Tag Archives: violence

Crap of War

“Games journalists” are very excited about the latest installment in the God of War franchise, a game about brutalizing everything that walks, because Kratos is a dad now (that seems to be a thing as game developers get older – what can we do with Kratos? Oh right, make him a dad, because we can relate to that now).

Aww. He cares so much about his son that he teaches him to charge headlong into danger, instead of away from it, because Kratos totally doesn’t want the boy to become like himself.

… Smart move, Kratos.

Hand the boy a weapon and he’ll grow up to become an upstanding, peace-loving citizen, and be real good at solving problems without resorting to violence. I’m sure.

I might have more to say about it, depending on the exact way it butchers Norse mythology, in a while. But seriously, this is a thing about dismembering monsters yet everybody finds a ton of highly philosophical things to say about it?

Hand me the acid, please.

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Munich: “Violence games” blamed again

After the Munich shooting German government and media are putting the blame on “Gewaltspiele”, which must be translated as “violence games” or even “homicide games”. German Minister of the Interior De Maiziere said: “Those violence games on the Internet can’t be good.” German weekly Der Spiegel picks up the ball and runs with it: “He called himself Hate – intensely played violence games on the Internet.”

The case is clear, right? Those damned games corrupted yet another innocent young man.

What do we know?

  • Shooter grew up in Germany but also had an Iranian passport
  • Known as a nice boy to neighbours
  • Was undergoing treatment for depression
  • Was ridiculed by classmates, had no friends
  • Was invited to Counter-Strike team “out of pity”
  • Racist toward Turks and Jews, spouted hate online
  • Described by teammates as “strongly nationalistic”
  • Called himself “Amokläufer” (“crazy shooter”)
  • Worshipped other teenage shooters
  • Started team-killing online, then dropped out
  • Researched shootings such as Anders Behring Breivik’s
  • Committed shooting on 5 year anniversary of Utøya shooting
  • Shouts in a video, “I am a German”
  • Large part of victims were immigrants
  • Killed himself when confronted by police

Looks to me like he was a racist fucker who worshipped Breivik. Possibly had a hard youth. Apparently police assisted suicide with shooting spree.

Sad story. But video games as the culprit? Seems like a stretch. More like, playing a disproportionate amount of video games and spouting hate online (as unfortunately, a lot of self-professed “gamers” tend to do) are a symptom and an outlet for such people. How exactly video games function in this context (perhaps as desensitizers?) isn’t clear at all. They’re not the root cause for this guy’s fucked-up life story, anyway.

Breivik, who killed almost 100 people in Norway five years ago, played World of Warcraft… as millions of people do without turning into crazed killers.

Come on, politicians, media people, there has to be a better reason and it’s not that hard to find.

 


Grossed Out

Interesting piece on gamasutra about the effects of making gruesome video games on developers.

I’ve never spent eight months looking at colon pictures, and luckily I never had to research depictions of hanging etc, but I’ve certainly had my share of playing and modding violent video games. I have always been pretty grossed out by those mods and games that make it their point to add even more blood and gore, until you have blood on the walls, blood on the ceiling, blood splattering on the camera like so much strawberry juice while you watch slow-mo killcams and your avatar shouts “Motherfucker!” or gleefully stabs the other guy to death because he’s a Korean, an alien, or just on the other team…

Yeah, I never quite understood the appeal of going ever more over the top. I was grossed out by God of War already, I was taken aback at the slow-mo disembowelment, dismemberment, and decapitations of games like Ryse: Son of Rome, and all the “takedown animations” of Street Fighter that consist of ripping out ribcages or whatever.

But it goes further back; ever since Tomb Raider switched from shooting at wolves and bats to shooting at people, and Quake switched from shooting Lovecraftian horrors or barely-human kludgy cyborgs to shooting disgustingly human-looking things, and since the appearance of games like Call of Duty or Far Cry, and games’ art styles tending ever more towards the gross and the shock value until “realistic dismemberment” became a selling point, and games tried to emulate the grossest scenes of “Saving Private Ryan”, there was an undercurrent of wrongness that never quite went away.

