Of all the 'big questions' we've run on Kotaku, this one might be the biggest. Are video games too violent?

To me this question has two main components. The first is the idea that games are too violent and it affects as human beings. The second is that video games are too violent and it affects the quality of the games themselves.

The first? Well the jury is out on that one, but I'm going to say that if games have the power to impact us positively (and I think they do) then it follows that games have the power to affect us negatively. Now I don't think that violent video games make us violent, but I do wonder if they might have some sort of other effect.

As for how it affects the games themselves? Well, I think it's a problem in some games for sure. The sustained violence in BioShock Infinite, I thought, was a completely negative thing — that and the combat itself killed the game for me. The Last of Us? I still think it's an incredible game on almost every possible level, but I really wish Naughty Dog had shown a little more trust and courage in its story. I think that game probably needed at least 80% less killing of other human beings. That's just my opinion.

What's yours?


    Video games are no more violent than they were when I was a child in the 80s. However, the graphical detail in which violence has been shown has created the illusion that it has become more violent.

      That's an excellent point.

        I dunno, can't think of anything in the 80s to compare the Sniper series to.

        It isn't so much violence, as revelling in gore that bugs me. Stupid amounts of gore actually takes me out of the game.

          The 90s on the other hand is full of examples of heavy gore. Doom, Carmageddon, Quarantine, Harvester, just to name a few.

            I was actually coming on here to say I missed the days of games like Carmageddon and Doom.

            Games aren't violent enough anymore. COD/BF make it seem like if you were to get shot a puff of smoke comes out and you just fall down.

      Objectively, I understand your point.

      However isn't the "illusion" you speak of effectively tantamount to a greater degree of violence subjectively?

      To ignore the subjective side of the violence is to arguably fudge the question I reckon. Games now are en masse, arguably more violent, simply due to the fidelity and visceral response that this occasions.

      FWIW, some games are too violent. I'd nominate Sniper Elite, Mortal Kombat (particularly now, cf. subjectivity) and even the latest Tomb Raider as over the top.

      I didn't have a problem with say, TLoU, The Walking Dead and Fallout as contextually, I can accept that desperate people do desperate things. You need to show a certain amount of brutality.

      In short, I'm not shy of violence, and think it has a place in story telling, but when it's just gratuitous, I believe it's a weak narrative device, unnecessary, and frankly a bit of a stain on the industry.

      I don't remember being able to beat up hookers with a lead pipe in the 80s.

        In Custer's Revenge (1982), your objective was to reach and then rape a tied up Native American woman. I'd say that's pretty violent.

    In Super Mario 3D World, when your character jumps to kill a goomba, its body gets completely squashed beyond recognition and then LITERALLY explodes. I vote yes! Too violent!

    No, the problem is that the people that think they are can't differentiate between a game and reality. IT'S A FRIGGIN' COMPUTER ANIMATED CHARACTER, IT'S NOT REAL!

      Yet somehow they can differentiate between a movie and reality.

    I think the vote is going to be skewed because of most of our history with violent games, but my answer is basically yes, and no.

    I think there's a place for violent games, just like in film, as long as it is in context and not used as just a selling point. If there was no blood and minimal violence in a game like Bioshock Infinite, then I wouldn't bat an eyelid and the game would probably be better off for it, but a game like Mortal Kombat is violent to the point of making a joke out of it, it's stylized and ridiculous, but its justified in the games context and setting.

    I'd hope that developers would move past the point where they feel like they need to add violence as a selling point for their games, but when you look at the totally unnecessary executions in Tomb Raider, or one of the most recent trailers for Dying Light where all it sells is all the multitude of ways you can mutilate zombies, then I realise we're pretty far off that point still.

    This feels like a loaded question, yikes.

    It's hard to give a definitive answer, because an "acceptable" level of violence is a very personal preference. I think as long as it doesn't dull someone's idea of violence? Like, if you play a game and can still go, "Ohhhh man... " when a particularly gruesome attack plays out, then at least you're still aware of what you're seeing, and it's not just white noise.

    It would be more interesting, certainly, if like, for a single year game companies banded together and said, "Let's be really clever and creative and focus our games on other aspects besides all out violence."

    Personally I think there is a concerning lack of sexual violence in video games

    Depends i guess. I personally don't like gibbing in my games, even though i love UT,Quake and tf2.
    But that's just me.

    Completely agree with Bioshock Infinite being too violent, it just detracted from the game. In the originals you're killing mutated monster-people, but in Infinite you're brutally murdering human beings for most of it.

    Completely disagree with the Last of Us being too violent, it fit the game perfectly, and the pay-off realisation at the end would have been completely toothless without the brutality.

      Agree here too. The Last of Us is about survival at all costs, yes, it's an extremely violent game, but put yourself in the shoes of Joel, and you'd do the same.

      Violence for the sake of violence is another matter, that's when it can get a little too much.

