Gore-Free Fun

“All games contain the idea of death.” – The only good thing Jim Morrison ever said outside of a pop song.

There’s a lot of frothing-at-the-mouth going on about violence in video games. On both sides.

Most of the games that are out right now are quite dark. As to whether or not that’s something really worth a lot of attention: my feelings are mixed. I am a confirmed fan of many extremely violent games. (GTA, Resistance, Half-Life, Quake, to name a few.)

But I really don’t like the way the opposing parties frame the debate. The way it typically plays out: you either have to enjoy stabbing virtual babies or you have to burn your copy of Manhunt 2 and join a Bible College. The whole mess is probably worthy of a longer, much rantier post than I’m feeling up to right now.

My big complaint with video game violence is just with the way it’s currently pushing everything else to the fringe. Like a teenager with a notepad full of bad poetry, complex, psychological, and gory games just won’t stop soaking up the limelight.

In lieu of a big rant, how about a list of some great games that aren’t particularly blood splattered? You will note a distinct lack of stabby-ness in this list.

The many faces of Mario. I’m not a Mario fanatic, but I’ve enjoyed plenty of his games. They are cute, fun, and promote recreational drug use as an additional bonus.

Katamari. A critic’s darling, and for good reason. I suppose you could make an argument that rolling up everything in the world (pets, toys, furniture, people, weather systems) into giant balls to be turned into stars represents a kind of violence. But nobody seems too distressed to be rolled up into a star-ball, just sort of alarmed and surprised. Pick up any of the different versions, they are all basically the same and they are all great. Doesn’t actually promote drug use, but is clearly the product of some member of the tryptamine family.

Rhythm Games. Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution, PaRappa the Rapper. There are currently a zillion “Play/stomp/whack the toy instrument/dance pad/controller in rhythm to match the music” games out there. They are pretty fun, if all kind of the same.

Bust-a-Move. The lady and I are seriously into these games. So far we’ve managed to get our mitts on each major Playstation version. The games are all basically the same: shoot little gem-like bubbles into groups of other bubbles that are the same color to make them bust. There are various special bubbles that do things like explode. Each game has a different and seemingly totally random cast of characters, who all engage in various comically inexplicable activities during gameplay. Also a candidate for the promotion of drug use.

Classic 80s arcade games. Sure, there may be some implied violence here and there – but it’s hard to argue that the amorphous blobs of pixels that represent the bad guys really deserve our empathy. Nowadays clever people can have them all.

Tetris et al. Games with multiple configurations of dropping blocks, exploding gems, colored symbols, etc. Still usually fun. Still usually addictive.

Sports Games. Not a big fan of these, but there are so many, and everyone I know seems to like them.

Any others, dear readers?


(I tried and tried to compose a bad pun to go along with this article’s title, but it just didn’t come together.)


6 Responses to “Gore-Free Fun”

  1. The best part of bust-a-move is the weirdness of the characters. A cat with running mascara that dances on rainbows and may in fact be a drag queen; A dinosaur that gets a hard-on, vomits and worse; a critter whose hands and arms turn to exploding strings when he wins. It’s not all just bursting bubbles; one must play to appreciate.

  2. You’ve covered the waterfront, I think; anything I say is basically a variant (Sonic = Mario). If anyone wants to try and challenge my PaRappa skills, I’m ready.

  3. Might I suggest “Bioshock” as a game that is typically violent for a first-person shooter, but also asks troubling questions about player agency and the violence committed. It goes well beyond (for example) the kind of movies that show highly aestheticized violence and let you get off on it for an hour before the final reel slams home the anti-violence “message.” The plot twist in “Bioshock” is honestly disturbing and thought-provoking.

  4. Oh, and you forgot to mention racing games, unless they fall under sports. Racing games are hugely popular – especially online, especially among younger players – and for the most part promote violence-free surges of adrenaline and competition. Even the crashes are usually non-debilitating (although what lesson that’s teaching the kids, I dunno… what say you, Jack Thompson? Should the littluns be learning that they can cruelly BASH their cars into others on the road and always drive away from it safely???).

  5. I put them kinda under sports, although I do like racing games a lot. Especially the less realistic “Kart” racers… they’re more social and way more fun. I also failed to mention the whole giant robots fighting other giant robots (Battletech, Armored Core, etc.). They are violent-ish… but again: giant robots don’t feel any pain. I say they probably belong more in pg though.

    Did you see that they are reviving Blood Bowl?

    I still wish to play Bioshock (although the rumored PS3 version has been categorically shut down) – but I’m actually saving the 1st person genre for its own special post. I think there’s something special and visceral about those games that make them inherently interesting on their own.

  6. gb, you actually introduced parappa to a doubtful mcp. but don’t make me go all master onion on you.

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