What happens to you when you spend years playing games whose major game mechanic is shooting things, or shooting people, or realistically dismembering other living things, in a claustrophobic environment or on a simulated battlefield is an interesting question. My guess is it eventually desensitizes you. And does spending hundreds of hours in an ever more photorealistic simulated war zone result in the same thing as being in a real one, namely PTSD? Why would it not?  You get drawn pretty deeply into it when you sit in front of your PC or console after dark, possibly under the influence of drugs or stimulants. (Drugs are in no way uncommon in the gaming scene.)

Do we think it desirable, then, to become desensitized? Hopefully not.

Note I’m as much into movies like “Alien” or a good horror story as the next guy. I just don’t habitually watch the more extreme splatter movies and I don’t habitually play the more extreme splatter games. I think if it becomes an everyday thing, it grinds you down. I watched “Dancer in the Dark” once and found it excellent, and the ending is one of the grossest things ever, but it’s not a movie I would want to watch again. Once was enough. I got the message. I can’t remember when I last actually re-watched an “Alien” movie. There is no need, I remember them well. I think everyone who watched them does.

And while I play games like Starcraft, with their abstract eagle-eye perspective on strategy and their comicky characters, I don’t go for the semi-realistic war games. I recently watched a playthrough of the last Battlefield game, just to see where the current bar is for graphics, gameplay and animations, and that was quite enough.

As for development, I never quite grasped why people needed flaming gibs (meat pieces) and more ample amounts of blood, but it was quite a standard thing to do in shooter game mods. And I’m guilty of implementing a backstabbing mechanic in Quake and animating prisoners who had lost their mind crawling around and moaning. Um, yeah. That was then, though. This is now.

Anyway, maybe my being grossed-out at this point is one reason why Scout’s Journey doesn’t have such a thing as stabbing people in the back. I don’t want to program or animate it, and the protagonist will actually refuse to do things like that (she’s quite her own person at this point.) And if you somehow managed to make Scout evil enough to remove her resistance to shooting someone in the back, you’ll still get a “murderer” stamp if you do.

I took care to blur the line between friends and enemies, the Herd soldiers you’ll come up against are people as much as Scout is. The entire faction is designed as such. Maybe some of them are assholes, but they’re still humans. They have wants and needs and you will hear them talk about it. Some of them are your friends. As the game proceeds, you’ll learn about the horrible situation that these people got themselves into. They’re not “evil by default”, quite the contrary – they were soldiers just like Scout before (spoiler) happened. The game even has a mechanic to help injured enemies, and if you do, you’ll get rewarded. Not to mention that attack in SJ is a bit of a last ditch option – if you’ve ever played one of these mods that give enemies the same firepower and accuracy as the player, you’ll know how that changes the game. And in SJ, they come in groups and you’re alone. Some of them are spellcasters or summoners. Better prepare the retreat before you start anything, and better think twice before taking a shot at anything of theirs. You’ll even be able to talk to certain enemy soldiers and trade with them to improve your relation. An enemy Banshee might give you 30 seconds to interact with her before she goes hostile (which her faction duty still demands.) Unless her commander is in sight. If you’re spotted, depending on your relation and coincidence, you might get 10 seconds to make yourself unseen. Or you might be shot at. It depends who you’re dealing with and what your relation is.

Scout is in this role of outcast, of onlooker. They don’t really consider her a threat, unless one of them has a bad day or Scout is getting uppity. Then they will whack her. She’s not the all-powerful superhero of other games.

Basically, the “enemy” in Scout’s Journey is like you, just more desperate.

I find that a lot more interesting to design than some cut-and-dried cannon fodder enemies and slow-mo dismemberment mechanics. And hopefully, the player will be forced to empathize with these people. Empathy is a thing severely lacking in the gaming community and the world.

My game still deals with some dark stuff, but not as a tapestry of sales-oriented edginess, instead as a requirement of catharsis.

I’m kinda glad I don’t have to sit in a studio and animate realistic hangings for months. The upside of being indie, I guess.


