Archive for the Violence Category

PG Nation

Posted in General, Violence on November 13, 2007 by Kit

The thing that bothers me about the Jack Thompson crowd is, perhaps ironically, their negativity. You would think that there was no entertainment available that didn’t involve disembowelment and full-frontal nudity. Or if we allowed one video game to have disembowelment and full-frontal nudity… than all games video would necessarily turn into ultra violent gore orgies.

But that’s not true. The continued success of companies like Nintendo is evidence that there is a big audience for games that don’t hinge on graphic violence. Last week, I ran down a handful of great games that are so thoroughly non-violent that not even an extremist like Jack Thompson could honestly quibble with them.

But there is a much wider spectrum. The choice is not between Mario and James Earl Cash, or between Sesame Street and snuff films. There’s a great gulf of entertainment that falls in the middle. With this post, I’d like to call out some of those great games. Maybe they have you kill some bad guys, maybe that Valkyrie’s metal breastplate is a bit low cut, but no reasonable observer could call them murder simulators or pornography.

In these games, the bad guys are clearly bad, and the protagonist is clearly good. Lovers of the anti-hero will have to wait for a future post.

Zelda. Ok, there’s a lot of killing in these games. But it’s hard to feel pity for an octorok. I’ve played several of these, but the experience for me really peaked with the third game: A Link to the Past. One of the hallmarks of the Zelda series is that the enemy creatures are abstract and cartoonish. The emphasis is on exploration and solving minor puzzles of the “find a key” sort.

Okami. I’ve sung its praises before, but I can’t resist a repeat performance. Okami is an incredible game, set in a mythological version of Japan (or if you prefer, Nippon). The main character is the Shinto sun-goddess Amaterasu in the form of a white wolf. The entire game is rendered in a style reminiscent of Japanese watercolor, and hinges on a clever system of magical “gestures” that require the player to draw sumi-e-esque symbols on the screen. There is some fighting of demons, but the tone of the narrative is light-hearted and whimsical. Okami’s game play is descended from Zelda on several levels, in a good way. As previously reported, it’s being re-released on the Wii pretty soon, causing The MCP’s eyes to glaze over with envy.

Ratchet and Clank. I’m including these assholes because the kids like them, and I’d like an opportunity to rip on a crowd favorite. Ratchet and Clank are the video game answer to Doritos eXtreme: lots of flavor, mildly addictive, but not a lot of substance. Game play is repetitive and mindless. It’s impossible to loose as long as you have enough patience to keep moving forward, fighting aliens and robots, collecting powerups, etc. I challenge anyone without multiple-sclerosis not to complete these games. Addictiveness is the series’ only selling point (that and the five minutes you spend as the Giant Robot version of Clank). To my eternal shame I’ve played through two installments. Fans of the series point to it’s alleged humorosity as a selling point, but most of the dialogue consists of stale jokes warmed up with a side of obnoxious eXtreme ‘tude. During every cutscene, there’s an overwhelming sense that someone is poking you in the ribs with their elbow, murmering “Get it? Get it? That was a joke!” I’m done, Ratchet and Clank. I don’t care how good your graphics look, you will get no more of my life.

LEGO Star Wars. Hot damn I like me some LEGO Star Wars. You have to try really hard to be offended by a game that, however much fighting it involves, only results in bad guys being blasted into their component LEGO parts. I don’t even care that it was blatant Gen-X cross-marketing, the games are fun! LEGO Batman is on the way, apparently.

Splinter Cell. Metal Gear. These games involve violence, but I think they belong in the PG-ish area. The bad guys are depicted as obviously evil (terrorists or some such), and you are actually rewarded for finding ways to complete each level without killing anybody. Sneak up behind them and knock them out, then hide them in a closet. The point isn’t “kill every bad guy.” It’s usually something like “rescue the hostage” or “steal the secret documents.” I take a perverse pride in observing the movements of guards and timing my actions so that nobody notices me flitting from shadow to shadow. When you do get out your gun or knife, the killing is quick and silent… no Manhunt-style disemboweling.

Tomb Raider. Saying you like Tomb Raider for the gameplay is a bit like saying you read Playboy for the articles. But it’s true! I swear it’s true! I’m as annoyed by the game industry’s reductionist take on sexy female protagonists as anybody. But these really are great games even without the t’n’a. Angel of Darkness aside, they are well-crafted platformers at heart, with a bit of minor puzzle-solving thrown in. They are intensely playable, the controls give you an effortless feeling as you put Lara through all sorts of acrobatics.

Grand Theft Auto. Whaaaaaaa? I kid, I kid. But it’s time we got over our GTA issues. There is nothing, nothing in this game that you can’t see on popular television dramas any night of the week. Car theft? Check. Violence against cops? Check. Prostitution? Check. Drugs? Check. Random homicide? Check. Mass murder? Check. Deadly (awesome) explosions? Check. Is it more offensive to play a video game where you are encouraged to commit violent crimes? Or is it more offensive to sit on a couch and get your rocks off watching other people commit violent crimes?

GTA has yet to depict an actual rape, something network TV doesn’t shy away from. GTA has never depicted acts of violence against kids or animals. In fact, they appear to have been purposefully left out of the game.

We have been eating a steady diet of violence for as long as we’ve had media and any changes that have occurred due to technology are evolutionary, not revolutionary. As a culture we simply enjoy a certain amount of stylized violence in our entertainment. It’s time for us to face that fact honestly.

Is it troubling? I think it is. Should we think about how the interactivity of games might change things? Certainly. But some cold water needs to be thrown on the issue. You can admit that you are troubled by something without calling for a ban.

To me, the more interesting proposition is not how media changes our character, but what it reveals about our nature.

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Gore-Free Fun

Posted in Violence with tags , , , , on November 8, 2007 by Kit

“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?

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