    Violence, to me, is a by-product of action. I love action games and movies. I like the feeling of empowerment, the idea that no matter how bad things get one person can stand up and right the wrongs. That's all fun to explore in the safety of fiction, and violence is a natural side effect. It's not the reason that I enjoy action media, though.

    If a game were a steak meal, the violence to me would be a nice sauce that brings out the best in the underlying meat-and-veg. I'd be just as happy to eat a really well cooked steak on its own, but I'm definitely not interested in you just serving me a bowl full of gravy.

    I think that some games are too focused on the violent end result, and I do find it a little disturbing that some developers (and presumably players) think that the violence is, in and of itself, a notable feature.

    E.g. Max Payne 3 with its ever more gruesome slow-motion death cameras, to the point that the game actively encourages you to hold down a button to maintain the slow motion and continue to pump bullets into the already deceased enemy. Just to watch flesh tear open and blood spray. Despite the fact that bullets are a finite resource in the game.

    Last edited 20/08/14 11:31 am

    Nope, not at all. :D

      I was looking for this!! I'm glad I'm not the only one that remembers deathcam.

      I would like to know why Spec Ops: The Line was not mentioned in this article.

    Are video games too violent? OR NOT VIOLENT ENOUGH?! :P

    If a certain video game is too violent for someone then they shouldn't be playing it. If a certain video game is too violent for your child then it's up to you to stop them from playing it. There are plenty of video games out there which aren't violent... play those. People who like violence in video games should not have to suffer for people who don't like them.

    I voted yes.
    That isn't to say individually a game is too violent, there is a place for that and I like getting my shooty mcface on when I feel like it.
    The reason I voted yes is there is still very few games that don't have a huge amount of violence and the best way to interact is with a gun. I think we are ready for some highly polished games that shy away from the massive violence. The way people loved the start of bioshock infinite and then got upset with the game when it got overly man shooty.
    Or the expectations of remember me that were crushed when it was revealed it was basically just another brawler.
    I feel the market is there, but it will be a hard nut to crack

    I think a better question is at what point would you consider a game too violent.
    The only game that was too violent, in my experience, is Manhunt.
    There may be more, but in general I don't think games are too violent.
    And if violence isn't your thing, then don't play the violent games.
    There are many games out there, many amazing games, that aren't violent at all.

      I was definitely a bit confronted by the violence in the original Manhunt, but I think that really underscored a point they were trying to make. The game is about participating - unwillingly - in a snuff film. The violence was ugly, visceral, actually violent instead of cartoonish. It made me a little queasy. And when you're dealing with the subject of snuff films, it probably should. I reckon it was... too violent for casual consumption, utterly appropriate level of violence for the subject matter.

        Manhunt (omg murder sim!) did so many things right. For me, I loved every bit. I loved the feeling of helplessness, being forced to kill for ratings, exactly like The Running Man, but what I loved was that even way back on the Xbox, this game broke the 4th wall and no always-on Kinect was required.

        For those that didn't give the game enough of a try, at the start the Director (You're still in my head Brian) tells you to put in an earpiece so he can talk to you. At this point, if you've got a headset, his voice talks to you through that instead of the TV. Really puts you in the game. The other bonus to the headset is the mic. You can tap on walls or throw items down a hallway to make noise to attract a thugs attention... or you can speak into the mic. I recall one time where I forgot this, the wife came in to talk to me so I hid in the shadows. I responded to her like a good husband and about 8 thugs call back "There he is!". This was 2003 people. No need for fancy next-gen devices, just clever use of technology.

      I remember being quite shocked by Soldier of Fortune as well. To be fair I was only about 13 when I played it.

    I don't know... Are movies too violent? Does rock and roll lead to devil worship? If you answer yes to any of these questions then I concede that video games are too violent.

    I think games are suffering from the stigma of a new and upcoming medium of entertainment. It happens to all forms of entertainment as they rise and eventually people realize one simple fact "oh it's not real". Games do have the power to influence people, much the same as music and movies do, much like any form of art or human expression does.

    This was a tough one. I went with yes, but I'm immediately going to contradict myself by saying that violence in games is almost always the juvenile representation of it and thus they aren't truly violent. There are very few games that depict true violence and very rarely does a game make me feel "This is kind of wrong. I'm feeling really awkward about this.".

    The reason I went with yes though, is that games are trying far too hard to be "visceral" experiences these days and are starting to get a bit ridiculous and stale. Make the violence complement the gameplay, don't just put it in to sell more games.

    Yes, but also no. I think it depends on the game and the context, as well as the type of violence.

    Unfortunately, games are not more violent than the world we live in. What we do in games others do in real life, with real people. In my opinion NO, but...

    I also agree with what jane xo said: "It's hard to give a definitive answer, because an "acceptable" level of violence is a very personal preference."

    In what context? How are we measuring what's the level of 'just enough violence' compared to 'too much violence'? Do we leave it until someone somewhere kills someone and it turns out they've got a playstation and GTA V in their living room?