Do video games create violence? Wrong question

The question should be, is violence really the best thing to do with video games as a medium?

Errant Signal claimed in one of his videos that violence is the easiest thing to do within a spatial simulation (which video games are), and that’s why video games are so violent. I’m sorry, that argument just doesn’t fly. The easiest things to do with a spatial simulation are a) movement and b) exploration. None of those even require the implementation of any sort of combat system. Conversely, a combat system needs both movement (eg for dodging) and exploration (eg for acquiring ammo and health) PLUS weapon models, cover, sound effects, weapon switch, reloading, dying animations, particles, explosions, and so forth. Combat is harder to implement than the other two.

Consequently, I’m sure “Gone Home” (mainly exploration) was easier to implement than the current incarnation of “Call of Duty” (mainly combat.) It follows that Errant Signal was wrong about this.

Point-and-click

It is true, though, that after movement and exploration, point-and-click is the third easiest gameplay mechanic to implement. That’s because the computer already does it for you. If shooting is your intention, then the mouse already IS the gun. So basic combat technically isn’t far off, but neither are other point-and-click mechanics.

This alone still doesn’t explain why combat is FAR more popular than either movement or exploration, which are both easier to implement (if you have movement, you basically get exploration for free.) So it can’t have a purely technical reason – it must be a cultural one (dudebro approach, gun cult, blowing shit up, and all that.)

Both producers and “gamers” seem to have accepted violence as THE main gameplay mechanic. If you search Google or Youtube, you find a lot of people talking about how video game violence isn’t that bad. But practically no one questions the dominance of violence as the base of video games anymore. I guess if something just happens long enough, people will take it for normal.

Lack of verbs

Something that has been drowned in the noise is the fact that point-and-click doesn’t have to mean “attack.”

It can also mean: take, examine, interact. Throw, catch, place, search, collect, create, manipulate, enter, direct, build, repair, help, manage, summon, open a portal, and more.

“Left mouse button = shoot” is a rut that games are stuck in, and it’s apparently so deep that it prevents most developers from looking outside.

Lack of market penetration

There’s evidently a world of other possibilities for “spatial simulations” than just point-and-shoot. By not exploring and not demanding them, and instead perpetuating the click-to-kill thing, developers, publishers and players are providing only so much rope as to hang themselves with. Killing games will never achieve full market penetration, because older people / people with a higher education will not want to stoop so low.

But it seems that companies are content with their current slice of the pie, namely the customers who buy “Call of Duty” and things like action-RPGs or MMOs. Does it not occur to them that the pie is bigger?


Appeal of Destruction?

Sorry, I’ve got to post about the appeal of violence again, because it occurred to me that all the gear destruction videos (such as boiling a new iphone in coke) demonstrate a basic effect that can also be found in a lot of video games.

I wrote last time about killing in video games, and someone commented that sex and violence just deliver quick fun or satisfaction. There was also something about competition and being able to just take it to the extreme, killing.

Gear destruction may come from a number of factors, but one of them is simply the fun of blowing stuff up, the basic fun of rebellion, of breaking social codes without fearing repercussions. On top of that, you’re destroying something that other people hold dear, that other people devoted years to when they invented and developed it, that someone in an Asian sweatshop had to assemble, you’re destroying other people’s fun, the result of their work, and obliterating a cultural icon. That must be all kinds of fun to a lot of people, since those videos get millions of views.

It’s much like kicking over a sand castle, or setting ants on fire in front of other children. Gross antisocial behaviour in front of others.

As a game developer who tries to figure out why violence is the default in games, this immediately rings a bell. I guess just going and blowing shit up, ideally while your shocked parents are watching (remember the Strafe trailer?) is a source of immediate fun and satisfaction for certain people, which is precisely why games with destructible environments and games where you can kill chicken with watermelons let you do these things.

Is it too much to interpret wanton destruction as another act of competition taken to the extreme? “See what I do, I’m powerful, I’m cool, I’m unstoppable.” I mean, people don’t shoot an iphone out in the desert where no one watches. They film it and put it on youtube. Destruction in games? Hmm. Multiplayer, school yard, youtube again.

