Modern Video Games - Is All That Violence Really Necessary?

Posted by on Monday, 6th September, 2010

Above is probably one of the most iconic and controversial images from a video game from the noughties. Manhunt 2 and Manhunt before it, were made for the sole purpose of killing people, Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick defended it at the time by saying:

“It brings a unique, formerly unheard of cinematic quality to interactive entertainment, and is also a fine piece of art,”.

Now I’m a big defender of the games can be art argument, but that really is pushing it too far.

The above is an extreme example, but are any other mainstream games we play any better? and are there better ways of moving a game narrative forward without killing.

Now before I start, I want to make it clear, that I don’t think for one second that Video games are linked to real life violence in any way shape or form, although I do believe if a game is rated M or 18, it should only be played by the audience it is intended for and not played by children.

So here goes (just let me put on my tin hat first!) it is fair to say that video games have changed a great deal since I was a nipper, back then we were happy just running away from ghosts in a maze gobbling happy pills, and continually shoving 10p’s in the slot. Boy how things changed!

Don’t misunderstand me, I own every console of this generation, and have played nearly all the mainstream titles, but sometimes I ask the question, is there a better way?

Even the most critically acclaimed games tend to rely on violence as their number one mechanic, take Uncharted 2 for instance, I loved that game, but lets be honest here, make no mistake, Nathan Drake is a murdering bastard. Everyone calls out GTA4, but is Drake a better person than Niko Bellic? really? He kills nearly every character he comes across in that story, and for what? some lost treasure in a country he shouldn’t even be in. Not only that, but he then commits the mass genocide of a lost race almost single handedly,¬† ironically for the Tree Of Life, at least Niko was trying to make a better life for himself, even if he was prepared to go to any lengths to achieve it.

Game makers want to be taken seriously, but it is difficult if they cannot find a better way to engage us in the story, other than endless killing.

There are some games where killing does make sense, and is part of the narrative, take Left 4 Dead for instance, this is a game where a lot of killing takes place, but you are killing Zombies or infected, and the reason you are killing them is to survive. Another good example¬† is Heavy Rain, don’t get me wrong this game had a lot of issues, but what it did do well was tell a story using some heart pumping action sequences, not letting you kill anyone unless it was to survive, with the exception of one or two of the late scenes in the game, but at least the game always tried to give a motive.

Red Dead Redemption tried to get someway there, but still relied heavily on killing to move the story forward.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel though, some good recent examples are Silent Hill – Shattered Memories, which did an excellent job of providing an engaging experience, with only a flashlight and a mobile phone for company, relying more on tension and puzzles to engage us. Although a bit less recent, Portal which did an amazing job of telling a great story without the need to kill anything. Hopefully Portal 2 will be equally excellent and finally Flower where you played the wind. Unfortunately, these games are few and far between, and maybe it will always be that way.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m a bit bored of the fact that nearly every new story driven game is fundamentally the same, shoot kill, shoot kill, die. Maybe one day mainstream developers will find new and better ways to engage us, until then I guess I will have to put up with it.

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  1. TheDaddy says:

    Mmm guess you haven’t seen the trailer for portal 2, btw they aren’t exactly alive, destroyed might be a better word lol

  2. blueky says:

    i just have to say there was killing in portal think of those poor turets they knew no different but u still killed them or maby whenyou murder the companion cube also remember the ending who did you kill . eerrrm spoiler

  3. TheDaddy says:

    JC, when I say children, I really mean children. Not long ago I saw a parent buying MW2 for a 7 year old, do you think that is OK?

    So stay cool.

  4. Jonmau5 Ipad says:

    Violence… Wow, cool, I must buy this and get kills, kill streaks, score, points and win. Violence is the selling point, the key to action films, fantasy and games.

  5. thejcmyster says:

    Just wanted to say that i’m quite sick of people thinking that just because i’m a teenager i cant handle 18 games or realise that reality and videogame reality are not the same. I think that game age ratings should depend on wether or not people distinguish between these two.

  6. Quanrian says:

    A bit off subject but this is closer to reality. For those who like to think beyond the game.

  7. Quanrian says:

    I am not sure this game holds up well to the test of time as far as graphics go and maybe not even gameplay anymore, which was very polished at the time. I certainly wouldn’t suggest such a game to anyone not already interested, anymore than I tell people to buy something bizarre like Onechanbara. In the end, this game is pretty memorable to me because it actually made me emotionally disturbed at what I was seeing and this is ‘exactly’ games should do. There is a good reason why these types of games are rare but it doesn’t make games that rationalize violence under the veil of patriotism the slightest bit more innocent because both are murder simulators at the end of the day. In the end, if people want to explore their dark side I would much rather them do such in a game than in reality.

  8. Surface Lizard says:

    Canned worms. Open. Great piece, Stu!

    Now, don’t judge me for this, but I really enjoyed Manhunt and Manhunt 2; for the same core reason that I enjoyed the Saw game recently. The concept of grim, desensitised violence (especially in the case of the first Manhunt) could be read as a form of forced consideration. The player is forced to consider their actions as the killing is merciless, brutal and without commentary from any narrative force in the game. I could be reading the whole game incorrectly, but it sickened me as much as it challenged me. That was violence ‘done right’, as it was not just a visceral Mortal Kombat celebration of intestines and priapism dismemberment fantasies. Of course, this depends on a player able to reflect to a certain perspective.

    I’m very much in the ‘games are art’ camp. However, I do not think that the medium is mature enough to deal with killing in any way other than as a power fantasy, or a selling point. Very few games, if any, make the player consider the consequences of taking a life. As opposed to sacrificing one (the great Mass Effect Kaiden/Ashley choice). Heavy Rain glossed over it with Ethan’s task, sadly. I feel that a powerful game would have you kill a single person, and the entire game would be consequence.

    Still, I am an adult with a scrap of intelligence. I know the lines between the screen and the world, and thus do enjoy a certain relish in a Kratos fatality, or a perfect headshot. No different to a John Woo or Sam Peckinpah film.

    This is why I enjoy adventure titles and survival horror so much. The exposition is based on avoidance of conflict, and reasoning one’s way out of a situation. Or just running like hell.


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