    Movies ratings have become a lot more relaxed over the last decade or two but the films themselves haven't lessened the levels of violence (Robocop remakes aside) but why are games singled out? When making Cradle Of Fear, Alex Chandon said he tried his hardest to get an R rating but it was harder and harder to do so and that came out in 2001. Are games the new scapegoat because they're the (relatively) new entertainment industry that people don't understand but like to place blame on?

    The other thing I'd like to ask is are you asking this question on an industry wide level or on a game by game basis? For sure you can say that there are a few individual games that have too much violence in (again though, levels of violence and what's too much is still subjective to the person playing) but as an industry not every single game contains violence

    Are video games too violent? Why not relate it to all media. Are books too violent? Are movies too violent? It comes down to personal preference, and if it IS too violent, then do not buy the product in question.

    I play games to escape the real world so if the violence is stupid enough to snap me out of my escapism and back into the real world momentarily then it's not helping. But I would say the same of clumsy UI's, poor framerate etc too.

    It boils down to this: we don't blame the car when a drunk driver crashes, so why should we blame games for violence?

      Nice way of putting it

    Are video games too violent?

    Honest answer, @markserrels, it does not matter. The matter lies in what the individual does after viewing the content.

    To use myself as an example, I'm fond of the Myst games (pretty obvious already given my past posts) and was one of the factors that lead me to keep actual paper journals and writing almost exclusively with a fountain pen. I'm not talking about a disposable one, I speak of the real thing with a cartridge or a piston.

    But the credit does not go to Myst, it goes to me for making the choice to try an age old method and running with it. This is a good consequence and the ownership lies with me because I chose to do so.

    In terms of going the opposite, if someone plays a video game with violence in it and then goes on a massacre (or Postal as the term goes in the US), the credit again goes to the individual for being the one deciding that violence in the real world is the answer.

    Again, the ownership of the consequence does not go to the game nor the developers and or publishers thereof. The ownership is of the individual.

    In terms of your second point, again it depends. Violence like sound and graphics is but an element of the game. At it's core is the design of the game and it governs what the came conveys (exploration, ideas via art, etc).

    The design of the game is directly linked to the quality of the game and can even help make up for deficiencies in other areas such as sound or poor graphics (unless it's games like Grandia where the poor voices actually makes for comedic effect).

    At the risk of being laughed out of here, Bioshock Infinite is a clear example of this. Graphics, sound and story wise, the game is fantastic. In terms of violence there are times where there is just no rime nor reason for it. There are regions in the game where there is one over the top battle every five feet thus breaking the emersion and turning the game from entertainment to a frustration.

    Last edited 20/08/14 12:30 pm

      At the risk of sounding hipster-ish, I've been saying for a long time that Bioshock: Infinite is a great game trapped in an FPS. It could have made a great puzzle/adventure game.

      I'd argue the problem is less that video games are too violent, and more with games that lean too heavily on violence as a method of interacting with the game world, or using violence for the wrong reasons. Most modern FPS can be forgiven for suffering from the former, but as for the latter... CoD has repeatedly included violent and shocking imagery seemingly for no reason other than to get publicity, whereas Spec Ops: The Line was violent to convey a message about the horrors of war. Bioshock: Infinite was violent because it felt it had to be an FPS, while Outlast used a far higher level of violence (far more effectively) to scare the player. Dead Space is extremely violent, but again, it's justified by context and used to evoke dread to great effect. Skyrim, on the other hand seems to have included decapitations and execution moves purely because the combat would otherwise be boring (and it kinda is, anyway).

      I'm convinced that it comes down to how and why violence is used, and less so how violent a certain scene is when taken in isolation.

      Also, completely off topic, but it's nice to hear I'm not the only FP user on here. :)

    Are all video games too violent?
    Are some video games too violent?

    I feel like we're not all answering the same question.

    In terms of the big-budget, AAA video games: You can draw a similarity to Hollywood and the production and sale of big-budget movies... investment, financial return, "safe bets", targeting as many demographics as possible, etc...

    Here is the largest grossing films of all time, world-wide:
    Marvel's The Avengers
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
    Iron Man 3
    Transformers: Dark of the Moon
    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    The Dark Knight Rises
    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
    Toy Story 3
    Transformers: Age of Extinction
    Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
    Jurassic Park
    Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
    Alice in Wonderland (2010)
    The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    The Dark Knight
    The Lion King

    The ones underlined didn't contain any violence on par with that which we reugularly see in video games.

    Now here's the list of highest units sold for PS3:
    Gran Turismo 5
    The Last of Us
    Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
    Gran Turismo 5 Prologue
    God of War III
    Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
    Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
    Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
    Call of Duty: Black Ops
    Final Fantasy XIII
    Grand Theft Auto IV
    Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
    Resistance: Fall of Man
    God of War Collection
    Killzone 2
    Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
    Call of Duty: World at War

    My point is that the modern video game industry has started following the same strategy as the motion picture industry.

    Not saying its the right thing to do; but those with the power must believe it's the best way to make money.

    Last edited 20/08/14 12:38 pm

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