Games like Hatred are built around this principle – wanton destruction, killing completely innocent people in the street, and the more it breaks social behavioral codes, the more extreme and baseless the destruction, the better. Apparently.

The logical next step: Kindergarten Killer. You heard it here first.


Re: Killing as the default in games

why

Loosely in response to a video and Polygon article, I’d like to make a couple points about why “killing” is so often the basic gameplay mechanic in best-selling video games.

Killing is here defined as “pointing the mouse / crosshair / cursor at something and clicking to make it go away / fall over / evaporate in a blood-and-guts lightshow.” As seen in countless shooters, role playing games and MMOs, but going back all the way to Space Invaders and similar games. Today I’d estimate that most of the killing in video games goes on in competitive online multiplayer games. Mark the word “competitive.”

It’s true that conflict is one of the ingredients of an engaging story. And conflict sometimes means life or death, as in pretty much any crime novel or action movie. It’s also true that it’s all a part of human culture. Humans came up with martial arts, self defense and all kinds of military drills and tactics.

Thart explains part of it, but it only scratches the surface.

Technical point of view

Looking at it from a technical point of view, this killing and shooting can be summed up as “interaction.” Being an interactive problem-solving obstacle-overcoming kind of thing is what games are all about, and what separates them from e.g. movies. And it so happens that pointing and clicking is technically the simplest form of interaction you can get on a PC, be it in a Windows operating system or in a game, ever since the invention of the pointing device (aka, the mouse.)

Double-click to start the application. Click to overcome obstacle.

What other basic gameplay elements are available that are technically so simple as point-and-click? Not many, at least as long as we are stuck with the input scheme of a PC. There have been attempts to create different control schemes, such as the Wiimote. But even with that, point-and-click is one of the first things that comes to mind.

Point-and-cry is actually one of the first things a baby does. Point-and-click is the most mass consumer friendly kind of interaction in a game because it’s one of the first things everybody does instinctively.

So, point-and-click is a) a fundamental feature of PCs ever since the invention of the mouse, making it easy to exploit as a control scheme for games, and b) everyone can be competent at it within a very short time. If you can mouse-click, you can kill monsters.

Social / psychological point of view

Let’s get back to competition again. It’s probably blatantly obvious that life in Western society today is permanent competition. It starts in school – you are to compete for the best grades. You are to compete at sports. Later, you are to compete for jobs. For affection. For friends. For groceries. For apartments. For money. For ideologies. For being a smartass on the internet. Politicians and managers compete for power and influence. Countries compete in war. Few people ever dare to question this, because it is learned at such a young age that it seems to be without alternative the natural way of life. You are indoctrinated as a child, and you follow that doctrine even if it costs your life and your peace of mind. You will even defend that doctrine against any red commie who dares to run from the flag.

It’s fair to say that competition on all levels is deeply ingrained in Western culture, and it’s most visible in capitalism and imperialism. Where did first-person-shooters come from? The USA. The country that combines capitalism, imperialism and easy availability of guns like no other.

I once made the suggestion to remove the score board from a multiplayer shooter. That’s right, the thing that displays how many kills you managed to make in an online match. The reaction was an outrage. Everyone else on the team saw the scoreboard as a hugely important thing – what do you play for, if not for competition, and how do you measure yourself if not by the amount of kills?

My argument was that you should play for enjoyment of the game, not for establishing a hierarchy based on how many “frags” you get. (Can you see how hierarchy is a side effect of competition?) However, this didn’t convince anybody. After all, it goes against the ruling doctrine. Even very intelligent people are often incapable of questioning or even recognizing the existence of a doctrine if they are indoctrinated at a young enough age.

It’s often assumed that games are a form of escapism – but in fact people tend to repeat the same behavioral patterns in games, competition being chief among them. All that changes is the environment and the amount of control the player gets to exert. Games are real life by another name, especially competitive online multiplayer games. They allow you to take the competition to its logical consequence – the one that is usually forbidden in real life, but happens often enough – killing the other person.

Now it so happens that competition and keeping scores is mostly a left-brain function.

Out of the two hemispheres of the brain, the left is the one that does language, maths, exact calculations, symbols, that kind of stuff. The right is the one that does estimation, contextual awareness, guesswork, spatial awareness, seeing the entirety of the big picture instead of a succession of parts… in other words, all the squishy esoteric fringe stuff that is unpopular in a competitive environment.

The Western education system heavily favours the left side.

This – how they teach us, what they teach us, how our brains are molded when we are young – probably goes some way toward explaining why we end up so single-minded and almost brutally competitive. I’ve actually noticed several times that people tend to dislike game mechanics that require estimation and increased spatial awareness. Those tend to be right-brain functions. A challenge like that would require the player to pop out of the dominant left brain mode they are in – killing monsters, holding down the competition, removing everything that dares to question the player’s power and autonomy, counting kills and loot. Suddenly having to make an estimation instead of dealing with hard facts and numbers will throw the player off. Similarly, a lot of shooter players don’t take well to randomness. Competitiveness works best in a predictable (and linear?) environment (just compare professional sports.) The more exclusively the game focuses on killing, the more anger will be provoked at having to do something that seems out of line, such as a major right-brain activity.

Perhaps the fact that the development of the brain doesn’t complete until about the 25th year of life is also connected to why violent games are especially popular with younger people. But why do men seem to provide the majority of shooter players? Well, this has been examined before – in traditional Western society, men get a lot of pressure to excel. The traditional idea of masculinity is part of this puzzle – wanting to be the superhero, the gunslinger, the one who brings home the bacon, just serves to pour oil into the fire and make people especially competitive. A gun cult like the American one just serves to further fuel this process.

Tl;dr – the prevalence of killing in games is down to a combination of technical simplicity / ubiquity of certain computer input schemes with learned left-brain dominance, gender cliches and a doctrine of competition in modern Western society, plus the ubiquity of guns, superheroes etc. in certain countries.


Anti-Quake BS…

How to begin.

To explain the title, I’ve once been accused of “anti-Quake BS” with regard to some new gameplay elements I introduced to the Remake Quake (mod) project while I was on the team. I have been called and accused of a lot of other things during that time (such as “killing the Quake community”), but “anti-Quake BS” must surely take the cake. It’s creative, at least.

Well, space marines, better brace yourselves.

In the last few months, I’ve been tackling some fundamental issues. Dropping the Quake engine brought up a number of things I had been diffusely unhappy with for a long time, ever since SJ split off of the Remake Quake project.

These issues are connected to what Quake is, and what SJ automatically inherited from that project. The core gameplay of gratuitous violence and shooting things in the face to beat the level (which we actually intensified in RMQ by making it play more like DOOM).

That kind of gameplay no longer really appeals to me.

Neanderthals in make-up

I have developed a dislike toward the ultra-simple formula of “here’s a gun, now take that hill.” Pointing and clicking so the target falls over is one of the most simplistic gameplay mechanics ever. It’s somewhat shocking how many multimillion dollar games, despite being encrusted in shiny graphics and helped by tons of art talent, use this same primitive core mechanic. In other words, we advance the graphics, we hire incredible artists, but our core gameplay mechanic is about as challenging as Pong.

Wow.

I mean, Minesweeper is literally more challenging than Call of Duty. Shooters have become casual games, that’s why Call of Duty sells like hotcakes. I know certain people won’t like it, but those 48% female gamers who a bunch of teenage males believe are “not real gamers” because they might largely be playing Minesweeper or Solitaire… might actually be playing the more challenging games.

Shock!

But most modern shooters basically amount to club-toting neanderthals in expensive make-up. Or put differently: Frantic polishing of sixty-dollar turds instead of evolving the core gameplay into something better.

About violence

What to do about it? The story of SJ is still that of a conflict and what it does to people. There is going to be violence in it because that’s part of the setting and the narrative. Some of the factions in SJ are not only not nice, they actively hate another faction’s guts for some irrational reasons. The game is going to show that, graphically, because it matters. It is needed to drive a point home, just like Colonel Kurtz needs to get killed and soldiers need to be surfing in a war zone in Apocalypse Now to drive a point home.

But as for actual combat involving the player, I’m not going to reward the player for pointless violence anymore. It’s true that enemies have loot, which is the fuel of the game. So combat == loot. But that’s not going to be the end of it. Combat will also mean: You get more tainted; your relations to everyone in the game are affected, partly negatively; you lose resources in order to gain some; and you’ll seriously risk getting shot. Combat in SJ is going to be like attacking a cop in downtown LA. They are going to call a SWAT team on you. The player is no longer going to be all-powerful. You’ll be disabled after two or three hits.

So for combat, I’ll take a page out of Metal Gear Solid and even Mirror’s Edge rather than Quake. You’ll be able to overhear interesting chatter between enemy soldiers if you don’t attack the patrol. Heck, you might find out door codes and other goodies if you don’t kill them. You’ll be rewarded for being sneaky. You’ll be given gifts if you don’t kill certain people, just like with the little sisters in Bioshock, only they’re not little sisters here at all. You’ll be rewarded for dropping a stolen medevac beacon for your enemies after they’re beaten. And so on.

Most importantly, Scout will refuse to attack disabled enemies; she might even refuse to shoot people in the back. You get the idea.

Loot will be easier to acquire by just exploring and staying hidden. Exploration is at the heart of the game anyway, so why not make it the best, easiest way to get “fuel”?

Following this line of thinking, I have removed typical shooter weapons from the game, most importantly the shotgun. Shotguns are an icon of old school shooter games; they’re often the prime method of removing an incoming horde of zombies or whatever enemy concept you’re dealing with. Just remember DOOM. SJ is just not a shotgun type of game. Equally, SJ has no assault rifles – the icon of most recent shooter games (and of American gun culture.) This will hopefully make it abundantly clear.

Out of similar considerations, I’ll probably drop multiplayer (not co-op) despite having a design doc for it; it’s too far on the pointless-violence side of things and that’s not what the game is.

Tropes vs… quality, in fact

As well as looking into the issues surrounding violence, I looked into issues of gender. And believe me, that was not pretty. Did you know that games with exclusively female leads get a lot less money from publishers (around 40%), and also sell worse? Bummer. Not to mention the ubiquitous issue that game artists apparently routinely take their reference images straight from Playboy but are unfazed by accusations of sexism.

Naturally, I’ve been watching Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. I’ve had hours-long discussions about it. I’ve looked into Gamergate. I’ve looked into gun culture, mass shootings (did you know that almost all shooters are male?), and issues surrounding our idea of masculinity (which seems to be from the stone age.) I’ve seen how women are harassed in online games. I’ve looked into sexism. And after weeks of research, I have to say that 99% of what the feminists say is unfortunately true. I had no idea what women have to deal with every day. I was a little shocked. It is like looking into the abyss, and what has been seen cannot be unseen.

Don’t believe me? Look at this. Then watch this. Then look at this. Then tell me again that there is no problem.

You might call me a “social justice warrior” or insult my manhood or whatever else it is that people on the internet tend to do to “gender traitors”, but I’ve made damn sure Scout’s Journey does a lot more than merely pass the Bechdel test.

If it’s any consolation, I also made sure that the major cast character who happens to be male is going to be likeable. I had to partly rewrite and better expose his character after I realized that I originally motivated him largely by way of his girlfriend, which didn’t do justice to either character. She is still going to die, but it will affect all of her friends, not just this guy, and as a result of these changes he’s gotten a lot more exposure because he needed his own motives.

Self-censorship out of fear of feminist mafia? Not at all. Introspection and resulting improvement. A win-win type of deal.

Media critics are not really the enemy, criticism actually helps to improve things if you are willing to listen. It’s amazing how many people in games keep saying “all feedback is good feedback” and then proceed to rail against feminist media critics. Logic has left the building along with decency.

Tl;dr Scout’s Journey is changing, most likely for the better.